After decades of digging in the dirt, this summer I’m treasuring time spent gardening with kids.
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When we’re side-by-side, weeding and watering, they share with me their thoughts, their anxieties, their daydreams. We plant much more than seeds and we harvest much more than produce. In my far-from-professional opinion, I imagine gardening has always had that effect. More than 70 decades ago, in the West Virginia hills, my dad planted and harvested side-by-side with his granddad. With his denim knees rubbing in the dust and his rough knuckles caked in dirt, my dad learned everything he knows about tap roots, fibrous weeds, and germination cycles from that old West Virginia soil and my quiet, thoughtful great grandfather.
Then my daughters, in the days of Strawberry Shortcake shorts and bopping little blond ponytails, knelt right beside my father and me, in his well-cultivated vegetable gardens of Delaware. They soaked in knowledge of Japanese beetle control and plant pruning while talking about everything–from the insignificant to the monumental (at least in the mind of a child). They tended soil and seeds and grew relationships.
They used to bring home cucumber and tomato plants from their PapPap’s garden in old cottage cheese containers and plant them, with a plastic shovel, in their own little garden plot. We lived on a tiny pie-shaped sliver of land that was less than one twentieth of an acre (.19 to be exact), so their garden consisted of an often-turned, well-loved narrow rectangle of dirt on the side of the house. More than a dozen years later, they’ve added their own knowledge and experience to the efforts; they’re now tending their garden with five generation’s of wisdom.
The garden plot has grown. And the generations have migrated north. The knowledge has stretched all the way up the east coast from the back roads and majestic mountains of West Virginia to the backyard suburbia of the First State, from Delaware to the dirt lanes and beautiful mountain vistas of New Hampshire.
All four daughters have always liked dirt. But one now engineers nuclear detectors. One is studying all things marine off the coast of Maine. One is a lover of the written word, like her momma. Then there’s my ag girl. She has the dusty denim knees and knuckles that are caked in dirt like her PapPap’s.
She’s the homesteader; working in the dirt soothes her soul, and I love doing so by her side. Thankfully, our pleasure often yields a profit (despite our new rocky New England terrain and short growing season). And we are continually learning.
Truth is, you don’t have to have a great-great grandfather who farmed down south, or acres of land to turn over to grow enough food to feed a family. You can start small, with no knowledge, a pile of clay pots, and a bag of topsoil. Here are a few basic tips for gardening with kids that have helped my family as we’ve improved our gardening knowledge over the years:
5 Tips for Gardening With Kids
–tips that span 5 generations–
1. Grow from heirloom seeds.
Heirloom seeds can be harvested, dried, and provide seedlings next year, every year. My daughter saved up her money to purchase the exact heirloom seeds she wanted and felt like it was possibly the best investment she ever made. She saw each seed as a personal history lesson, wondering what plant 100s of years ago these seeds may have come from and who might plant seeds resulting from her own plants many generations from now. Read my previous post for 5 simple steps to growing a garden from seeds.
2. Label your garden well.
With all the heirloom varieties, you may not be just planting peppers, but three varieties, in two colors. We planted eight varieties of tomatoes, with wonderful sounding names such as Big Rainbow, German Pink, and Cherokee Purple. We highlighted their nomenclature with a three-fold purpose this year: labeling, recycling, and deterring. The clanging, glittering metal of used canning lids will help keep the birds away from the tomato’s tempting, juicy ripeness. Plus, gardening with kids is always more fun if they get to scribble on metal.
3. Welcome helpful visitors to your garden.
Read my previous post about why you want to welcome frogs and toads to your garden and how to encourage them to stay. And glance at this previous post if you’d like inspiration to learn about a few fascinating amphibians.
4. Propagate new plants.
Did you know you can use the clippings you remove from your tomato plants to grow new plants? You’ll notice lots of suckers once your plant is about 2 feet tall. And no, I’m not talking about lollipops. The suckers are the part of the tomato that grow up in the “v” where two branches meet. (And they really are formally called “suckers.” That’s what my Dad always called them, but I assumed that was West Virginia jargon from older generations. So I looked it up, and sure enough, they’re “suckers.”) If you don’t pinch these off they’ll zap the plant of vital energy it needs to invest in growing those luscious tomatoes you wanna eat. But instead of throwing away the suckers you remove, simply place them in a small cup of water. Change the water often. In just a few weeks, those pieces you would otherwise have thrown away will have grown roots and be ready to plant and produce their own fruit. If you fertilize and water them well, they will grow quickly and give you almost as much produce as the parent plant before the summer is over.
5. Document everything.
We like to add pages to Our Backyard Book to keep track of our favorite varieties of vegetables or record about ones that have interesting stories to tell. (Glance at this post if you’d like to know more about how we put together Our Backyard Book.) If you’d like to make a few ID pages of plants while gardening with kids, please print and enjoy this free printable.
Feel free to follow along on SoulyRested.com, for more nature study resources all summer long! And, as soon as you follow SoulyRested.com, you can snag a 7-page, detailed, free printable that will get you started on an unbelievably easy, unlimitedly rewarding journey of nature study with a child.
Even the least science-oriented homeschool mom ever can dive right in.
And love it.
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After almost 2 decades of homeschooling, with 5 generations of gardening planted in me, I truly believe that every plant has an interesting story to tell. And gardening with kids gives you not only a common, worthwhile goal to work on together–tending the soil (whether its a big plot or a small pot) and watching the miracle of its growth–but also precious hours spent side-by-side, talking about what’s important to your child and cultivating a deep relationship. Documenting a few plant stories along the way will make it all the sweeter… so be sure to print and enjoy this free printable together with your child.
This Post Has 6 Comments
Sabrina14 Jul 2016
Hmmmm…will have to find an online visual for those ‘suckers’….lol. I think I’m having a problem with my tomato plants for that very reason. Thanks!
Michelle Visser17 Jul 2016
Let me know if you didn’t find a visual, Sabrina. I, sadly, have a few too many in my garden right now! (So many suckers, so little time!) Hope you’ve had a chance to remove your suckers and your plants start to thrive!
Suzie Homemaker14 Jul 2016
I’m sure you know but didn’t say, and others may not know so I will add, if you plant 2 or 3 kinds or more of same type plant, (corn or peas or tomatoes what ever it is) in same area they will cross and no longer be Heirloom. but a Hybrid.
Michelle Visser17 Jul 2016
Thank you for pointing that out… I should have mentioned that we are blessed to have a huge garden where we can plant so many heirloom varieties and give them all their own space, far from others of their own kind. For small areas, gardeners do need to stick with only one variety of heirloom plant to avoid cross-pollination among the varieties.
Dawn22 Jul 2016
Love it! I am scheduling this for my fb page and pinning it too! Love the wisdom
Michelle26 Jul 2016
Thanks, Dawn. I’m glad you found it helpful!