Even if the only seed you and your child have ever planted was a kidney bean sent home for a school science project, don’t be afraid, gardening is a completely forgiving and welcoming family activity. That is, once you have a few basics under your belt. And we are certain that you and your family will be harvesting tomatoes before you know it! So, first things first, plants are a lot like us. They need sun, water, food, and soil. (Okay, so maybe only kids need soil.) To successfully garden, your plants will need all of the above as well as some tools to help get you started. Luckily, we have a great collection of children’s gardening tools at HABA.
Gardening with Kids in 4 Easy Steps
1) Plan your Garden Plot
Every plant needs the sun but some need it more than others. Plants can be shade-loving or sun-loving, which is vital information when choosing plants for your garden. Before you put a garden in the ground, take a good look around your yard. Have your kids help by drawing a map. Watch your future garden site carefully. Check it in the morning-- is it sunny? Lunch time? 3:00? Dinner? Once you’re satisfied with the amount of light that this spot gets each day, you have an official garden plot. In this very spot you will get to look even deeper. Now, get ready to dig!
2) Scope Out Your Soil
There is no escaping getting a little dirty when you garden, and getting to know your dirt is the first step in having a successful garden. Using a hand shovel, dig at least six inches deep in your garden site. Grab a handful of dirt and squeeze it as hard as you can. If it stays together, you have clay soil. If it falls apart, you have sandy soil. But, if it stays together until you touch it, then you have loam. Loam is the golden ticket, it’s light and fluffy allowing water and food to easily reach the plant but firm enough to hold down roots. If you find that your soil is not of the loamy variety, no problem. By adding compost and peat moss and giving your soil a good mixing with a shovel or hoe, you will most likely improve your soil.
Healthy soil is home to worms. If no little worms wriggle away from your fingers when you are digging, then you really should find some to add to your soil. Worms make the soil breathable for plants by aerating it. Well-aerated soil allows your plants to get all the nutrients they need to thrive.
For those of you with a scientific bent who really want to investigate, you can send a sample of your soil to the local 4-H group in your community. They will send it back with a description of the composition of your soil, including the levels of acid and alkaline.
3) Dinner Time for Plants
Plants need dinner too and their favorite meal is compost. Compost is broken down organic matter. Beginning your own compost pile is a great family project if you want to really pursue gardening and want to save some garbage from entering the landfill at the same time. Coffee grounds, the egg shells from breakfast, and carrot peelings will now return to the ground and break down, forming nutrients for your garden. And one last food note; gardens love manure. You don’t need much, just a scoop of poop will do.
4) Water, Glorious Water
Now, for the star of the show, water, glorious water. No plant can live without good, old H20 but similar to the way some plants prefer sun and others prefer shade, some plants are thirstier than others. Generally, too much water will make mud soup and drown your plants and too little will create a drought, making your garden look like the Sahara Desert. I have found two easy tests to make sure you get it just right. The first is called the stone test. When you plant your garden or container, put a good-sized stone right in it. Every couple of days, lift the stone up and look at the bottom. If it is damp, no need to water. If it is dry, get out the watering can. The other trick is really simple. Take your index finger and stick it into the soil at least two inches. If it is dry down there, then you need to water. Sometimes a garden seems perfectly watered but is only wet on the surface. One of the most important times to water is when something is first planted. Plants get stressed out when they move from their tiny little pots into a whole new place and water eases their transition.
Gardening with Kids 101: Essential Gardening Tools
All You Need is a Rake and a Hoe
If you’ve figured out sun, soil, water, and food, then you’re well on your way to master gardening. But in addition to those essentials, there are some tools that will help you really dig. A small hand trowel is essential for planting and a hand rake helps pull up weedy patches in your garden. If you want to remember what plants you planted, plant markers are useful. A good watering can is essential to keep your plants from getting too thirsty.
But as you build your gardening tool kit, there are things that your children will learn that will stay with them throughout their life. The first is a respect for all the life of the garden. Learning to be gentle with plants and kind to the tiny creatures who visit them, fosters kindness and empathy. By digging in the dirt and taking care of growing plants, kids will develop an appreciation for the world around them. But most importantly, digging, planting, and watching your garden bloom is fun and a great family activity that grows alongside your children.