Gardening for kids

Curious fact: Children who grow vegetables, eat vegetables. The same children who turn their noses up at eggplant in a stir-fry or broccoli on a pizza will often eagerly consume snow peas, green beans, tomatoes, even lettuce greens if they put the plant in the ground with their own hands. And the vegetables are at their most nutritious when plucked straight from the garden.

This morning’s adventures: At 7:30 AM, we dropped Inara at the vet for her spay surgery. It was hard to do–she is so sweet and loving, and she can’t possibly understand that we will come back for her, that she will never be abandoned again. She kept trying to rub on my hands through the bars of her crate, as if to say, “Look how sweet I am! I’m so good! Please don’t leave me!” I know she’s in good hands, but I can’t wait to go get her tonight.

To take our minds off the kitty, Eli & I put 15 lettuce plants in the ground. I traded two dozen eggs for them last night, and Eli hasn’t stopped thinking about planting since.

Eli puts romaine lettuce in the ground.

The bed is constructed from the frame of a panel we bought in a large lot from a warehouse going out of business. Many of the panels had wire mesh on them, which we used for parts of the fence around the garden among other things. This panel was missing the wire, so we laid it on the ground and filled it with bedding from the duck pens.

I took some ideas from Mel Bartholomew’s book Square Foot Gardening combined with Patricia Lanza’s Lasagna Gardening concept and adjusted it all to the particular materials we have on hands and the needs of our family. It turns out that both concepts are great for kids.

The square foot garden method, in short, involves defining sq ft sections of your garden (I did it with excess yarn I had lying around & some small nails from the beehive tool chest) and planting in each square intensively. It’s easy for children because the beds are small, and you don’t have to measure or thin plants (a major plus for children like Eli who don’t like to see even a single plant get hurt). Tell a child how many of each type of plant (four lettuce or one broccoli, for instance) goes in each square, and many children can do the rest almost entirely by themselves. Sqaure foot gardens are also easy to create and easy to maintain.

The lasagna gardening concept involves layering various types of compostable materials directly into the garden bed and then letting them decompose in place, enriching the soil below and attracting many beneficial insects and microbes in the process. It’s simple, easy, and conducive to the materials we have on hand. Plus, you don’t ever have to buy top soil, assuming you have a rich source of organic materials–like straw mixed with duck manure.

Seeds don’t grow well in a young lasagna bed, because the materials aren’t fully decomposed. However, plants previously started indoors can be transplanted directly into the half-finished bed. I plan to add a second bed this winter, and hopefully by Spring the beds will be ready for seeds too.

Of course, although the ducks helped prepare the beds by contributing their nitrogen-rich droppings and eating the weeds, seeds, and pests out of the bed while it was dormant, they now have to be locked out so they don’t help themselves to our harvest. Fortunately, fencing ducks out is easy because they won’t challenge even a weak barrier. We just pull the fence down in one section when we want to use the garden, so no gate is necessary.

The goats are another question entirely in terms of challenging barriers. But they stay in a portable electric fence during the day and chain link at night, so they don’t have access either. And don’t worry, our hard-working ducks will get another chance at the goods after we harvest.

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