Warm spring weather seems to get people excited about planting their gardens each year. Despite the fact that many vegetables can and should be started inside as much as six weeks before planting time. Just the fun of planting the seeds and working in the earth can be very rewarding. Vegetable gardens are a fantastic place to teach children how flowers and vegetables are grown and seeing their expressions when they harvest some pole beans or dig up some new potatoes or carrots is a delight in itself.
Gardens can be a simple as a single five gallon pail on a balcony or a huge fifty by a hundred foot major garden plot. In the Northern parts of the country planning your garden while there are still lots of snow on the ground is a fun way to pass time with the kids. If you already have seed packets in hand, you can lay them out a table and have the kids identify each one.
Read the planting instructions on a few packets so they get the general idea of what has to be done with each one. Using the spacing shown on the packages of seeds, layout a general idea of where and how many different things you wish to plant. Some are planted six inches apart with rows two feet apart, some are planted in hills and some in flat areas. Each year we try and plant a few new things not only to see how they grow but to maybe find something new we may like to eat. This year it is Brussels sprouts and sugar plants.
Over the years we have fenced off an area approximately twenty-five feet by seventy feet for our garden. I used four foot high heavy rolled wore and steel fence posts. These seem to take abuse the best and last a good long time. We have opted for mowed grass rows between the beds because it not only looks very nice but it is easier to maintain. Mulch coverings for rows need constant upkeep and weeding.
Mowing with a bagger leaves a clipping free area that is easy to sit and walk on while working the garden. I use the clippings along the fences to keep the grass down and this way I do not need to trim or weed whack the fence line to keep it neat looking. I first turned the eight beds over using a rented rear tine roto-tiller. Once the sod was broken and turned under, a turning with a garden spade each spring is all that is necessary.
Unless you have a massive garden, buying a roto-tiller is not economical. It would be cheaper to go buy the veggies. We mulch our beds with either grass clippings once the plants are well established or use old black and white newspapers. Do not use papers with color in them. Once the newspapers get wet a few times, they will mat down and stay in place. Even better, they’re free. A great way to recycle them.
This year we have so far planted carrots, kale, leaf lettuce, radishes, zucchini, melons, 3 types of tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, strawberries (second year), lavender, sunflowers, sugar plants (new) and bush beans. Potatoes will be done this weekend. Last year the kids helped plant the pieces of potatoes we saved from a bag of potatoes that had gone to root.
The bushes came up very quickly and were large and lush green in color. After a few weeks the flowers appeared. After I watched the flowers die off I told my then thirty year old daughter the potatoes were ready and to have the grandchildren pick them. She gathered her three kids up and they all headed for the garden. A few minutes later they returned to the house quite dejected to announce that there were no potatoes there.
I headed back out to the garden with them as I could not believe none of those gorgeous bushes had grown any potatoes. Arriving at the potato patch, I saw immediately that there was no dirt turned over and all the plants were still quite intact. I realized then that my daughter had no idea the potatoes were underground and not actually grown on the part above ground. As I pulled the bush out and despite their very vocal protests that I was going to kill it, as soon as the kids saw the potatoes pop up, they were amazed. Including the thirty year old who said she just never knew. It gave everyone a good laugh and she still gets teased a little about it.
Do not try and create a huge garden your first year. The work involved can be daunting and if you take on too much in the beginning you will lose interest and the garden will die. Once you learn how many hours it takes to keep your veggies weed free and how long it takes to water them, you can better judge how much larger an area you can handle.
Increasing your garden size a little each year is challenging but the bounty is well worth the work. If you are a strawberry fan you are probably aware of how expensive they are at market. Last year we planted 15 plants in a raised bed and did get to harvest a few for our breakfast cereal. Last fall over all my helper’s protests, I showed them how to mow the plants down with the lawn mower and cover them with some loose straw.
This spring when the bed was uncovered, the plants were quite healthy and had generated another twenty baby plants. We moved the babies into longer rows and now our strawberry bed is more than twice as big as last year. Last years plants need to be picked every single day and the now mature babies about every other day. There are more than enough strawberries for the grand children’s breakfast cereals and some great strawberry shortcakes as well. These types of fruit and vegetables that come back year after year save a great deal of work and can save a good amount on the grocery bill as well.
Rhubarb is another garden staple that is easy to maintain and provides a constant supply of new cuttings all summer long. I planted some in a flower garden and now years later they have become a staple in that garden. Self regenerating all summer long and well into the fall season, rhubarb needs only lots of water and good soil to provide a good steady crop to harvest.
Cutting the stems right to the crown of the plant, I leave behind only a few small stems and leaves and within a couple of weeks the small ones are large and ready to harvest. Used with your strawberries for a strawberry–rhubarb pie with a sugar crust is a thing of delight. The pie never lasts long in our house. If you have some extra room try planting a few ever bearing blueberry bushes. They too do not have to be in a formal garden. Flower gardens or just a spare corner of a sunny yard is just fine. Just wait until you taste your own fresh picked blueberries in a pie. There is nothing in the stores like it.
For some reason the fruits and veggies taste better when they are fresh picked and of course it has to do with technical stuff like the vitamins stay better because they are fresh and so on. They just plain taste better. Watering the garden is another item of work that needs to be discussed. Once your garden is well established, beds laid out and so on, you may want to install some more permanent piping to bring water to the beds.
For now in the beginning, stick with a garden hose and watering can. When you water, place the water at the base of the plant. Give each plant a good long drink and let the water seep into the soil. If you have created dishes around each plant, that helps keep the water where you want it at the plant itself.
Do not wet the entire planting bed by spraying water everywhere. You are only watering the weeds. Do not water the leaves of your plants either. Wet leaves that did not have time to dry off during the day can get mildew and other plant diseases that will wipe out your garden. Control your watering by buying a watering wand for the hose. This is eco-green as it saves water and time weeding.
If you are really starved for room in your yard or live in a condo or an apartment, try growing a few things in five gallon buckets. Box stores sell the pails for a few dollars and they are clean and never used. Be careful using used spackle pails as the residue in them is not healthy for plants. The have to be scrubbed very well and rinsed several times. Tomatoes are a favorite container veggie to grow. Using any of the plant fertilizers available and good watering practices, you can grow tons of tomatoes with very little work.
Another great almost fool proof garden project for kids are herbs. There are hundreds of types available and take almost no effort at all. Rosemary, thyme and parsley can all be grown in a small flower pot and added to your meals for free seasonings. These herbs can be harvested over and over all summer long and after drying some, will provide seasonings all winter as well.
Plant some marigolds and the kids will see them sprout, grow and bloom in a very short time Color in the garden is important as well. A small area planted with various cutting flowers provides color all summer and can brighten your kitchen as well. The kids get so excited and can’t wait to show me the new sprouts each time they visit the garden.
You can get two crops with your garden. One crop to eat and a brand new crop of young future gardeners as well. What a deal for a few cents worth of seed packets.