During the pandemic, most children are out of school, and many parents are looking for creative ways to continue to offer an education to their children. Just like the kitchen, a garden is a wonderful “classroom” for kids to learn so many lessons. Science and math concepts flow naturally when discussing how plants are pollinated, why they need sunlight, or as kids measure the growth of a plant each week. Families can augment the experience of gardening by researching questions online. Traditional exercises like laps run in gym class can be replaced with the physical activities of gardening like digging, moving soil, planting, weeding, and harvesting. Not to mention the sensory experiences involved in gardening can help kids make “friends” with the foods they grow and foster a lifelong love of healthy eating. There is even research to show that exposure to soil when we garden can help diversify our microbiome (gut bacteria) which may make us less prone to certain illnesses.
There are so many ways families can start gardening together, and you don’t have to have a lot of outdoor space or resources to get started. Here are some ways you can enjoy gardening and the outdoor classroom learning experience of growing your own food.
- Containers: Container gardening is a great way to start gardening, especially if you don’t have a lot of time or space. Start with a few pots, a few seedlings, and some potting soil to get started. Herbs like mint, basil, and oregano are great for growing in containers and can save you a lot of money at the grocery store. Find a sunny spot outside, ideally near a window so you will be reminded to water regularly. You can even try a few other veggies like patio tomatoes or spinach. Check out our step-by-step instructions on container gardening HERE.
- Indoor garden: Growing a garden indoors can be fun, especially if you are in a cooler climate with a short growing season. A few months ago, I received an Aerogarden as a gift and my kids have been having fun watching herbs grow, starting in the late winter. These units come with seed and soil pods, plant food and a grow light. They are a bit expensive, but are fun for year-round growing and are easy to care for, especially for kids. If you use a lot of herbs in your cooking the cost might be worth it.
- Raised beds: Planting in a raised garden bed is really simple and has a lot of advantages. Making a raised bed with untreated lumber can be fairly simple, but many hardware stores sell fairly inexpensive raised bed kits that snap together. A raised bed is a great option if you don’t have good soil in your area because the frame is then filled with store-bought soil or compost and mixed components like peat moss and vermiculite (naturally occurring minerals that expand and help the soil stay aerated). A popular way to garden in raised beds is Square Foot Gardening. This method helps you grow more in less space by growing plants close together in raised beds. What’s also great about this type of garden is you can place the bed in the best sunny spot and there are typically far fewer weeds to tackle. Also, the height of the raised bed may make it easier for people with less mobility to reach.
- In existing landscaping: You don’t have to have a designated spot to garden! Each year at the Dr. Yum Project, we plant many beautiful edibles in existing landscape beds between more traditional plants like boxwoods. We plant cool weather plants like kale and rainbow Swiss chard on the shadier side of the building while herbs like basil thrive and look pretty on the sunnier side. Edibles can be beautiful so think about how you can plant them around the landscaping you already have at your home.
- In the ground: If you have a spot with great sun and reasonable soil, you might decide to try a more traditional garden in the ground. Start by tilling up a small plot. If you really want to get more scientific, send a sample of soil to wherever your Cooperative Extension refers you, so that you can learn what your soil might be missing. Enhancing your soil may help you to have an even more bountiful harvest. Pick some easy plants to start with like tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers. Each year you may decide to expand your garden to try new varieties of plants. Think of your garden as an experiment and you may find some plants grow more successfully than others.
For a great discussion on using compost in your garden see our Facebook Live video with our master gardener volunteer, Jonathan Stevens.