Do you remember the moment you tasted your first garden-grown tomato?
Many of my early childhood memories are inevitably tied to the tastes, smells, and textures of the garden. As an expectant mother, I want to make sure my kids have those same rewarding and important firsts in the garden that will hopefully bond them to the natural world in a way that a lot of push-button pre-teens seem to have missed entirely.
It might seem strange to think about gardening while there’s still snow on the ground, but planning ahead now can make for a plentiful harvest come summer. Getting your kids to help out with starting seedlings and mapping out where they’ll be planted can make for a good cold weather diversion, and will make them all that more invested when it comes time to pull weeds and reap the rewards of all their labor.
Don’t get intimidated by growing your own. With a few simple tips (and a couple family changes of habit) you’ll have great organic produce ready for the picking in no time.
Raise the roof (or at least the soil line)
Come springtime, most garden centers sell a wide range of young plants that can be placed in a container garden (if you’re sunny spaces are limited) or in raised beds. Both choices–containers, and planting beds–are great options for the hard clay that most Georgia yards have in store for enthusiastic, first-time gardeners. Take it from one who knows. You’ll save yourself a lot of tears and heartache if you avoid trying to tear up the yard.
Have the kids transform old jars, buckets, and other containers into decorative planting spaces. If you’ll be planting directly in the container, make sure there’s a way for the water to drain away from the roots. Some pebbles in the bottom of a jar could work, or simply poke holes for the water to drain out from the bottom. Just make sure you don’t mind where the mess leaks out, once you’ve placed your containers in their sunny spot.
Join, or build, a community of growers
We all try to teach our kids to play nice, but how often do we put that into practice ourselves? Showing children how to share the physical space of a community garden is one way to truly lead by example when it comes to shared effort, and shared reward, of working together in a diverse community.
Georgia Organics has a great list of community gardens in and around the Atlanta area, but for those in and around my neck of the woods, you might just have to start your own! It might seem scary–after all, you’d have to talk to people you don’t know–but think how much easier it would be to share the work and reward of a garden with others.
Fortunately, the American Community Gardening Association offers a great, get-started guide to building a community garden in your area. Initiating a community of growers in a suburban area might seem like a big investment, but creating healthy spaces for growing kids should be a priority for everyone in the community. Wouldn’t that empty parking lot at the entrance to downtown Acworth be much nicer if it was full of shared garden plots?
What to plant
It really doesn’t matter what you plant. Seeds, even organic seeds, are cheap when compared to their grown counterparts, and anything that fails to thrive (ok, I’ll say it–anything that dies) can be chalked up to fertilizer for future plantings.
Letting kids experience this sense of failure and success on a small scale can teach them important lessons in life and open the door for important conversations about life that might otherwise remain closed.The beauty of embracing a compost-centered attitude is that you start to view your gardening flops less as failures and more as opportunities for future growth.
There are some easy standbys that can make for first-time success. Lettuces and beans, cool weather ones at that, are hardy and easy to grow. Read the seed packet and look for some that can be started indoors. You won’t want to transplant them once they’re established, so pick a container that can be transitioned to a sunny spot as the weather gets warmer.
Compost–yes you can!
Once you get in the habit of saving those scraps, it’s easier than you might think. Any organic matter–including vegetables, beans, eggshells, banana peels, and coffee grounds in filters, as well as most paper products–can be saved in a small, closed container, and added to a larger pile. If you don’t have a corner of the yard to dedicate to your pile, you can use a small trash can, tipped on it’s side and poked with holes, to make a quick compost.
The main thing to remember is to stir the stash. Oxyen and moisture are the two main components to keeping your compost on the right track. If it gets too dry (or too wet), and sits without being disturbed for months, it will still break down, you’ll just have less compost, and you’ll have to dig to the bottom of the pile to find it.
Just leave out any meat or dairy from your stash (they can attract unwanted visitors of the critter kind), and empty new scraps into the pile once or twice a week. You’d be surprised how much is saves on waste and really makes you conscious of all the packaging (or lack thereof) that comes along with your food.
For more information on composting, check out Georgia Organics’ compost guide online.
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