Start a Kid-Friendly Garden Indoors
Edited by Sarah Maloney, Alma, Eng
If you've got kids, you probably spend some time pre-planning your summer time together choosing activities that get the kids outside, off their screens and burning off some energy. When the snow starts melting in our front yard, I know that spring is just around the corner, and it's time to start one of our favorite family summer pastimes-gardening! I love gardening. I love starting the gardens in the still chilly air of spring my two feet smushed in my rain boots and sloshing through the wet ground, I love unloading the soil and trekking wheel barrels full of manure around the yard. I love the smell of the early morning spring rain and the heat of the July sun on my back. I even love the dirt under my fingers and shovel induced calluses on my hands. More than anything, I enjoy the harvest. The huge baskets full of potatoes, eating fresh beans and tomatoes and cucumbers every night, all summer. Plucking peppers and eating them right off the vine. Canning sauce and beets and pickles for little tastes of summer all winter long. It is one of the greatest parts of my summer and when spring starts rearing its dingy drizzly head, I know it's time to start seeding.
I have to attribute this love of gardening to my parents. And like most things you impart on your kids, I'm not sure gardening was at the top of their list or was an even conscious action on their part. I don't believe they sat down together before they had kids and said 'I think it is really important that we teach out kids to love gardening,' truthfully I think they had bigger things on their minds. Teaching us to be polite, responsible, kind and not fall out of trees were probably the bigger concerns, and they did that and did it well. But when I think back on my childhood, there is so much gardening taught me. I see my Dad in the small side garden of the house I grew up in sweat drenched digging new gardens on the weekends and watering the plants after a full day of work. I can see his hands dirt stained and calloused holding out beautiful baskets of cucumbers and carrots. I can smell the very distinct smell of tomato vines when he hugged me. I can see my Mom in the front garden bent over weeding, watering and bringing her flowers in to create the largest most vibrant floral displays. I can see her cooking, (always cooking), fresh vegetables from the garden after her full day of work. I can see my Dad bringing lilacs that he cut on the way home great buckets full that filled the house with their incredible smell sweet and springy, my Mom beaming every time she walked by. I have these images in my head and the lessons they taught me inside; hard work, responsibility, the results of hard work, patience and ultimately love. So when I had my son, Aedan, I did very consciously tell myself that I wanted to teach him the love of gardening and in turn all those same lessons that were taught to me.
If you're looking for a fun, engaging and affordable activity for your kids, this article will show you the process we use to start our garden indoors!
As you can tell from my above shout out to my horticulture honing parents, there are a lot of benefits to gardening with your kids. The benefits vary depending on the age of your kids. Each kid is different so their interest level and patience may also vary. Aedan has been involved in planting since he was around 3 while another kid might not get into planting until they're 8 or 9. See what works, there are jobs for all ages. The benefits of gardening include:
- Healthy Eating. Aedan is not a picky eater but there are some very specific vegetables he generally is not a big fan of, however, when he grows them himself he will minimally try them and usually add them as a staple to his diet. Brussel sprouts, pumpkin, tomatoes and peas all of these have become a huge part of our diet and were first tried directly from our gardens.
- Outdoors. Once your garden is outdoors, daily watering, weeding and harvesting make for great outdoors time.
- Fine Motor Development. Getting those little seeds into the little containers or pellets requires fine motor skills.
- Science. Depending how far you want to push this, starting seeds is a great way to teach development, environmental science, cellular systems etc.
- Responsibility. Once the seeds are planted, there are still chores to be done including watering and just monitoring every day. Once the plants are outside there are even more responsibilities.
- Patience. It doesn't take too long for the seeds to sprout, but waiting for them and watching them grow into healthy seedlings takes time and patience.
- Math. Sorting and counting the seeds, planting a specific number and keeping a log/legend of the planted seeds uses a lot of math skills.
Plan the Outdoor Garden
You need at least some plant for the outdoor garden to know how many seeds to plant and how you're going to place them. Are you going to have a garden specifically for the kid's seedlings or will it be a family garden? For the most part, Aedan's seeds go into the larger gardens; however, I have delegated a small unused space in the back corner of the yard for Aedan's seeds. Here he can plant whatever he likes. I give him the option of picking one plant every year as an experiment. These are usually plants I don't have the patience or aren't interested in growing an entire crop of but he might like to try. It always includes pumpkins for the fall and one year he planted cantaloupe, one year he tried broccoli, one year he tried watermelon and one year he tried celery. We always get lots of pumpkins, but the others don't get big yields. With patience and attention, we do get at least one good melon or vegetable to try.
Pick your Seeds
- 2These are plants that produce well, kids like eating and are fairly easy to grow. The plants we have the best luck with are:Choose kid-friendly plants.
- Beans. Huge producers, we have beans all summer.
- Carrots. I can't grow a carrot is my life depended on it, while my Dad has hundreds all summer. I've given up as I don't have the gardening patience to waste space on a plant I don't have huge success with, but give it a try. I think I'm the anomaly here.
- Tomatoes. There is nothing like a fresh tomato in your salad. These are easy for kids to harvest too.
- Cucumbers. Great produces and delicious.
- Lettuce. People often forget about lettuce but they are heavy producers and taste amazing.
- Potatoes. You do need a lot of space for potatoes but they are generally maintenance free. These don't come in seeds but in bags of potato seedlings.
- Peas. Snow peas can be started early.
- Corn. Corn is hit or miss, some years we get quite a few good ears and sometimes (like last year) only a couple. But kids really love corn on the cob and eating their own is exciting.
- Sunflowers. We don't bother eating the seeds leaving them for the birds instead, but you easily can harvest the seeds. Aedan loves sunflowers, and they are very easy to grow. Growing a 6 foot tall flower is pretty impressive to kids.
Separate your Seeds
- 2Instead, you will sow these seeds directly into the ground. These include corn, beans, potatoes, peas and beets. Save these seeds for the spring.If your package of seeds only reads direct sow, you don't want to start these seeds indoors.
- 3For example, peppers have a 55 - 75 day maturity. If you have a short season like we do, starting these a couple weeks before spring indoors will enable a quicker maturity.The seeds you are starting indoors is to give optimal conditions to create healthy plants as well as minimizing the time to harvest.
Prepare your Tray
You can buy little fiber based pots and fill with soil then plant your seeds. This may seem to be a more affordable option. The problem is your seedlings need optimal soil, to be covered (think of a greenhouse) and to be maintained. Often when using this method you end up with only half or less of what you originally planted and buying seedlings at your local greenhouse will be necessary in the summer = spending more money. Planting a kid-friendly garden you want to get as many successful seedlings as possible. Follow these steps for successful seedlings:
- 1The soils in these are made specifically for seedlings, and the tray offers optimal conditions for healthy plants. You can find these at garden centers, department stores and home stores. If you save your tray you can just buy the pellets as replacement every year.Buy a pre-made peat moss pellet tray.
- 2You always end up planting more than you think you will. We bought a tray of 72 and when I did the mental calculations I thoroughly believed this would be too many and considered a smaller one. The thing is kids have very different numbers in their heads. Instead of one row of sunflowers, we have three. So buy bigger, it never hurts to plant a few more.Buy big.
- 4This is the fun part. The pellets expand making bubbles and rumbling noises.Sit and listen.
- 5After about 5 minutes, the water will be absorbed into your pellets and your pellets will look expanded.
- 6Some might need to be pried a little.Ensure all the tops are open.
- 7Dig a little hold into each pellet (we use a chopstick).
- 8This depends on the hardiness and size of the seeds. For the sunflowers, I know they ALWAYS grow, so we just put in one seed. For the pumpkins, we always have TONS, so I'm not too worried if we don't get all our seedlings, again, we only put one in. For the peppers, they are small seeds and a bit more finicky, so we put 2 in.Count out the seeds and place 1-2 seeds into each pellet.
- 9We do this every year and every year there is a slightly amusing but very irritating confusion with the labeling. Aedan is in charge of planting and labeling in the legend and sometimes gets a little flustered. You want to label each row with a number (or the plant type if you can). If you label with a number create a corresponding list or legend detailing exactly what you planted. I'm pretty good identifying vegetables, but like babies in the nursery when you've got 72 of them, and they're teeny tiny it can be a bit harder to identify them. You don't want to look at your tray in the middle of May and have no idea what you're planting.Label your seeds.
- 10The pellets are little so you must get little fingers in there to completely cover the seeds.Make sure all the seeds are covered with soil.
- 12I know that seems counterproductive but the sun is too strong for the little seedlings, so darker it better.Store in a warm area out of direct sunlight.
- 13Aedan's job is to check on the seedlings everyday and report. They usually need water every other day. You want to keep them moist but not soaked.Water.
- 14Once the seedlings start to grow too big to have the top on, prop it open a bit.
- 15The general rule around here is May 24th weekend. By late May you should have healthy and happy seedlings you can take outside and plant!Your seedlings can grow happily until it is safe to plant.
For kid, friendly gardening advice and techniques on planting the seedlings outdoors, read Utilize kids energy and need to play in your Gardening