Here are a few things for you to talk about when you’re gardening with kids:
Plants like sun. They need sunshine to grow the best and give you the best vegetables and flowers. This is why picking a nice, sunny garden spot is important.
Take a walk around your yard with your kids and look for spots that have good sunlight, are easy to get water to, and aren’t in the way of somebody else trying to have fun in the yard. You also might like to get a spot where people can see it, and you can show it off to everybody.
Because sunlight is important, you need to find out how much sun exposure the spot you’ve picked gets. A spot facing south is best. After you pick your garden spot, watch it for a few days to see how much sun it gets. You can do this with a sun chart.
Make a Sun Chart
Take a piece of white paper and mark where your house is, fence, garage, walks and other things that don’t move. Include big trees, too. Then, draw in where your garden is going to go. Then get ready to watch how the sun shines down on your garden spot. In the morning, look to see where the sun is shining on your yard.
Go to your paper and fill in with yellow stripes where the sun is shining. About 1 o’clock do the same thing with a blue crayon and about 5 o’clock do the same thing with an orange crayon. If the sun shines in the same place through the day, you will see several different colored lines show up. The more colored lines you have on a spot tells you how long the sun shines in that area during the day. It also tells you what spots might be better for your garden. You might find out that the most sun spots aren’t good for gardening because of something you can’t change. Pick the best spot you can get and have fun gardening.
What about Shade?
Don’t worry if your yard is really shady and has limited sun. Some examples of plants that do well in the shade are: lettuce, Swiss chard, collards, spinach, mustard, impatiens, begonias, and coleus, and there are many more
What about Soil?
Gardeners know that good soil is really important for growing a great garden. This is probably the part of gardening kids and grown-ups like the least — getting the soil ready so that plants will grow their best. A simple checklist will help you identify problems and note things that may need changing. Doing this before you start planting will make gardening a whole lot more fun and keep you from having to correct mistakes when plants are growing.
Drainage: Check for good drainage. Does water sit on top of the ground for a long time? Does the soil stay wet for a long time? A spot like this might not be good for gardening. If your garden site is too wet, you might have to find another spot, or make yourself a raised bed garden. This little “secret”has helped many adult gardeners and it can make your kid a star gardener. All you need to do is just mound up the garden area about 8-12 inches. You can just hill up the whole area or use some rocks or boards to keep the soil in place.
Soil composition: Another thing for your checklist is to note if the soil is hard and dry. Are there things growing there now? If weeds are growing really well, probably vegetables and flowers will also.
Garden soil has some very important parts: minerals, organic matter (rotting plant and animal parts), air spaces and water. If these things are not in the right balance you might have soil that is too clay, too sandy, too dry, too wet, or too hard. One of the best things to do for just about all soils is to add things that keep it in good shape. These things are called soil conditioners and include manure, compost, peat moss, and leaves. Put the soil conditioners on top of the soil (about 2-3 inches deep) and then mix them into the soil.
Animal Manure: If you can get it, animal manure from animals like cows, horses and sheep are great soil conditioners. It’s best to use manure that is more than six months old. New or fresh manure might hurt your plants because it is too fresh or has not aged. Also, if you have a pet at home, don’t use that manure for the garden! There are things in it that are not safe especially around vegetables that you pick and eat.
Compost: is a mixture of garden scraps and kitchen vegetable scraps that rot and makes your soil better. Some gardeners make compost piles, and you might want to start one if you have room. If not, you can usually buy compost, or some towns have it available for free.
A compost pile is built in layers like a fancy birthday cake. Start off with about 6-8 inches of garden scraps. Then sprinkle a handful of fertilizer on top. This helps feed the organisms that will break the scraps down. Add a two inch layer of soil. The soil gets organisms into the pile. Build up several layers. To speed up the decaying process, after several weeks turn the pile with a shovel to get air in the compost pile. Compost is ready when it is crumbly and has that “earthy” smell. It may take several months before compost is ready, but the wait will be well worth it and your garden will thank you with the best looking flowers and vegetables.
Peat moss: This is the brown spongy stuff sold in bags at the garden center. It does a good job of helping both clay and sandy soils. One little tip. Be sure that the peat is a little damp before mixing it into the soil. Dry peat acts like a duck’s back and water just rolls off it. It is hard to wet it when it’s mixed into the soil dry.
Leaves: Leaves are a great bargain because they are free, and there are a lot of them in the fall! Sometimes it’s best if the leaves are chopped up before mixing into the soil. Have an adult help you do this with a lawn mower. This will get you small leaf chunks that are easier to mix in and rot faster. Leaves also help to invite worms to your garden.
Worms: Speaking of worms, how’s the worm population? If you have a lot of them, great; if not, dig some worms up from other parts of the garden, dig a trowel depth hole, put in some old compost (not potting or seeding soil), water, place in a few worms and cover, and do this at various places over the area needing the worms.
Most gardens like to have about one inch of rain every week. Some weeks you may get a lot more than one inch and some weeks you get way less. For the weeks when it is dry, you will need to water your garden. Also, keep in mind that clay soils dry out slower, needing less frequent watering than sandy soils that dry out fast and need to be watered more often.
To find out how much rain your garden gets in a week, make a rain gauge and record the daily amount in a journal. To make a rain gauge: take a clean soup can with the top cut off. Put the can out in the middle of your garden. After each rain or watering, use a ruler to measure how deep the water is in the can. If the water you measure adds up to one inch or more for the week, your garden is okay. If not, you’ll need to water to make up the difference.
A slow, thorough, deep watering is better than a light sprinkling. Allow the soil to get nice and moist so you encourage roots to go deep. (Using a sprinkler is the best way to water the garden). Water your garden early in the day so plants dry off before it gets dark; this helps prevent disease. Use mulch; it conserves the water in the soil and you won’t have to water as often.
Almost all gardens need to have fertilizer added to them. It helps to replace the nutrients that plants use and keeps your soil in good shape for future crops. For your garden, fertilizer like 5-10-5, 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 or something close is good to use. Use about 1 1/2 pounds of fertilizer for every 100 square feet of garden space.
Get started! Have fun planning and gardening with your kids; this may be the start of a new adventure or a lifetime passion for you and your children.
Thanks to illinois.edu/firstgarden for the basis of this article
Global Montessori has been offering childcare, after school care, and the Montessori method of schooling since 1988. We accept infants, toddlers, kindergarten and elementary school students living in and around the Langley area and beyond.