If your kids are anything like ours, then they love to make messes. While we don’t condone the ones they make inside the house, there’s one outdoor mess that everyone can feel good about: gardening. Believe it or not, the early months of the year are ideal for preparing a spring garden, so now’s the perfect time to grab your trowels and gloves and start planting. In addition to being a fun outdoor activity, gardening also gives you the opportunity to show your kids how to grow fresh veggies and herbs from the ground up. And because they lent a hand in growing and preparing their own food, your kids will be more excited for dinner after the daily harvest. Below are some super handy hints will help you get your little gardeners started.
First thing’s first, what exactly does the family enjoy eating? Brainstorm with the kids at dinner and see what everyone might enjoy growing and eating. Different fruits and veggies take up different amounts of plot space, require varying amounts of sun and may offer up enormous quantities of yummy food. It’s a fantastic idea to create an imaginary garden and select plots for each type of produce.
Zones 14 – 17? Say what? Well if the mother of all gardening manuals, Sunset Western Garden Book, does not have a place on your bookshelf, basically, it’s all about getting to know the local weather patterns. Especially in the Bay Area, where there’s a different microclimate every twenty miles or so. It will prevent the common error of trying to grow melon or corn or any other heat obsessed plant in the fog friendly summers of San Francisco.
Wait for a dry spell
Mr. Sun is your man with the plan on beginning garden days. Super wet soil is not a good starting point so wait for those rays to start shining, it will loosen up the remaining dirt, get some oxygen moving around and make the garden more accepting of springs seeds.
Did you know? Get to know your dirt! By knowing what your backyard soil has or doesn’t have, the garden will be that much more of a success. Grab a pH testing kit and find out if the soil on the homefront is lacking nutrients.
The kids will think it’s their lucky day when the outdoor clothes are thrown on, the shovels and spades are out and mom says, “now dig!” It’s important to get about 12’ inches down so give the kids patches of their own and show them how to pull out weeds, break up clots and get some fresh air and minerals into the mix. Garden centers and nurseries will have a super choices on the perfect tools for digging in the dirt.
Clues about Compost
If the family has a compost pile, it’s great to show the kids how foods we eat can be reused to grow more. If not, no biggie, there are numerous ways to introduce fresh material to the soil. Grab a bag and be generous, make sure it mixes deep into the vegetable bed.
It’s all about fresh when picking seeds for sowing, every packet should be posted with the current year. Most seeds can dropped right in the ground, just prepare a bed and make some rows, get the kids dropping! Early seeds such as carrots, turnips, spinach and peas, can be planted before the danger of frost has passed but others, like squashes, cucumbers and beans, the little gardeners should wait until it’s just a little warmer. These little guys can be picked up at any nursery, hardware store, online or even at the farmers market. Slip em’ in an airtight jar or container, store em’ in a cool dry place and next year’s harvest is ready to go.
Bay Area Bites
What grows best in the bay area? Bell peppers, herbs of all kinds, lots of leafy greens, broccoli and Meyer lemons trees. Tomatoes are a sure bet, but plant them early, they need the spring warmth before the foggy summers. Artichokes grow super well but are huge and leafy so grow at your own risk! It may take over the whole garden.
Other Gardening Resources
Looking for a new set of garden gloves? How about a planter box for your herb garden? Check out the Bay Area’s Best Gardening Stores for everything you need to get your garden ready for springtime. Many offer classes and workshops designed specifically for kids, so roll up those sleeves and get messy.
In case you don’t have a backyard, plan an excursion to the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco and check out a working farm within the city. Or, check out some local community gardens to get your fill of all things green.
Need some inspiration for your garden-to-be? Grab your camera and visit some Botanical Gardens around the Bay Area and see what kind of flora thrive in our backyards.
Got any gardening tips for budding green thumbs? How do you get your little ones involved in the planting process?
— Gabrielle Cullen
photo credit: “Digging in the dirt” Courtesy of Dylan Parker via Flickr, “Tomato Time” Courtesy of Gabrielle Cullen, “shoveling” courtesy of woodley wonderworks via Flickr, “Seedy Business” Courtesy of Sloat Garden Center via Facebook, “Barrel Planting” Courtesy of Sloat Garden Center via Facebook