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 5 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 aka Good (not so clean) Fun
Walking home the other day, I noticed that the trees on our block were budding and some bulbs were starting to emerge. In the springtime, the world comes back to life and all seems right with the world. Is there anything more life affirming? There is something about spring that makes me feel optimistic and fills me with wonder. I am amazed by the joy I feel and I want to share my sense of wonder at the earth’s rebirth with everyone.
In particular, I want to share the miracle of spring with my five-year-old son, Max. My hope is that you want to share it with your child too! The family garden is the perfect venue to share your joy of nature and a great place to explore more 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 Max can do, or wants to do. It’s not like he can prune a shrub or recognize the signs of aphids or whiteflies. But there is a tremendous amount that kids can do, try and observe. 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 your paper egg cartons, yogurt containers, milk jugs, broken plates, newspaper and spray bottles and look for opportunities to employ them in your garden. 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.
Start the Garden
Before beginning any project, it’s best to have some real ideas in mind. It’s also good to keep your financial and emotional investment small. If you are anything like me, and over-plan or over-buy for projects, something always happens. (Max has his own way to do it, or isn’t interested at all, or spills everything and makes a big mess). Often my plan doesn’t meet expectations and I end up annoyed that the project went poorly and that I wasted my time and the stuff. So the goal for the following gardening projects is to buy only a few materials, reemploy a lot of materials, and to plan broadly, not specifically.
Short of collecting and storing last year’s seeds, you’ll need to buy some. Kids are impatient, so choosing quick germinating seeds that will have (almost) guaranteed results, is best. Lettuce is a great choice as it sprouts quickly, and is edible almost from the moment it pokes it’s leaves up through the soil! If your child isn’t into salad, try plants that will be interesting through the growing season. I like planting broccoli, carrots and cherry tomatoes because they are delicious raw and because they have interesting changes as they develop. Choosing plants that change provides a great opportunity to say things like: “your baby sister will come when the peppers turn red.”
I also like sunflowers and pumpkins because their seeds are large (easy for little fingers to handle), their growing season is long, and the plants are dramatic. Herbs are another fun choice. They are fun to smell and taste and they add dimensions to your cooking projects. I hope that one day, maybe, Max will enjoy a little chopped basil on spaghetti!
Fragrant plants are great for waking up the senses. Try to plant roses, peonies, lilacs, lavender, mint, rosemary, basil, and hyacinth. I’ve started to show Max some plants to rub between his fingers, and I think that he’ll never forget their names and aromas!
You could also make somewhat more elegant jiffy pots with an origami technique that is beautifully illustrated here:
Make seed starters or “jiffy pots”
As the days grow longer, I get excited to start planting. But, it’s still too cold outside to plant in the ground. Also, it’s best not to sew your seeds directly into the soil. So, armed with seed packets, please pass on buying little peat pots. Peat pots are messy and a waste of your money. Rather, experiment with things you have around the house and go on a scavenger hunt in your recycling bin! Look for biodegradable containers like paper egg cartons and things that can become containers like newspaper.
Paper egg cartons are ready-made seed starters. Simply cut off the cover.
You can make jiffy pots by using a soda can as a mold around which to wrap old newspaper. This is surprisingly easy. Wrap the paper around the circumference, dampened with water, squeezed a little to bend the newspaper around the entire bottom of the can and let it dry. Voila!
Regardless of how you make your jiffy pots, biodegradable choices, make the transplanting easier. Dig a hole in the soil and place the pre-sprouted plant, jiffy pot and all, into the soil. The roots of your plants will easily penetrate the paper, and then paper will vanish into the soil. The jiffy pot will be easy for your child to handle successfully and they can be organized in the wooden box that’s left from those yummy Clementines, in the aluminum tin that supported a ready-made piecrust, or in one of those pressed paper coffee cup carriers.
Now for the fun of planting seeds. Have your child fill the pots 3/4 full of soil, and pat the soil down. Use their finger to make a hole in the center, sprinkle in a few seeds and cover them with soil. Try to get them to do this even if they don’t want to get dirty; it is supposed to be their garden after all! Ask your child to look at the various seeds and talk about what they will be when they grow up! How does the soil feel, look etc.? There is lots to talk about even before the gardening begins!
Once you’ve provided a good home for our soon-to-be seedlings, you’ll need to water them. Using little cups to deliver water is an obvious, but poor, answer here because adding a rush of water to newly planted seeds can wash the soil away! So, you’ll need a gentler method.
For newly planted seeds, you want a mister. Filled with water, your old cleaning pump spray bottle from a cleaning product is 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 soil 2X daily until the soil is quite damp. Squirt bottles provide great exercise for little hands. Plus, visiting our plants twice a day to “squirt” has added a new dimension to our morning and evening routine. Max and I look to see if anything is happening yet; how does the plant come out of the soil, what happens to the seed pod, does the plant look like the vegetable it will bear?….
Depending on the plants you have chosen, your seedlings will emerge in a week or two. The plants will have two leaves at first. When they get their second set of leaves, they are ready to transplant into their permanent home.
Plant Labels and Stakes
Unless you are only planting one kind of seed, it’s hard to remember what seeds are in which pot. You’ll want to label them.
In our home, food deliveries, birthday parties and the like have provided me with a drawer full of random and used plastic silverware. I try to wash the plastic ware and save it for next picnic. But aside from actually eating with them again, I love old plastic knives as plant markers! With my permanent marker and a handful of plastic knives, I’ve got plant markers for everything this season. When my permanent marker is dry, I use that as a plant marker too!
More often than not, Max transforms old wooden spoons and used chopsticks into drumsticks or magic wands, but they would also make good plant markers. Max can’t read yet, so sometmes I simply put the packet of seeds over the stake.
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 child can help and practice BIG printing. The bonus is that the extra room would also give you a cheat-sheet of sorts: special water, ph or other requirements.
I want Max’s 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 try to get the area semi-ready but leave a bit of work for him, a few weeds and pebbles, just enough so that he can feel he got the area ready. "I did it myself" is a powerful thing. Have your child loosen the soil, mark the rows and space the plants. Then dig holes just deep enough to plant your pots, back-fill the soil, water and admire their work.
Max is only 5 so, I try not to care if the rows are straight or if the plants are overcrowded. Honestly, I’ll be happy if they live. But if Max were older, or if he cared more, we could make a guide line with a few chopsticks and some old ribbon or string. We’d tie one end of the ribbon to a stick, put that stick in the soil at one end of our plot. Then put another stick at the other end, pull the old ribbon tightly and tie it to the stick. Voila! A guide line. We could use this guide to create one nice row and to measure distance along the row. Additionally, we can use this contraption to help set up the next parallel row, and the next and the next!
If you want, put a few plants into pots. As you may know, planters can be very expensive. So, rather than buying expensive new pots, again 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. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it is reuse, but in my book it looks pretty ugly. Just because it’s reused doesn’t make it good. A reused container does not have to scream “look, I was recycled so you need to like me!”
Rather, try to be a little artistic, try to tell a story, reflect something about your family or something you did together. Try an Easter basket, or some old hats, an old toy dump truck or wagon, or a large seashell. Even an old pair of kids rain boots (too cute to toss and too worn to wear) can make a good planter! You will find that unusual containers provide exclamation points in your garden. They open avenues of creativity and attract sometimes surprising, always interesting, comments and conversation. The only thing you need to do is provide drainage for your plants roots. Do this by punching some holes in the bottom of your container.
While hunting around for pots, I found a favorite clay pot that was broken, but it still had one good side. Rather than throw it away, Max and I buried the broken part and planted inside the “frame”. Then we planted our herbs. It’ll be a great way to separate herbs from other plants and we think it looks nice.
You might find some pots or dishes that are broken beyond decorative use. Don’t throw them away! Save the big pieces for slug traps (another article), or employ them to assist the drainage at the bottom of containers. Drainage in pots is important. Without drainage, The soil can become too heavy or dense and can slow or stop drainage. If water collects at the bottom of the pot it can smell awful; your plants’ roots can smother and the plant can die. So, for drainage, you just need to place a few pebbles, pieces of broken crockery or a few Styrofoam chips at in the bottom of your pot over and around the drainage holes.
If you are planting up a big planter and don’t want it to get very heavy, fill the planter about 1/3 to ½ the way up with Styrofoam "peanuts" or broken-up Styrofoam blocks and cover the blocks with old coffee filters! Styrofoam allows the water to drain away from the plant’s roots and lightens the pot considerably. The coffee filters are there to help stop the soil from being washed down between the Styrofoam when you water.
Another good way to keep planter light is to stick an overturned plastic nursery pot in the bottom of the tallish pot. Unfortunately nursery plastic pots aren’t accepted by most recycling programs. 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.
Nature will probably provide most of your plants’ water needs in the form of rain. However, there may be periods of too much or too little water. You can watch the weather together, or count the days between rainstorms or even make a rain-gauge from an old jar. This will lead you to a whole host of weather related reuse projects that I’ll write about later. But, whatever the weather, chances are that you will need to water at some point. Help your child test the soil with their fingers to check if the plants are happy. I try to get Max to put only one finger into the ground and ask “how does it feel, wet? dry? damp?" You don’t want to give your plants too much or too little water, each plant has its specific watering preferences. So, learn a little about what your plants like, then water the plants as required.
Aside from actually using a sprinkler, your hose or a watering can, one easy way to water is to fill your washed old plastic milk cartons or laundry detergent jugs with water. But, don’t use the spout to water your plants. Instead, use a nail to poke some holes just in front of the spout, so that the water sprinkles out the holes.
Either way, don’t be surprised if water ends up in unintended places!
My dad used to say: “the best fertilizer is the shadow of the gardener”. Think about it. Take a daily walk to visit your plants and you’ll see both progress and problems. Bring your child with you to watch. Hopefully you’ll be able to relax and enjoy this activity, and hopefully you’ll never notice problems. But more likely than not, you’ll notice some garden pests. I’m always surprised when Max spots the varments and their damage before I do. It’s not that he knows specific bugs but he does have sharp little eyes. Sometimes he just sees the damage. “Mommy, why are the plants bending that way?” or “Why are there holes in the leaf?”
Snails, slugs, ants, whitefly, aphids, and Japanese beetles, are some of our usual culprits. I don’t really want Max to see me kill any bugs, he’s not ready to understand the difference between beneficial and harmful insects. For now, I am happy when he says: “bugs are animals mommy, don’t kill them.” So what do I do? Let’s just say that an article about pet bugs will follow.
First of all, NEVER use insecticides like Malathion, Sevin, and Diazinon. They eradicate ALL bug-like creatures. Insecticides do more harm than good. They kill beneficials, like bees, butterflies, ladybugs and grasshoppers. Those are bugs you want! They are natural pest killers. Plus, bees are vital for pollination and are responsible for helping to create most of the fruit and vegetables that arrive on your table. You NEED to welcome beneficial insects into your garden while discouraging, preventing and controlling garden pests.
I’ll do another piece on recycling and pest control in the future but I’ll offer you a quick one against slugs, snails and ants. I don’t like them. Slugs, snails and ants don't like to travel over the gritty texture of coffee grounds. Plus, the aroma confuses their sense of smell. So, save your grounds! You can delegate the job of sprinkling the grounds on the soil around plants to your child. If you don't drink coffee at home or would like to get a hold of a lot of coffee grounds, you could ask your friends and their kids to contribute to the cause. If you want a lot more, most coffee bars dispose of grounds in a separate container. All you need to do is go in and ask.
There are hundreds of other organic pest deterrent ideas, but most of them don’t involve your children or reuse. So, I won’t discuss them here. Suffice it to say that you can contact your local Cooperative Extension, Garden Center or the Internet!
Welcome birds, butterflies and bees
A good way to get avoid pest invasions is to actually invite beneficial insects into your garden (to help your garden and to fascinate your child). Make a point to plant native wildflowers which will provide food and shelter for beneficial insects such as ladybugs and praying mantises, as well as frogs, lizards, and birds, which will eat pests from your garden.
So, stop being a perfectionist. Native plants and flowers, weeds, dead trees, leaf litter, and tallish grass provide food for insects, cover for birds and other wildlife, and mulch to keep the soil cool and moist. You'll be surprised at how many more birds and insects (many of them beneficial) you'll see in your garden once you relax your standards! Plus, crazed "garden cleanup" does absolutely nothing for your stress level. Slack off a little.
Grow a gardener!
In our garden, I hope to grow more than beautiful plants and yummy veggies. Instead, I want to grow a gardener. I hope you are like-minded. Here’s my plan and I hope that I sew what I hope to reap.
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, the opposite, of theirs. Never expect your child to accomplish something in the adult sense of the phrase, rather let him garden, and be in the garden at his own pace. It’s hard to do, but relax your standards; tolerate crooked rows and believe that pet weeds and pet bugs are great! 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.
While gardening, make it a point to stop what you are doing and engage in what they are doing: make mudpies, catch toads, look for worms, 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 child how much you love your garden, and that you love it when they do too.
I promise (and pray) 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 a DS screen.
|Gift Wrapping||Spring Gardening||Gardening||Math||Percussion Instruments|
|The Dream Jam All Access|
|The Dream Jam Book Club|
|Baby Dream Jam Book Club|
|Baby Dream Jamercise|
|The World of Nickhoo|