Gardening With Kids


The warm weather is finally upon us!  As we find ourselves solidly in spring many of us shift our thoughts to the outdoors and our gardens.  Whether you are new to gardening or have cared for plants for years, why not give it a try with your children?  It’s not too late to get started now!

Planning the Space

Whether you live in a tiny city apartment or a sprawling multi-acre piece of land there are many options for planning and executing a garden.  The first step is to decide what will work best for you and your family.  Consider how much time and effort you are willing to put into caring for the plants during the growing season.

Container gardens fit nicely onto porches and decks.  This is a nice way to keep things simple if you’re new to gardening or know you will be short on time.  Finding space for even a few pots can be a fun and rewarding experience for you and your children.  

Thinking you may want to go bigger?  Raised beds keep things contained and easy to manage.  This can be as simple as four 2x4s screwed together with some metal corner brackets, or you can find designs for elaborate and much taller beds online made of a variety of materials.  If this is your first time gardening you might consider starting with 1-3 beds, roughly 4 by 7 feet.  Fill the beds with a mixture of soil and compost and you’re good to go!

A few last considerations: consider what you want to grow and how much sunlight you will need, as well as how close the space is to a water source.  

Selecting Plants

This is the step that younger children can really become more involved with.  Check out options at your local nursery or garden center, but have some ideas beforehand.  Do you want to focus on flowers?  Vegetables?  Does your family enjoy berries or do you like cooking with fresh herbs?  There are so many possibilities it can be easy to get carried away!  A little planning goes a long way.

Selecting garden plants could open new doors for your child.  If you have a picky eater, encouraging them to choose, say, a plants whose vegetables they typically shy away from, you may be surprised by the end of the summer.  When a child takes the time to care for a garden they feel deeply connected to the plants.  They will feel a great swell of pride when they harvest that first zucchini, and they may well enjoy tasting it with new perspective.

Keep in mind the location you have chosen to place your garden and pay attention to the amount of sunlight the spot receives at different times throughout the day.  Some plants require full sun, while others need partial sun or even shady areas.  

Companion planting is fun to consider as well.  Some plants compliment each other when planted nearby.  This often has to do with properties of the plants that contribute to pest control, or what kinds of nutrients they take from (or give to) the soil.  Check out this site for more information on specific companion plants.

Care and Maintenance

Your main two tasks throughout the growing season are watering and weeding.  It can take time and practice to set up a system that works for you, but here are some tips:

  • Water early in the morning or late in the day.  Midday watering can lead to the sun heating up the water and essentially boil the plant and its roots.
  • Make your watering system easy.  Have a hose ready or a sprinkler set up.  
  • Mulch is your friend.  While there are different options, cut straw can be a great way to cover the soil around your plants.  It holds moisture in by preventing excessive evaporation and limits weeds’ ability to grow.
  • Teach your child the difference between weeds and the plants you are intentionally growing, then watch closely while they help!  (If they do inadvertently pull a few plants up by the roots you may be able to salvage them.)
  • Keep an eye out for pests!  Anything from insects to deer can cause problems.  Be aware of the potential where you live and ask around for specific ways to prevent or treat damage.
  • Some plants have more needs.  Climbing plants need guidance, while others may need pruning or thinning.  Seed packets typically include these types of directions, but the the folks at your local garden center are another great resource.  

Enjoying the Benefits

Believe it or not, there are plenty of benefits you will reap long before harvesting.  Gardening allows us to spend time outdoors, breathing in fresh air, taking in the sunshine, and nurturing our own connection with the earth.  Spending this time with your child allows you to enjoy these benefits while spending time together.  The time you spend gardening as a family will leave a positive, lasting impact that your child will remember.  

The harvest does, of course, bring joy all on its own.  Whether you have a gorgeous vase of fresh blooms in your dining room, fresh pesto for your dinner, or hands full of strawberries that never even make it to the table, you will all enjoy the result of your hard work.

Happy gardening!

Click to go to this book on Amazon.

Click to go to this book on Amazon.

If you’re looking for more information, this reference book is full of general gardening advice and plant-specific information. 

Earth Day Reflections: 3 Ways to Go Green as a Family


April 22 is Earth Day!  This is a great chance for parents and their children to talk about how we can care for our planet.  What it really boils down to is recognizing connections.  In our disposable, consumable culture, it can be easy to forget where things come from and what we might do differently to lighten our step on the planet.  Here are some fun and educational ideas to try together…

1. Say Goodbye to Paper Towels

This one is way easier than it might seem.  Paper towels and napkins have been used in American households for generations, but opting for more permanent replacements is super simple.  Instead of tearing off a new sheet, using and it once, and throwing it away, consider some other options.

Cloth napkins are not only more earth-friendly, but they feel nicer to use.  It may seem like a small thing, but selecting and using cloth napkins for meals is a way to infuse everyday life with something a little more special.  Plus, it’s nice to have a collection on hand as many Montessori schools ask for cloth napkins to be packed in children’s lunch bags.

Are you crafty?  Making your own napkins is one of the simplest sewing projects out there.  Find some DIY directions - click here

Pressed for time?  You can buy cloth napkins almost anywhere.  Stores like Marshalls or Homegoods often have designer options for $5 for a package of 4.  Online shoppers will love the selection on Etsy or even Amazon.

To involve your kids, bring them to the fabric store to help pick patterns or have them pick out pre-made options that appeal to them, too.  If you do decide to sew your own, older children can pitch in (and would likely love the opportunity!)

As for paper towels’ other main use of cleanup duty?  Old t-shirts make the best rags.  When you’re getting ready to donate old clothing, pull out items that are stained or torn.  Cut the items into large rectangles and store them in a small bucket under your kitchen sink.

2. Start a Garden

The ultimate way to connect kids to their food is to have them help grown their own.  If you have the space and time, building a raised bed is fairly simple.  Even if you have a tiny apartment in a city, container gardening can work on even the smallest fire escape.  Montessori students study botany starting at the primary level, so you will delight in seeing their excitement while they make connections.

Planning is half the fun.  Sit together as a family and look through a seed catalogue or pile in the car and visit a local nursery.  Figure out what everyone wants to grow and then give it a try.  As a bonus, gardening gets everyone outside enjoying the fresh air and sunshine together.

Growing your own food means eating your own food.  Not only is freshly picked produce higher in vitamins, but it tends to taste so much better that what we normally find at the grocery store.  There may be a natural migration from the garden to the kitchen, as toddlers and teenagers alike will want to participate in making something yummy with the fruits of their labor.

The possibilities with gardening are endless.  It’s definitely a learning experience in the beginning, but in no time you’ll be thinking about composting, companion planting, saving seeds, and planning for next year.

3. Speaking of Composting…

If you’re ready to jump even deeper into going green, composting is a fun next step.  There are many ways to compost, but one of the most fun to do with children is vermicomposting.  Special bins are used to house worms that can eat and transform your produce scraps and shredded paper.  

Sound too complicated?  Smelly?  Slimy?  Expensive?

It’s pretty simple to set up, even easier to maintain, and really not gross at all.  An added perk: the resulting compost will make those plants in your garden grow like crazy!  While there certainly are really nice (and expensive) worms bins out there, there are definitely more cost effective ways to try it out.

Some options include the popular Can O Worms or the slightly sturdier Worm Factory. Making your own can cost as little as $20.  Click here for directions

Red wigglers are the best worms to use for vermicomposting.  You may be able to source some locally, but if not Carolina Biological is a great option for mail-order worms.

To get started you should have a spray bottle of water (to keep worms and bedding moist) and some old newspapers on hand.  To prevent unpleasant odors, it’s a good idea to have balance what goes into the worm bin, including a mix of kitchen scraps and shredded paper.  It’s also a good idea to avoid feeding worms animal by products, so keep meat and dairy out.  For the most part, redworms don’t care for onions, although some do so it doesn’t hurt to try.  Follow these simple steps and you will be surprised at the complete lack of odor coming from your bin.

Worm bins can even be kept indoors, with basements being an ideal location for many families (although they stay just about anywhere room-temperature).  

On rare occasions, you may notice some fruit flies in or around your bin.  To make a simple fruit fly trap, use a disposable plastic cup, such as a yogurt cup.  Fill ⅛ way full with water and add a drop or two of dish soap.  Some people like to add a little apple cider vinegar as well.  Cover the top of the cup with a small piece of plastic wrap, secure with a rubber band, and poke a few holes.  Leave the trap sitting inside the top layer of your bin and the problem.

For more information about worm composting, check out this blog article.

Vermicomposting is a special learning experience for children and adults alike.  Worms teach us about decomposition and ecosystems.  Watching the worms work will give kids a new appreciation for these small creatures, and instill a sense of the interconnectedness of everything on Earth.

Happy Earth Day!