Teaching gardening to kids in three easy lessons – Times-Georgian


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Gardening has a lesson to teach at any age and level, which makes it the perfect hobby to share with children.Along with learning together while having fun, there is the added benefit of being hands-on and outdoors, which has been said to decrease stress and aid focus.You can get started simply by choosing what projects need to be done in the yard, or you can plan a project around a certain educational topic. Designing a garden incorporates color, height, texture, fragrance, and other creative concepts to make it beautiful and interesting. It also demands basic measuring and reading skills.You can make the science lessons as advanced as you want (maybe the high schoolers can remind us of this chemistry), or if you have little garden helpers, just explain the bare minimum requirements like sunlight and water. However, you might be surprised how well they can pay attention to and understand a garden lesson.I once helped lead a kindergarten field trip at the greenhouse where I worked. Those five-year-olds were so enthusiastic and already so knowledgeable about plants. We would ask them to name the things that plants need, and every hand shot into the air. They had all the basic answers — sunlight, water, soil.We also talked about the need for pollinators and the right temperatures. Many of them said they wanted to be farmers and gardeners when they grew up. Their joy was so contagious!I’m going to share three of my favorite garden projects. Seed bombs are a fun way to get dirty and practice your throwing. A bean pole tent makes a great shady fort and provides food. And designing a small pollinator bed can support all the life stages of a butterfly.Seed BombsThis recipe is from The Wildlife Trusts website: What you need: Meadow flower seeds or seeds collected from the gardenPeat-free compostWaterPowdered clay or clay soilMixing bowlDirections: In a bowl, mix 1 cup of seeds with 5 cups of compost and 2-3 cups of clay powder (you could use clay soil instead if you have it.)Slowly mix in water with your hands until everything sticks together.Roll the mixture into firm balls.Leave the balls to dry in a sunny spot.Now for the fun bit! Plant your seed bombs by throwing them at bare parts of the garden and wait to see what pops up!Seed bombs are great because you can give them as gifts, bust them up into a small planter, or throw them in a meadow. Do your favorite flowers or color themed seed bombs. Many birds and pollinating insects need help finding enough to eat, so you can keep an eye on who visits your flowers once they’ve grown.Green Bean FortWhat you need: A package of pole beansA sunny spot (6-8 hours of sun daily)3-4 bags of garden soil (I like organic)8-12 poles at least 8 feet tallTwineA green bean tent makes an awesome fort. In my mid-thirties, the joys of a bean fort or arbor, covered completely in vines, has yet to abate. It teaches all the basics of starting a vegetable garden and provides food. If you have picky eaters, maybe they will be proud enough of their harvest to give it a try.Choose any type of bean, so long as it is a pole variety. Some green beans are bush beans and do not need poles to climb. We want the fun beans! Try rattlesnake beans, which have stripes, or scarlet runner beans, which have a beautiful red flower. Scarlet runners are delicious if picked young at 3-4 inches, or let them get 18 inches long and pop the beans out to eat them without the pod. There are also Blue Lake pole beans, Kentucky Wonder, and French pole beans.To start your fort, prepare a C-shaped bed in the ground by tilling or chopping with a shovel until the ground is soft. The “C” should be at least 4 feet across, or about 6 feet across for more than one child. Add bags of organic garden soil as amendment and to raise the bed to a mound.Ideally, you should test your soil by asking your local cooperative extension agent for a test kit. However, beans like acidic soil, which is what west Georgia soil seems to default to over time. Therefore, if you are pressed for time and have not amended your soil pH, it will most likely do just fine.You can buy poles at the hardware store or use straight limbs or bamboo poles. They need to be rather tall, at least 8 feet, to have plenty of head room inside, but also to accommodate the height of a bean vine.Space the poles evenly around the bed, laid out on the ground. Stand three of them up and push them into the ground. Tie them together to form a tripod. Begin standing the other poles up and tying them to the tripod, pushing them into the mounded bed so they won’t move. Inside the “C” should still be grass or mulch because that’s where children can crawl inside and sit.Once you have the structure tied at the top, start tying lengths of twine around the tent so the beans will have a ladder of twine to climb. Follow the directions on the package for sowing the beans, planting them at the base of the poles. Check the directions ahead of time because some varieties need to be soaked ahead of time. Keep the soil damp until the plants emerge, and then water them deeply once or twice a week. Add mulch around the plants to suppress weeds and retain moisture.Once the beans sprout, you will be amazed how fast they can cover the structure!A Pollinator Bed or PotMy last but favorite project is a small pollinator bed that attracts butterflies. All you need is a small patch of yard or a large pot of soil in a sunny spot. The most successful pollinator gardens have a wide list of plants that feed both caterpillars and butterflies.Butterflies lay their eggs on plants such as milkweed, parsley, fennel, and dill. Choose at least one or two of these plants to host the caterpillars. Be ready to watch them get eaten completely. That’s OK though; it’s why we planted them.Choose some brightly colored flowers, as well like salvia, zinnias, marigolds, hyssop, lantana, cosmos, and nasturtiums. All of these are available here in town at the garden centers. Bring your children to the store and choose a couple to plant. While you are there, see which seeds they have. It’s fun to watch them sprout, and seed packets give you more plants for your money.Before you buy plants, prepare a small area for your seeds and plants. I like to use a bright colored string to lay out a flower bed edge. Then I use a shovel to scrape the grass from that area. Chop the soil with your shovel and add some compost or enough bags of garden soil to raise the soil level back up after removing the grass. Follow the directions on your seed packages or potted flowers.Remember that you cannot use pesticides or most chemicals in a pollinator garden. A little hand weeding is good for you and great for insects. Consider keeping a garden journal with your plant tags and photos of the insects that visit. You’ll probably even see some hummingbirds visiting your flowers!These are just a few of my favorite projects, but it doesn’t really matter what you and the children decide to do in the garden. There is always something to learn — and being outdoors together is half the fun.

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