Gardening is a great hobby while practicing social distancing. However, gardening can be much more. Each aspect is accompanied by a lesson in science, art and patience.
For those who are at home with children, if you choose, each gardening project can be turned into a more in-depth science lesson; alternatively, it can be a therapeutic retreat in these stressful and uncertain times. Here are some of my favorite projects that can be done with kids.
Build a terrarium
Terrariums are a fun way to create a mini forest. An old aquarium, large mason jar, or other transparent container with a lid can be used. No need for charcoal or gravel – just use a seed starter mix and plant. Use small houseplants or even cuttings to start. Water abundantly and place in a sunny spot, but with indirect light. Make sure that condensation forms and stays on the sides of the container. If there is too little condensation, add water. Too much (running down the sides), just remove the cover and let the floor dry out a bit.
Start summer flowers and seeds indoors
Now is the time to start summer veg / flowers – like tomatoes, beans, peppers, zinnias, and sunflowers – on a windowsill or under a grow light (even a fluorescent light bulb works) . Beans germinate very quickly and can grow a few inches each day. To add a teaching lesson, have the children measure day-to-day growth, count the leaves. If they are old enough, have them graph the growth. To make this a full-fledged science experiment, try growing seeds in different types of soil and watering with various liquids in addition to water.
Toilet paper jars
Start these summer seeds in toilet paper jars. Cut four slits in the sides (about a third of the way up), then fold as you would a box. It may require an older child, but the younger ones can help fill the pot with soil. These pots degrade around the time your seedlings are ready to come out in the ground.
Why not grow flowers that can be enjoyed both outdoors and indoors? Nasturtiums, calendula, snapdragons, pansies, and hollyhocks are all edible flowers that can be planted now for late spring and summer blooms. Add these garden flowers to a salad or use them to decorate cupcakes or cookies.
Always a favorite with visitors to the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, this moving plant will keep children entertained. When the leaves are touched or blown on, they quickly close as a defensive mechanism. Unlike the Venus fly trap which can take days and requires a lot of energy to open, the Sensitive plant reopens in 10 minutes. The seeds are readily available in nurseries and online. Quickly submerge the seeds in boiling water for a few seconds to help germination, then place them in seed starter soil. Native to the tropics, the Sensitive plant will thrive indoors by a sunny window or outdoors in partial shade until winter, where it will need to be protected from the cold.
This fun annual is also called the electric daisy, because when the flower is chewed or even placed on the tongue, it causes an electric / numbing sensation. The seeds can be found online.
March is the time to start your first round of soil, seed or plant sunflowers. Plant tall varieties, such as “Mammoth” or “Kong,” in a square, circle, or any other shape you desire to create a fort that children can crawl into.
Each botanist has created a collection of plants – start early to your children. During your outings, collect interesting leaves and flowers. No need for a flower press. Place the specimens between the pages of the journal and place them in a ledger. Add more pounds or bricks to increase the weight. When pressed and dry, they can be glued onto paper or arranged in a pretty bouquet on paper. Ideal for decorating cards.
Start a vermicomposter
Worms may not be suitable for all children, but garden hoses that are not afraid of earthworms will learn and enjoy keeping them as “pets.” Plus, you get the added benefits of compost and worm tea. Vermicomposters as well as worms are available online, along with instructions on how to use plastic bins to create your own. Yes, you can even keep them indoors. Wormfancy.com is a great local source.
Start vegetables from leftover food
For everyday use I find it to be a gadget, but for children it can be a learning experience and a satisfying experience. Take leftover vegetables – especially celery and green onion bases – and place them in shallow water dishes. Place them near a bright window and watch them grow new harvestable shoots. Seeds of avocados, citrus fruits and chunks of potatoes can also be started inside.
I’m just throwing this one over there. Weeding neighbors’ gardens was my first job when I was 9, so I think some kids may be old enough and trustworthy enough to do this task. My mom loves to tell how my grandma made it into a birthday party game – whichever kid who picked up the most weeds won. I don’t think I would trust most of the kids in my backyard, but if you’re willing to take the risk, at least make it a game.