Sunday, April 11, 2010

Planting Time

During my son's birthday party, his friend, "J" came up to me in the kitchen and said, "Michelle, can I have some seeds?" I was confused by his question. Did he want sunflower seeds to eat? (My kids will request sunflower seeds in this way but I didn't think "J" would).

Then I noticed the trowel in his hand. I said, "Oh, do you want to plant some seeds?"


I explained that I couldn't get the seeds out right then because I was in the middle of preparing food for the party. I asked if he'd like to come back on another day and do some planting. He eagerly responded "yes," and I promised to make the arrangements.

Last Wednesday, I followed through on my promise. The weather was amazing- sunny and 90 degrees. We started by choosing what to plant.

Not surprisingly, the kids wanted to plant pumpkins, so I explained that we have to wait until it's consistently warmer, even during the evenings. For all of my friends in the northeast who may think summer is here because of the amazing weather we've been having...don't be fooled into planting your whole garden. There's still a risk of frost. For now, you can plant things like pea pods, spinach, kale, swiss chard and other greens. Wait until around Memorial Day for those heat loving plants like tomatoes, basil, squash, peppers, eggplant, and watermelons.

In preparation for the boy's arrival, I had used a pitch fork to turn over the soil in the section we would plant. Then, I had the kids help me rake the area smooth and remove any visible rocks.

Next, I showed them a little trick for planting pea pod seeds. We laid the seeds out in a zig zag pattern on top of the soil, close to the wire that will support the plants when they grow. By doing this, we could see where the seeds were and move them around as needed. Once the seeds were set, we poked them into the soil using our fingers. By going as far in as their second knuckles, the seeds are at just the right depth.

We planted the pea pods in the middle of our three foot wide raised beds, near the wire frame. On the north side of the supports, we planted spinach and on the south side of the supports, we planted mesclun mix. Spinach and mesclun seeds are much smaller and harder for little hands to control. If you plant with young children, it's better to stick with large seeds like peas (and later watermelons, pumpkins, sunflowers, and beans) that they'll be able to handle. I know our spinach and mesclun seeds didn't all end up in rows along the outer edge, but I don't mind a little chaos in my garden. It's more natural that way, anyway.

Once the seeds were all planted, we watered them gently.
And, we got a little silly! Why not... this is supposed to be fun, right?

Those of you who live in the city or don't have yards may wonder how you can have a garden. Come back tomorrow for my suggestions.


  1. Michelle,

    I am finding that it is good policy to have wonderful friends who have a passion for things that you do not and then take your kids to learn from them! Thanks for being that kind of friend. Jemberu in particular cannot wait to see the first sprouts of his labor!


  2. I think that's a great policy. The more people to love and educate our kids the better. I'm so happy to share this with them. The first little sprouts popped up today. Just 2 pea pods are barely peeking out along with a few spinaches. Lots of mesclun mix seeds are fully out of the ground, though.

  3. Alison, I love that you've become the official photographer of our adventures. Thanks for the great pics!

  4. I loved this entry! Last week, I enlisted my two small kids to help me "pretty up" our front porch by planting a bunch of pansies in several containers. They loved it!

    After reading this, though, I really want to plant seeds with them. I want them to experience the miracle of how plants grow, seemingly from nothing. Unfortunately, I haven't had much luck planting from seeds in the past. I know it mustn't be complicated, but when I've tried, I've failed. Any advice for someone with two brown thumbs?

  5. Hi Dave,
    I'm glad you've been planting with your kids. I think children are naturally drawn to gardening.

    If your seeds are aren't growing well, there are three likely problems:
    1. Too little or too much water. Seeds need the soil to stay moist (not soggy) until they sprout. Water gently.
    2. Too little sun. Nearly all vegetables and herbs prefer to be planted in full sun. Check seed packages for more details.
    3. Poor soil quality. This could lead me to a LONG post about soil quality, but here's a place to start. The soil needs sufficient organic matter to provide nutrients, to support animal life such as worms (which are very beneficial to a garden), and to hold water. If your soil is too sandy, adding some good compost will help. If there is too much clay, adding a bit of sand will help. I top my garden off with compost every year (some made from yard and kitchen waste in our "Compost Tumbler," some from my parent's farm-sheep manure makes great compost). A local garden center can advise you how to proceed in your area.

    Three final suggestions:
    1. Start small. Don't try to plant a whole garden from seed. Maybe just one or two things.
    2. My favorite seeds to plant with kids are peas, sunflowers, and squashes (such as pumpkins or zucchini). Tip: Zucchinis are prolific producers. One plant is more than enough for a family of 4. The quick growth is great fun for kids- mine love seeing a small squash one morning and picking it a day or two later. It's that fast. Skip checking your plant for a few days in a row and you'll have baseball bat sized squash!
    3. If you plant sunflowers, put them on the north side of the garden or they'll shade your veggies when they grow tall.

    Check back here for more tips and ideas as the season progresses. You can also check out some of the books I suggested.

  6. Thanks, Michelle! These are really great suggestions. We will be gardening in containers this season, so I think Zucchini are not in the cards. But I have some cherry tomato, arugula & herb seeds ready for planting! I also picked up a tray of those pellet seed starters from the store... Hopefully they'll work well.

    I'm really excited to get planting with my kids. Thanks again.