My name is Betsy Silverman and my background is in hospitality and in design. During this phase of my life, I am mommy to Max, a 3 1/2 year old boy who loves to pretend. I'm trying to parent in a way that encourages imagination, environmental consciousness, and creativity. My plan is to look around and try to see with Max's fresh eyes and open heart. My goal is to try to see possibility instead of preconceptions and labels. Then, I hope to take things that we would normally cast aside, and imagine it's possibilities. I hope you will find some of my ideas interesting and hope that they will inspire some ideas of your own. Thanks for reading!
Rehash Your Trash In the Garden
If you are just collecting a few berries or cherry tomatoes any old container will do
but if you want to make a harvester bucket, re-employ some household containers or toys.
Although most vegetables are tastiest when picked relatively small, sometimes itís fun to see what happens if you let the veggies grow and grow. My dad used to let a few specimens grow just so we could see how big they would get.
My sister and her family grew more plums and lemons than their family could use. So, they made a sidewalk ďfarmerís marketĒ. You could also give your produce to friends. Either way, your child will beam with pride when others appreciate your harvest.
Yes, you can buy your way to better soil by adding purchased compost by the bag or by the truckload, or you could try composting yourself.
when my permanent marker is dry, I sometimes use that as a plant marker too!
Ice Pop Sticks make great plant markers. The containerís bottom had broken off so I stuck it into my herb garden to keep invasive varieties separate from other plants. Neat huh?
I empower parents, and myself, to re-engage their inner child with their own children employing useful earth-friendly, simple and creative projects.
Labor day has come and gone it’s time to close-up my garden. It’s time to finish harvesting my tomatoes and peppers, purchase and plant bulbs, and put the garden to sleep for the winter. It’s sad that the days are shorter and the growing season is over. But I find comfort in the change, it tells me that all is right in the world. I am amazed by the joy I feel each fall and I want to share my sense of wonder at the changes with everyone.
In particular, I want to share the miracle of fall with my four-year-old son, Max. My hope is that you want to share it with your child too! The family garden is the perfect place to explore complex ideas of change, patience and nurturing. This is the basic stuff of life, and of gardening in particular.
There’s not a lot of gardening per se that a child can do. It’s not like they can prune a shrub. But there is a tremendous amount that kids can do, try and observe in the garden. And, there are a lot of ways that children can be involved in, and take ownership of, the family garden. Amazingly, this all can be done while reusing items that you might ordinarily discard!
You might not think of your garden as a place to re-employ your household waste. But, it pays to stop before you discard things like yogurt containers, milk jugs, chopsticks, newspaper, twist ties, pantyhose, and clothing because there are opportunities to employ them in. In this article, I will layout a few gardening basics that will involve your child, and show you a few ideas and that will empower you and your child to reexamine and reuse otherwise useless household items to create a wonderland in your family’s yard.
Reap What You Sew
At the end of the summer your garden will bear fruit: berries, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and you’ll want to harvest them. Max loves to help me hunt for the last of the tiny cherry tomatoes and his keen eyes always spot ones that I’ve missed.
Empty milk jugs make great harvesters! Cut off the spout and down a few inches on the side opposite the handle to make a large opening. Thread a belt through the handle of the milk jug and put the belt around your waist. This frees both hands to do work. You can use big yogurt containers or old nursery pots as berry picker buckets too. Simply punch two holes at the top and tie string at each hole, or don’t! The jug alone will carry the harvest nicely.
After the harvest, the first order of business is clean up. Max helps me to find dead branches and flower stalks to prune. Next we pull up the spent vegetable plants, roots and all, we carefully knock (bang) the soil from the roots and back into our plot.
It’s fun to see the roots and examine the bugs that live among them. Sometimes the stems become wonderful lances for jousting and sometimes they simply land on the old shower curtain. We use it to drag the debris over to our compost heap. Regardless, this boring work is, it’s fun when Max joins me.
Next we get the garden beds ready for next year. We have a section of the yard set aside for Max. He is responsible for leveling the soil and for breaking up the clumps. I like to let him feel that he’s done it himself. While smoothing the soil, he gets to think about what he’ll plant next year. I want the garden to be personal, something he can call his own, take pride in, watch grow and change. It’s his spot to make discoveries at his own pace. "I did it myself" is a powerful thing.
Some of our garden plants are “tender” and suffer from the extreme NYC weather and wind. To protect them, Home Depot is happy to sell me yards of burlap. But I prefer to go to Fairway and grab some old big coffee bean bags that they just throw away anyway!
It’s best to wrap the plant from the bottom up so that branches don't get pulled into unnatural positions. For large shrubs, I need to pre-tie some branches in, so I repurpose ripped pantyhose! Hose are ideal because, mercifully, they stretch a bit guiding plants gently, the way they do my thighs. All I do is cut off the leg and use it as twine! Sometimes it makes sense to place stakes around the plant and wrap the burlap around the stake rather than around the plant itself. If you have such a plant, try using old Venetian blind slats as stakes.
Wrapping your plants is easy. Simply cut the bag open and tuck it under the shrub you plan to bundle. Pull the burlap together to form a tight bundle around the base of the shrub. Tie the bag in place using the twist ties that grocery stores use to tie heads of Romaine into bunches! The goal of wrapping is to conceal all greenery. Overlap the fabric and where it forms a seam, tie it together with more ties. Max holds the burlap while I tie it securely. Max thinks that it’s like putting a coat on our plants, and it is.
Hopefully you have some perennials in your garden. (They return each spring). And hopefully, those perennials had a great growing season and need to be divided. This can be a very messy job. In fact, cleaning garden soil from the lawn or deck can take longer than transplanting!
Rather than avoiding this important fall chore, make no mess. Spread an old shower curtain out next to the plant. Pile all the dirt that gets dug up and the plant itself onto the shower curtain. If you are going to move the plant, use the shower curtain like a skid. Then when you’re done, have your child help you lift the edges and send the dirt directly where you want. No dirt on the lawn or patio. No need to pay the gardener, and your child will love helping you!
If you plan to give away a piece of your just-divided perennial, grab an old plastic nursery pot as your vessel. If you need some pots, let me know, I have a bunch, I can’t bear to throw away these potentially useful, non-recyclable pots! Did you know that plastic pots aren’t accepted by most recycling programs? This is because the pots themselves are made from recycled plastic, and there's often no telling which types of plastic went into them. If you're lucky enough to have a nursery nearby that accepts the pots to reuse themselves, that's a great option. I don’t, so I try to find ways to reuse them. Remember, plastic, like diamonds, is forever. If you have pots, reuse them for as long and as frequently as possible.
Leaves, that’s why they call it Fall!
Scoop leaves up any way you can, but whatever you do, don’t throw them in the garbage! Compost them. Compost is the poster child of organic matter. You can’t have organic gardening without organic matter. Finished compost looks like rich soil. It’s dark and crumbly with an earthy smell. Plants live in and get their nourishment from the soil. Compost has a robust balance of nitrogen (for foliage growth), potassium (for fruit formation) and phosphorus (for root development). Like children, plants do best when well fed and living in a happy home. You need healthy soil!
This doesn’t mean buying “Miracle Grow” in the spring! Commercial fertilizers are expensive and tend to give your plants a “shock” of energy, plus their benefits are quickly lost. What your plants crave is crumbly soil full of organic matter and a slow steady diet of vitamins and minerals. Feed your soil, and let the soil feed your plants.
Starting a compost pile can be as easy as setting aside a corner of your yard and dump leaves there. If your yard is small, use an old laundry basket. Cut most of the bottom out of the basket and nestle it into a corner of your yard or set it one to two inches below the soil line. From now on, put garden scraps into your compost pile! If you are ambitious, you could begin to save food scraps: peels, stems, seeds, coffee grounds, and tea bags in a bin on your kitchen counter. Once you scrap bin is full, have your child bury it in the compost pile or basket.
What happens is an amazing alchemy. Worms and microbes will find your waste and eat it. The result will be nutrient rich compost. Compost is far more valuable then chemical fertilizer and better for the environment. Imagine for a moment the conversations you could have about how food scraps become (return to) and revive the earth!
We have small garden with no corner for composting, so we have a worm bin in our basement! Max loves it. To start your own worm bin, you'll need an aerated container (read old plastic box with a few small holes drilled in the sides), bedding (read shredded newspaper), a moist and temperate environment, a small amount of soil, and, of course, some worms. It’s very easy, but I am not going to write about worm composting here, as there is a huge amount available on the Internet. I particularly like this video on composting: http://www.howtohomestead.org/?page_id=182
Max loves to dig in our worm bin. These squirmy creatures pique his curiosity and tickle his senses. Playing with worms is a great way to teach him about nature and her cycles, especially decomposition. We talk about how worms improve the soil by creating channels for air and water, and by breaking down organic matter, turning it into fertilizer. Plus, it’s fun and it makes me, just about, the coolest mom on the block!
It is estimated that up to 30% of trash in landfills is composed of yard and kitchen waste: leaves, grass and vegetable scraps. Reducing the amount of stuff in our landfills directly affects all of us as composting helps reduce greenhouse gases. So, if you don’t actually have a garden, try to bring your vegetable scraps to a neighbor, a community garden or a farmers market or to Whole Foods!
Many people believe that throwing food scraps and paper products into a landfill is harmless because the it’s biodegrade. This is and isn’t true. In landfills, organic materials break down in a different environment than they do in compost. In a landfill it breaks down without oxygen, and creates methane. Methane is more potent than carbon dioxide and a powerful contributor to greenhouse gas.
In your garden, organic material doesn’t create methane because it breaks down with oxygen. Backyard or basement composting also avoids the negative impacts of collecting and transporting the materials in trucks and is environmental better than throwing the same items in the garbage or sending it down your garbage disposal. Your kid doesn’t need to understand all this (yet) but it is important stuff.
Once the garden is clean and neat, it’s time to think about next spring. For me, planning for spring gardening means buying bulbs! A trip to the garden center is a great way to involve your little one. Any garden center will have a great selection of bulbs from which to choose. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus, the list is long and the options are almost endless. Even within each flower type you have choices: tall ones, short ones; early and late bloomers; red, yellow and blue and multicolor ones! Your child can help you select. You can even talk about what you did last year and discuss what changes you would like to make. There are any number of options and ways to collaborate on your decisions.
Bulbs in hand, have your child dig a few holes about 6 inches deep and wide. Then, place a few bulbs into the hole, pointy end up, and fill the hole with soil. I like to plant several bulbs in one hole as the little bouquets they create are pleasing to my eyes.
Once you’ve provided a good home for your bulbs, you’ll need to water then in. Using little cups to deliver water is an obvious, but poor, answer here because adding a rush of water to newly moved soil can wash it away! So, you’ll need a gentler water delivery system.
This is not gentle
Aside from actually using a hose or watering can, one easy way to water is to fill your old clean plastic milk cartons or laundry detergent jugs with water. But, don’t use the spout to water your plants. In fact, I’m going to ask you to put the cover back on! Then, use a nail to poke some holes just in front of the spout, so that the water sprinkles out the holes.
Sometimes, I can’t remember where I’ve planted what. This is especially true about bulbs that won’t bloom for 6 months. More often than not, Max transforms broken wooden spoons and used chopsticks into drumsticks or magic wands, but they would also make good plant markers. Max can’t read yet so I simply put the packet of bulbs over my markers. Sometimes, I cut pictures from catalogs from nurseries and glue the pictures to the stakes.
Another great stake can be made from random plastic knives. In our home, food deliveries, birthday parties and the like have provided me with a drawer full. With my permanent marker and a handful of plastic knives, I’ve got plant markers for everything this season.
Assuming that you have old vinyl blinds saved, they would make wonderful plant labels! Simply disassemble the blinds, cut them to length and write the names of the plants on new stakes! If you happen to have them, cut them extra-long so that your kiddo can help and practice BIG printing.
A pot of tulips on the windowsill in February can help a gardener survive the winter. So with a few extra bulbs, it’s fun to plan for February now. There are two basic ways to do this: in water or in soil.
Planting bulbs in water allows you to watch and touch the roots as they grow. First choose a container to use for forcing. You can buy specific vases called forcing vases. These vases have a short, narrow neck and a wide mouth. Thus allowing the flower bulb to sit with only its roots in the water. You do not need this special vase.
I prefer a 2” deep pan or bowl and bunch of plastic bottle caps, (traditionalists use pebbles). Bury the bulbs halfway into the caps, with the bulb points facing up. Then tuck more caps between the bulbs to support them. Fill the pan with water so that the lower quarter of the flower bulb touches the water.
If you choose to put your bulb into a pot with soil, that’s great too. As you may know, planters can be very expensive. Rather than buying expensive new pots, think creatively about the things you already have. An easy to implement rule is: if you can get some dirt into it, it's a planter!
Some people cut down milk, soda, yogurt or ice cream containers and use them as planting pots with great success. But in my book it looks pretty ugly. Try to be a little artistic, tell a story or reflect something about your family. Try an old Easter basket (line it) or a toy dump truck as your planter. Even an old pair of rain boots (too cute to toss and too worn to wear) can make a good planter! Unusual containers provide exclamation points in your home. They open avenues of creativity and attract sometimes surprising, always interesting, comments and conversation.
An old potty seat says it all
Once you choose your creative reuse container, fill it 3/4 with soil. Don't worry about soil fertility or feeding your bulbs because the bulb has stored food to flower one time. Bury the bulbs to their tips, with pointed ends facing up. Now, place the set-up in a cold place (garage) where temperatures remain between 35° and 45° F) for a minimum of eight weeks. You and your child can visit the bulb tray every few days and look for the roots to begin showing and for the top to elongate. The process will take about 8 weeks. At this point move the tray to a bright window, where the bulbs should bloom in two to four weeks. Once they have begun blooming, remove them from the bright light to encourage a longer bloom period.
Indoor Plant Watering
Since nature can’t provide water for your forced bulbs, you will have to water them yourself. If you’ve planted in water, refill the container to keep the roots wet. If you’ve used soil, help your child test the soil with their fingers to check if the plants are happy. Your child can put one finger into the soil, how does it feel? Wet? Dry? Damp? You don’t want to give your plants too much or too little.
Using little cups to deliver water to a plant in soil is an obvious, but poor, answer Adding a rush of water to create divets and expose it’s roots to the air! So, you’ll need a gentler water delivery system. Why not try a mini version of the laundry detergent sprinkler that I described above.
Indoor plants can get dusty and often suffer from low humidity. So, you’ll need a mister. Filled with water, your old pump spray bottles from cleaning products are perfect! Be sure that the container is empty, wash it with plain vinegar and water and let it air dry. Mark your spray bottle “WATER” so that you don’t accidentally use it for another purpose and have your child mist the plant’s leaves whenever necessary.
Squirt bottles provide great exercise for little hands. And, visiting your plants to “squirt” has added a new dimension to cold winter days. We look to see if anything is happening with our plants, new leaves, blossoms, and bugs, whatever. My dad used to say: “the best fertilizer is the shadow of the gardener”. Think about it.
Scarecrows aren’t really important in the garden except that they are traditional and fun to look at, not to mention that they are a great re-use project! Grab some of your child’s old clothing and stuff with leaves, it’s a fun, fun decoration for Halloween!
After Halloween, turn your jack-o-lantern into a snack-o-lantern feeder for backyard visitors: squirrels, chipmunks, or birds. Just fill your carved pumpkin with ears of Indian corn, seeds, nuts, fruit pieces, apple cores and skins. Then place your pumpkin feeder outside. Then sit back and watch the greatest show on earth! Which backyard visitors come to dinner? Which one is the messiest eater? Which treat does each visitor like best?
Grow a gardener!
In our garden, I hope to grow more than beautiful plants and yummy veggies. Instead, I want to focus on growing a gardener. I hope you are like-mined. Here’s my plan:
I think that in order to garden with your child, your view of and goal for the garden must change. You’ll need to see the garden, and gardening, from their point of view. You will need to recognize that your gardening priorities are different, often opposite, of theirs. Never expect your kiddo to accomplish something in the adult sense of the phrase, rather let them garden, and be in the garden at their own pace. Relax your standards and believe that pet weeds and pet slugs are great!
While gardening, make it a point to stop what you are doing and engage in what they are doing: move mulch for no reason, catch toads, look for worms, pull a few weeds, blow fuzzy dandelions, run for no reason and enjoy the fresh air. Try to relax and enjoy your outdoor space with your child, engage your child in the creative gardening process and make your garden “work” fun and exciting to share. Show your kiddo how much you love your garden and yard, and that you love it when they do too. Be sure that the outside part of your home is a place your kiddo can call theirs.
Try to engage in every day nature right outside your door, rather than watching it quickly unfold on Nat Geo discovery. Your garden can provide pleasurable, multi-sensory experiences that challenge your child’s mind, invigorate their body and restore their spirit. I promise (and prey) that you’ll grow more than plants. You’ll grow a creative mind that might actually prefer the wonder and marvels of the earth to the glow of their DS screen.
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