Here is a link from the Univ. of Calif. to more information on dragonflies. When you are in the garden with the kids, keep your eyes open for moments like these. A beautiful dragonfly posed for the camera while resting on a nearby bush. Notice the paper thin transparent wings! The head is made up of numerous eyes capturing an almost 360 degree view. We want these creatures in our gardens - another good reason to practice organic yard care!
Let the fun begin!
Seed Catalogs are about to arrive in the mailbox, and the kids and I can’t wait to get ahold of them! I always let my grandchildren pick out and order some of their own seeds. I usually give them a limit, let’s say 5-6 seed packets that will be their very own.
Now that both kids have a few years gardening experience behind them, I encourage them to order some cool season, warm season, and fall season seed choices. My granddaughter, for example, will want to plant peas both in the spring AND in the fall. My grandson usually sticks with the warm season veggies like tomatoes and peppers for his choices. I round out the order with the herbs, veggies, and flowers that we ALL love, including ones I pick for my daughter and son-in-law (who loves peppers with A LOT more HEAT than I do!)
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I love emphasizing with children the miracle of seeds! In this short video, you will see just one way seeds are dispersed into the environment to give birth to a new generation of plants. This is a milkweed. Show this to your kids, and check out this lesson called “Seeds on the Move: Seed Dispersal for Kids.” Wait for a windy day and go for a walk to find plants that are sending themselves into the world by this method.
“There are only two lasting gifts we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.”
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
Today, I want to share one of my favorite blog posts, “How to Grow Happy Kids with Family Rituals.” It echoes my own childhood experience and expresses what I’ve tried to do as a mother and grandmother.
One family tradition I am passing on to my grandchildren is how to garden. I want to share with them the joys and dependable seasonal rituals of growing homegrown food and show them how Mother Nature works together with gardeners of all ages, even if it is only on a small piece of land.
Family traditions, like the roots of plants, anchor children from the buffeting winds of life, feed their souls, and give them a strong foundation from which to grow tall, reach for the sun, and bloom in their own unique ways.
Garlic planting time is finally here, and it’s one of my favorite fall garden traditions. Like tulips and daffodils, garlic is planted in the fall and comes up in the spring. Winter is long and cold here, so by the end of February, the kids and I are more than ready to start looking for signs of spring.
One of the earliest arrivals is the garlic peeking its head out of the ground, giving us a boost of energy to make it through the rest of winter.
Garlic not only adds a gourmet touch to home cooking, it also adds a super healthy punch (The Health Benefits of Garlic). If your family likes garlic and you're ready to reap its many health benefits, but you’ve never grown it before, believe me, it’s easy and fun.
The Easy Garlic Growing Guide (see download form above) is an easy-to-follow checklist that walks you through the step-by-step process of how to grow garlic: 1) What You’ll Need; 2) When to Plant; 3) How to Plant; 4) In the Spring; 5) Harvest Time; and 6) Curing and Storing Garlic.
If you find yourself short on time, start small this first year. Plant 6-8 cloves from ONE garlic bulb this fall, and you will have 6-8 plants to harvest next summer. If you like, you can plant more next year!
It’s always fun to try something new!
If you're still hesitant, it might help to hear from others who once felt the same way. Here are the answers to a question I posed to new garlic growers:
Q: How did you feel about growing garlic for the first time?
“When you suggested I try growing garlic, I was worried that if I didn’t plant the clove at exactly the right height or distance, it wouldn’t grow. But I followed your step by step approach. and quite frankly, after planting and putting mulch on top, I forgot about it. Then I saw the sprouts in the spring, and it was very exciting. They grew into whimsical plants! After making Garlic Scape Lemon Butter, I was hooked. The bulbs I harvested lasted well into winter. I couldn’t wait to plant garlic the second year, and now I’m on my third year! It was easy and a beautiful addition to the garden. I’m so glad my eyes (and nose!) have been opened to the garlic plant!” (from Muffy O.)
“My daughters, ages 7 and 9, really enjoy spending the summer planting vegetables. Jan suggested we plant garlic because it is super simple and would be fun for my girls to grow. The girls were super excited about it, so we gave it a try. I let my kids put the cloves in the soil in early October, which only took five minutes. After we covered them with a little mulch, we didn’t touch them again. To our delight, by May our garlic was really growing! We used the scapes to make Garlic Scape Lemon Butter, a recipe that is amazing on everything from steaks to veggies. By July, the bulbs were ready to harvest. My kids dug them out of the ground and hung the bulbs in our garage to dry for three weeks. Our reward? Delicious, organic, homegrown garlic all winter long. We are ready to plant our garlic again this fall!” (From Lauren B.)
“I had no experience in planting garlic until you showed me that all I had to do was stick cloves in the ground, I must admit I was a little skeptical, but then spring came, and things started growing! All I did was follow the process step by step. By the time the second year rolled around, I had the confidence to do things all by myself!” (Cathy C.)
So, from my garden to yours, Happy Autumn! Please let me know if you're “in” on growing garlic this fall. I would love to hear your experiences.
Winter is long in this part of the country. One way I try to postpone the quickly approaching “fall garden goodbye” is by planting some fall edibles in August. Now that autumn is just days away, these plants (beets, onions, carrots, Swiss chard, etc.) are happily getting established and will provide a mid-to-late autumn harvest.
But even with these late veggies, the closer we get to our first average frost date around October 8, the more lonesome the garden becomes. The towering tomato stalks get dismantled, the lush bean and cucumber vines get chopped, the herbs start bolting one by one, and the milkweed releases its fluffy seeds.
Thankfully, there are still some beautiful swan songs yet to be performed by Mother Nature. For example, soon the bright red pineapple sage blossoms will grace the garden, and the lemon verbena will unfurl delicate white blossoms. These two plants look more like shrubs this time of year. And then, there’s the garden’s final curtain call — the turning of the majestic autumn tree leaves! They will eventually sacrifice themselves into huge mounds in my compost bin, where by next spring they will complete their miraculous transformation into rich compost.
Because it was the first year I started chronicling my experiences as In The Garden With Grandma, reflecting back on this season was particularly fun!
I am grateful for what Mother Nature and this humble gardener have accomplished together. I am inspired by the bubbly enthusiasm of my grandchildren, and the supportive encouragement of my family, friends, and followers. So come on Fall and Winter! There will be plenty to keep us busy until spring comes again.
New Beginnings! Today is the first day of school for my grandkids. It's always such an exciting day! My daughter is a teacher, as I was, so there's a definite rhythm we fall into and feel in our souls this time of year.
I know I have done my part this season to share healthy, organic food with our family all summer long, to teach them even more about how to grow their own food, and to provide lots of fun when they come over to play in the garden and pick food they can eat right off the vine.
There is also a certain nostalgia that kicks in about now. The days are slowly growing shorter by 2-3 minutes each and every day, but the plants remain at their very lushest and most abundant stage. Mother Nature is putting out her very best efforts, and it shows. Both She and We Gardeners know what is waiting right around the corner in our part of the country -- autumn's chill, the first frost, and then the snows of Winter. Walking around the yard at twilight is often a bitter sweet endeavor, a reminder that Summer is soon coming to an end.
Endings and Beginnings. The rhythm and joy of life.
First of all, I never “win” anything (raffles, the lottery, playing Old Maid with my grandkids ...).
However, in the spring I won a free ticket to a Garden Walk in a village a few towns over which was held on Saturday. Even though I walked in a few rain showers, it was one of the highlights of my summer so far.
On April 8, 2018, I wrote on my blog that “Gardeners are Kindred Spirits.”
Saturday's Garden Walk reinforced that sentiment as generous gardeners opened up their outdoor spaces to friends and strangers alike, revealing incredibly beautiful gardens! I snapped pictures with my iPhone when inspired with an idea that I might want to implement in my own humble garden.
You can do the same! Go on a Garden Walk and become inspired!
Kids and Water! They go together like peanut butter and jelly. When working in the garden with younger children, watering plants is an activity they will gladly take part in! When I ask, "Kids, will you please water the plants in this raised bed?" then I have gained a few moments to pull some weeds in a nearby area while the kids are watering.
It's a win-win!
Even though watering cans are great, they are not always kid friendly. A watering can is heavy for children to carry and requires some skill to use without wasting water. Another downside is that the can empties quickly, and I often spend more time filling the watering can back up again instead of pulling those weeds! Unfortunately, garden hoses fall in the same category as watering cans. More often than not, children and hoses end up tangled together or an innocent party (or plant) accidentally gets knocked over. In a few more years, my grandkids will be old enough to move the hose through the garden on their own without incident.
But until then . . .
I have a garden hack that works beautifully with kids. Watch the 2 minute video below for instructions on how to make this Cool Garden Watering Tool. Teach kids the best way to use water, our most valuable resource. Download a one page guide"Garden Watering Tips." It's free, and it will give you the basics of when to water, where to water, and how much to water. I hope you find the guide and video helpful!!!
Now, watch the video below!
Happy Earth Day Week!
Just take a moment to think about this statistic:
A few weeks ago, I attended an extremely informative class about soil at our local arboretum. To garden successfully, the first step to take is to build healthy soil. Both the "how" and "why" we add organic matter to our garden beds are important lessons to teach children. After all, it takes up to 500 years to build one inch of topsoil.
To help you and your family celebrate Earth Day, I have compiled a great list of books and awesome websites geared towards children ages 4-11 to help them learn all about the wonderful world of soil.
One thing I’ve come to know for sure. Gardeners are kindred spirits! I guess that’s why I love gardening so much, and why I think gardening is good for kids. I have found gardeners to be among the most generous, warm, enthusiastic, and willing-to-share people I’ve ever met. It doesn’t seem to matter their ages or ethnicities, what part of the country or world they come from, their socio-economic status, or more relevant today, their political persuasion. Put a bunch of gardeners together, and those potential obstacles melt away as soon as the conversation turns to plants. There are just too many questions to ask one another, too much pertinent information to share, too many successes to celebrate and failures to commiserate over. In short, gardeners just want to talk to and learn from one another. What a concept in these tumultuous times in which we are living!
Take, for example, these two young women I met on Saturday morning. I got up early (most gardeners do) and drove 30 miles due west, smack dab to farm country, to attend an organic vegetable plant sale. Many weeks before, in a small greenhouse set next to the barn, these two gardeners began the time honored tradition of seed starting while snow still covered the fields. They placed seeds first in flats, and then as the seedlings' first true leaves appeared, they transplanted the kohlrabi to kale and basil to broccoli into the individual containers that now sported robust, healthy looking plants ready to put into the ground as soon as the weather permits.
As I pulled open the sliding door leading into the greenhouse where the sale was taking place, I was met with the sight of numerous children of various ages following mom, dad, or grandma around as they picked out the plants they would take home together. I was grateful for a momentary lull in the line behind me as I was paying my bill, which was just enough time for me to strike up a conversation with these two young farmers in the photo. In the span of just a few moments we were like old friends meeting for coffee, sharing how each of us had gotten into gardening. I was not one bit surprised to learn that both had been exposed to gardening as children by their parents or grandparents. The young woman on the left above expressed a deep appreciation to her South American grandmother who once told her, “Someday, you are going to work with the soil.” Years went by without her thinking much about it until the seed her grandmother had planted in her soul began to take root. Here she is, embarking on her career of working with the soil.
More often than not, that is the way it happens. That is how it happened for me. Maybe that is how it happened for you.
Just as we were about to exchange names, I noticed the line behind me was growing and the parents with the young children needed that line to keep moving! But before our conversation ended, these kindred spirits had extended an invitation to me to bring my grandkids with me the next time. They would show them the goats, the cows, the fields, and the farm. What a gift it would be for my grandkids to be around garden people who are generous, warm, enthusiastic, and willing-to-share. What a gift it would be for your kids, too.
Have you and your children spotted any birds building nests this spring? A few weeks ago on my Instagram and Facebook pages, I posted a photo of the very early stages of a bird’s nest being constructed in a nearby tree. As serendipity would have it, that very same day my brother sent me this incredible photo of a bald eagle's nest near his daughter’s home in St. Paul. Here is another one! Below is a link to my recommended book list for kids on bird nests. I was able to check all of them out from my local library, but in the PDF I have included links to purchase the books online if you wish.
For the past seven years, my brother, John, has been an avid bird photographer whose goal it is to document as many native Minnesota birds as possible. To date, he has successfully photographed 130 of the 311 bird species commonly found in the state. He says his birding photo sessions give him an excuse to hike, particularly during the long and often bitter Minnesota winters.
I’ve hiked along with him during some of these excursions and greatly admire both his skill in photography and his knowledge of ornithology (the scientific study of birds). John will hike for hours gingerly hauling about a backpack full of camera lenses, a tripod, and other equipment required to capture just the right shot of these native birds, all of them spectacular. This labor of love requires patience and persistence. He once whimsically observed, “I am totally dependent upon the whims of the feathered ones! It’s a great reminder of who is in control . . . and it’s NOT ME!” 😊
Hmmmm . . . a lot like gardening with children! 😊 They and Mother Nature are usually the ones in control!
What are the Benefits of Birds in the Garden?
Spring is a perfect time of year to teach our children the many benefits of birds to both our gardens and to us, including the following:
- Watching birds and listening to their songs help to relieve stress and boost our sense of well-being, and heaven only knows both we and our children can use this nowadays! Being outside gives us the added benefits of vitamin D, increased physical activity as we prepare our yards for our feathered friends, and a healthy dose of fresh air and exposure to green spaces.
- Observing bird behavior opens up many learning opportunities for children to study local wildlife. Most children I know, including my grandchildren, love animals and science, so use this time of year to bolster their STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).
- Birds greatly contribute to our garden’s ecosystem. By turning our yards into bird-friendly places, we teach our children to care for Mother Nature’s creatures and respect the environment in which we live.
👍 So, thumbs up for birds . . . the only members of the animal kingdom with feathers to help them fly and keep warm . . . these beautiful egg laying vertebrates whose species number at least 10,000 . . . the graceful, two-winged creatures who fly, glide, and soar, inspiring us to do the same.
Seeds are smart. They know when the conditions are right for germination. Mother Nature tends to have a pretty forgiving nature, but she prefers a partner in the garden who will work WITH her rather than AGAINST her! One way to be a better partner is to become aware of the role that soil temperature plays in seed germination. If the soil is too cold, seeds will fail to germinate or the germination process will be SLOW! If the soil is too warm, seeds will fry! So be a good partner and get a soil thermometer. For kids, the digital ones are easiest to read.
Find out the ideal soil temp range for the seeds you want to plant by visiting the Cornell University Vegetable Growing Guides for over 58 vegetables. Click on the veggie, and the guide will provide information on growing that particular vegetable, including the optimum soil temperature range.
My grandkids love science, especially doing experiments and working with scientific tools, so they eagerly head out to the garden to take soil temperatures for me, which will vary from location to location. Sunny spot? Higher soil temps. Shady spot? Cooler temps. Raised beds generally warm up sooner than adjacent areas that are level ground. Here's a handy chart you can give to the kids on a clipboard as they go about temperature testing.
My grandkids love the homemade applesauce I make, especially when they can help me by nibbling around the apple cores and sprinkling the cinnamon in the pot. The aroma of applesauce cooking in the kitchen is a memory I hope they will always remember! But the fun doesn't have to end there. I have taught the kids the importance of composting, so they enjoy the chore of helping me collect and sprinkle the kitchen scraps out in the yard to feed the soil.
So excited to announce that it has been two months since starting this website InTheGardenWithGrandma.com. My granddaughter is under the weather today and I am going to take care of her, so this will be a QUICK entry. No better way to celebrate two months than to repost a great article that gives you yet another benefit of gardening with kids -- 😊👍❤️
Here is what we are planting and winter sowing in early March in Zone 5.
Research has shown that "Background knowledge is the glue that makes learning stick." Why not take the opportunity to teach our children not only about gardening, but also about new words they can learn along the way?
Yesterday, my grandkids and I took a late winter tour around the yard looking for signs of spring. We found daffodils peeking their heads above ground, strawberries with new green leaves venturing forth, and garlic just starting to emerge after a long winter nap (around here we plant garlic in the fall).
But then we looked up and saw the buds on one of our three magnolia trees. The word that came to mind was "harbinger." As a teacher, I know the importance of developing a rich vocabulary in our children, and as a gardener, I realize how many chances there are to teach new words to kids while they are learning where food comes from and what a magical place the garden can be.
So continue to find opportunities to teach new words to children while you are in the garden. Keep a list of the words as they come up and post it somewhere the kids will see it often. Empowering kids with new knowledge will make them feel special, because they are!
It can be hard to wait for the seeds to start sprouting, whether you decide to try winter sowing or you decide to wait until the soil and weather are ready for direct sowing in the ground. In the meantime, show the kids what is happening underground after you plant the seeds by making a seed viewer. We used a pea seed for this. It should take about 6-7 days in a sunny windowsill before you start seeing some action, and then each day you will see miraculous growth continue to take place. It's fun!
The old scout motto "Be Prepared" is a great life lesson, one of the many lessons Mother Nature can teach us when we partner up with her. Towards the end of February, every once in a while here in the Midwest we are blessed with a calm, warmer day in the 50s, a sure promise that spring will indeed come soon! Since planning ahead is essential to any gardener, start to teach your children about the importance of taking an inventory of your supplies during those occasional spring-like days. Clean out the garage or storage shed, lay out all the stakes, trellises, and garden tools to make sure you will have everything you need as soon as spring arrives. The kids can help with the sorting and the sweeping, but they will tire of the chore long before you do. Never underestimate the value of modeling for your kids. By completing the task, you will be proving to them that to enjoy the fruit of our labor, we indeed need to "Be Prepared."
Look what arrived yesterday right before the snow started falling!! It's always fun to open the package with the kids and show them the actual seed packets they picked out from the catalog (see post from 1/23). But now what?
Here in Zone 5, it's still too early to plant, except for those seeds we can safely winter sow in February (see winter sowing series from 1/29 to 2/1). However, this is a PERFECT TIME for kids to begin to build their knowledge base of seeds.
Seeds are incredibly interesting! Here is an online activity series that gives great information on the parts of a seed, what seeds need to germinate, edible seeds, and other great information on this amazing structure! For example, there are directions on How to Make a Seed Viewer.
Here is the one we made together! We used a pea seed.
For preschool children, start by reading a few picture books like Plant the Tiny Seed by Christie Matheson. For those who are school aged, a resource that can be introduced now and used throughout the growing season is from Usborne books, It All Starts With a Seed . . . How Food Grows by Emily Bone. (Note: Usborne books are sold by independent consultants. I bought mine from one who had a display set up at our park district, but I have no connection to the company and am not an affiliate).
Another idea is to have the kids "help" you sort the packets into categories. Here are a few ideas:
- put the seeds in order alphabetically (this is an easy way to find the seed packet you're looking for!)
- separate the squash into "winter" and "summer" types
- put all the sun loving plants in one pile and the shade tolerant plants in another
- separate out all the "nightshades" (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes)
- make a pile of the climbers (pole beans, cucumbers, etc.) and another pile of low growing plants
- separate out all the herbs . . .
The list of possibilities goes on and on . . . And once your seeds arrive, store them properly until planting.