Chickens, caterpillars, people – when you turn off the light, we’re all just creatures looking for a crunchy green snack. Am I right?
Having the opportunity to garden with kids is pretty refreshing. If you don’t currently have a job that children want to do, stop reading this, write your letter of resignation from your crappy grind, and come back when- like me- you’re (feeling?) as cool as an astronaut.
Perhaps you insist that you must keep your day job because real life, fine. I don’t ‘get it’ but I won’t judge either. You can astronaut on the side, for fun. And if the thought of gardening with little ones – whether at home with your own kids or as part of a community effort – makes you cringe, I’d like to calmly coerce you into jumping off the deep end of a raised bed (no diving) into a land of wonder and weeds.
What’s stopping you?
“Gardening is messy,” you say. Well nay-sayer, ask yourself this: could it be worse than glitter?
“I don’t have a green thumb,” you say. Heed these words (but repeat with caution, given our client in question): “S*it wants to grow,” i.e. get out of the way and celebrate the weeds, too.
Alright, you’re convinced. Perfect. I’ve got three tips and a tenet for you. The rest you’ll figure out on your own; I believe in you (and so do the children, don’t let them down).
1. Determine your growing area and making it visually obvious to the kiddos. Raised beds are not the answer in every growing space. Cedar boards screwed together are not the universal answer. Straw bales, branches, stakes with twine – be creative, be scrappy, make it easy. Walk here, grow there. Kids 3 and under do very little damage to crops underfoot, by the way, so take it easy on the jaywalking tickets for toddlers.
2. Is everything touchable? The standard suggested dimensions for raised beds are 4’x8′. Why? Build your beds at an appropriate width so little ones can reach everything in it! Try putting stepping stones in the center of a bed as a place to stand to harvest your cherry tomatoes.
3. Check out my graph of the inverse relationship between child’s age and the minimum size of seed they can be expected to handle with expert-like dexterity:
Get it? Older kids can handle smaller seeds. Little hands manage the bean and garlic department.
Lastly, a tenet.
Maria Montessori is quoted as having said, “Play is the work of children.” I suggest setting up the garden so children can explore, observe, discover, and wonder without a lot of “No” getting in the way. If you see critical destruction occurring, consider the design flaw that made it possible. I hope your garden has the fluidity and flexibility to follow one of my main management principles: If it’s not wrong, it’s right.
Oooweee! It’s so exciting to watch these strawberry plants settle in and and make themselves at home here at Enka:ri Farm. The white flowers with bright yellow berry-shaped centers easily stand out against a background of soil and greenery. It’s bittersweet to see them, because though I could leave them there to turn into sweet juicy berries this month, the long game must prevail- the plants need to put their energy into establishing a strong root system to have big beautiful berries next year. So once in a while I stroll through the berry patch and pluck pluck pluck. Boring.
This whole perennial game is tough! Fortunately, my generation is known for its disinterest in instant gratification, and I’ll muscle through: pulling flowers off of fruit bushes and watching asparagus stalks fan out un-plucked. It hurts my sweet tooth, but it must be done! The age-old wise words of Ice Cube comfort me in this time and I remind myself that “Life ain’t a track meet, it’s a marathon.”
Anyhoo, thank goodness for watermelons. Their 90 day maturation seems like a snap compared to the plum trees and blueberries tortoise-ing along.
So there I was, farming away, doing the things I do the way I do. Quietly and contentedly humming along, and thought I could share some of the things I do to save time, money, resources on the farm.
Here you are, three ‘hacks’ that are as good for the farmer as the backyard gardener. One requires a little bit of knowledge, but I know you like learning about the world, in fact that’s what I like most about you.
Here they are in the order that they came to me.
1. Up-cycle: Busted blinds –> Plant tags!
Though we all love to turn our piles of old pallets into bookshelves and coffee tables, we occasionally run out of either pallets or books to shelve, so here’s another Project Upcycle to busy you for about 30 seconds: turning those old blinds into plant tags. In fact this is what I solely rely on for plant labeling. I can cut them to any size I want, they’re pretty much freely accessible (thrift store, garage sale, your spare bedroom), and easier to write on with Sharpie. And if i don’t have scissors around, they bend and snap apart easily. So simple, it sort of seems silly to talk about any longer. Moving on.
2. Save a puddle, Stack some trays.
This is the one that requires a knowledge base!
When I plant seeds indoors in trays, I often stack the trays to save water, time, and sometimes even heat. Here’s what you need to know in order to employ this tactic productively:
– Days to Germination. Most important thing! You MUST unstack the trays before the seeds germinate (start to sprout). Do it a day or 2 earlier than the DTM suggests when you’re starting out. If you wait too long, you can end up with leggy plants aching for sunlight. Most seed packets state the days to germination, otherwise you can easily find this information online.
-Light Requirements. Some seeds need light to germinate. The seed packet should indicate if light is needed. I use stacking in the spring to save space where I’m only trying to keep a small area warm, and in summer when I want to put trays in the shade of the barn, so I don’t have to worry about watering frequently, since seeds should be kept moist throughout the germination process.
-Don’t stack too many trays!
Try this out on a small scale to start. I don’t recommend it for crops that only need around 3 days to germinate, especially if you’re just beginning. Some crops like celery and parsley and tomatoes take a long time to germinate, so that’s where this comes most in handy.
3. Write Well
Well it could just be life advice in general couldn’t it? What I mean here is, keep a notebook; I enjoy the Rite in the Rain brand, designed with waterproof paper ready for both life’s and nature’s spills alike. Find something you like, perhaps that encourages you with words of inspiration or wit. Just this week I paused in my favorite little bookstore and flipped around through gardening notebooks while a cat napped on my lap. Sure you could input your gardening data into an app on your phone but I heard a rumor that it’s scientifically proven that you retain information better by hand writing it. Take notes because you will want to remember what you did in order to be better every spring. I know some farmers who record the high and low temperature every day, it’s not a bad idea. Part 2 of this tip: write only as cryptically as you can decipher. I have abbreviated and scribbled so terribly that I spent far more time decoding than I saved in brevity.
Can you guess what I’m labeling with those ‘codes’ up at the top of this post?