Since purchasing a home in 2010, every year has been an opportunity to expand on the meager gardening space my 0.145 acre lot allows. The first summer was spent clearing the dense jungle that was the backyard – overgrown Rose-of-Sharon, droves of Raspberries that had crept under and through the fence, an abundance of seedling Maples, tall grasses, creepy Cleome; you name it, it was probably there. My first year, my mother helped clear the overgrowth and helped me haul my apartment-stairwell planters, which did moderately better once given open air and free access to all of the sunshine they could handle, plus more. I had a modest yield of tomatoes and peppers, a few assorted herbs. We were able to get a small vegetable garden in with more tomatoes, more peppers, peas, beans, and zucchini. The following year, we expanded the garden, continued to clean-up, and prettied everything up, laying bricks to line the plots and planting a multitude more of variegated edibles and florals alike, with equally variegated results.
Each year, my garden has expanded a little bit more with my vegetable garden taking on more variety and my herbal selection expanding exponentially. A garden, of course, is a process – it is not necessarily completed in one short timeframe or season; instead, it evolves as needs and desires change. You will, however, seldom be disappointed in the progress you make, and your local ecosystem cohabitants, like the bees, will thank you immensely for your hard work.
Close to my son’s first birthday, a key addition to my garden was made: his help, which was precious to say the least, frustrating beyond belief at times, and wholeheartedly awesome to see him take interest.
If there is one thing most toddlers are good at, it’s filling. Filling boxes. Filling buckets. Filling cups. You name it, they’ll fill it. If I thought Niko was a copycat before, this series of experiences took the cake. From helping with filling pots to planting seeds to watering, he’s all about it, which has transformed the gardening experience from my mother helping me to Nikola and I working together to take care of our garden (with, of course, a lot of help from my mother, the gardening expert, still).
I try to involve my son as much as possible, in as many facets as possible, when it’s time to set up and tend to our garden. He likes to help me pick out doo-dads for the garden (to keep the birds away), voices his opinion on berries and other goodies to plant, helps me decide on seeds (he particularly likes midnight nasturtiums and fire-mix calendula), has a say in the pots (rainbow mix, of course), and does his fair share of transferring potting mix to the pots and sprinkling seeds. He even helps plant started flowers for the large, decorative pots, not to mention the joy he gets on warm summer evenings helping me water the gardens and containers. Did I mention he does a great job assisting in harvesting, also, especially the blue- and strawberries? I just wish more would make it into the house.
Setting up a plot of garden requires some planning early enough in your area’s growing season. Section off your an area, pull up the grass, and mix in some organic hummus to get your garden started. Select seeds and seedlings that fair well in your climate zone. Watch out for GMO plants and take a peek at the parent companies of some popular seed providers. Review the recommended planting dates for the plants you have selected for your climate zone and then have at it! Take these opportunities to engage your family – seek input for the plants that will fill your garden and get everyone involved in the lighter tasks, like fertilizing (with organic and truly natural materials like compost or peat), watering, planting, and weeding. As a bonus, the grass you pull up from your garden and the weeds you dig out can be used to start your own compost pile!
It’s never too late to get a container garden going with some herbs, select vegetables, and many smaller flowers, especially if you have room to bring your containers inside if the weather becomes inclement.
There are many great gardening resources on the internet, like this helpful guide to common herbs from WVU, a guide to container gardening, this resource for determining when and how to plant, this guide to pests, and more suggestions to get children involved. Many eBooks are also available on the subject, and many communities have community gardens or garden clubs where you can find saged gardeners who can offer friendly advice.
You will be amazed, as I was, at how adept your children, at any age, may be in helping! Check here for additional ways your can use gardening to engage and educate your children and family. Gardening not only provides relaxation but can also be a means to be more self-sustained (with food *you* control!) and can help teach invaluable lessons to your family about agriculture.
This article has been edited from a previously published post from Panda & Ananaso.