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Family life

How to Prepare Your Garden for Spring—With Kids

They take great pride in preparing the area and planting their seeds!

How to Prepare Your Garden for Spring—With Kids

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In our household, April is all about gardening prep. We are huge gardeners, and my 11-year-old son has always been involved. We start our seeds indoors and begin to plan and prep everything from flowerbeds to berry bushes.

Not only does my son know about and love gardening — he often has a little plot in the backyard each year — but he has become an adventurous eater and learned about sustainability and ecosystems.

How to get started

Starting a garden is easy and begins with planting a few different kinds of seeds. You can source seeds from one of two places: in small paper packets at hardware and grocery stores or by harvesting them yourself from the produce you have in your kitchen — strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, to name a few.

Plant them in something that can be transplanted into the ground later on: egg carton squares, ice cream cones, hollowed-out rinds or egg shells. You can buy small cardboard trays with little cups for seedlings and put them directly into the earth.

If you're feeling bold, transplant them by hand! Plant seeds in clear plastic produce containers with lids — they’re small greenhouses that will keep the soil and air moist, and then you can manually move them when they’re bigger and stronger. 

Once the ground has completely thawed, you can clear a small area for your garden. You’ll want to choose a spot with ample sunshine and good drainage. Design the overall shape of your garden (square, rectangular, circular) and mark it with stakes, then dig down two to three feet, mixing the soil as you go.

Once the area has been prepared, transplant your seedlings, and space them out well — those suckers like to stretch out! Once they’re securely in place, give them a good watering!

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To get your little ones involved, let them start and maintain their little gardens. They take great pride in preparing the area and planting their seeds. Allow them to have fun, personalize it and make it their own! They can make garden markers, add garden décor or even create a small sign.

jenn-cox-garden-3 Credit: Jenn Cox

Easy things to start with

FYI: Beans grow anywhere, so these are a great plant to start. Be sure to check what kinds of bean seeds you’re getting because there are two kinds: bush beans and vine (or climbing) beans. Plus, you can choose between green or yellow beans (or do both!)

Lettuces and herbs are fun to plant because there’s so much variety. We grow what we love to eat, including oregano, basil, parsley, and kale. Tomatoes can be grown in the ground or large pots on patios. We like cherry tomatoes, but beefsteak and aroma are also great options.

Potatoes and onions are simple because you plant potatoes and onions to get more – they multiply in the ground! We’ve grown loads of potatoes by filling a standard garbage can with dirt, adding a few potatoes, and at the end of the summer, we dump the whole thing out and have dozens and dozens of small white potatoes.

You can forgo the seed route and visit a gardening center instead to buy small starter plants that are thriving. They have everything from carrots and beets to zucchini and cauliflower — you can even snag larger greenery like berry plants.

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Strawberries are a bit fickle (keep the squirrels away!), but raspberries quickly grow. Be sure to give them lots of room because they can emerge bigger and better every summer!

jenn-cox-garden Credit: Jenn Cox

Turn it into a learning lesson

Our gardens weren’t just ways to grow what we ate, although this was a big driving force in creating them.  It was a giant outdoor classroom for our son. He got to see all the stages of growth — he learned about bugs and played with worms, and we planted loads and loads of sunflowers to watch the butterflies and bees.

We built homemade birdfeeders and birdbaths: for the feeders, spread peanut butter on the outside of toilet paper rolls and roll them in birdseed, then thread them onto tree branches.

For the birdbaths, we used a clay pot – the small plate on the bottom was glued to the top of the upside-down pot, and inside we put smooth rocks, pennies (to ward off slimy mold) and water.

Our son has learned a lot about canning and preserving because we want to use everything we grow in our gardens. We’ve made pickled beets and salsas, jams and chows, relishes and pie fillings.

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We didn’t do huge batches each time – just one or two things each year to try something new, use our crops and learn more about the process.

Sampling the fruits of your labor

Nothing is more exciting than seeing that first green bean or small green tomato forming on your plants! When you’ve put so much time into preparing your gardens, it’s rewarding when it yields fruits and vegetables.

Your child will experience that tenfold, and they might even feel adventurous enough to try some of the things they’ve grown. Maybe your kiddo will discover they love spaghetti squash, beets or herbs like chives — who knows!

I loved it when my little guy would toddle around the backyard with a bowl picking cherry tomatoes, pea pods, raspberries and beans, munching on them as he went along.

Until things ripened, we didn’t often have much to show for our day’s yield because our son would have eaten it all. He thought it was fun to get his breakfast from the backyard in the morning or pick everything we needed for a yummy dinner salad.

jenn-cox-garden-4 Credit: Jenn Cox
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These experiences created a deeper love for gardening, and continue to be favorites. Your kids learn there’s nothing tastier than a red cherry tomato warmed in the sun or enjoying a handful of dew-covered blueberries.

Gardening has been such a wonderful family experience. In the evenings, I enjoy being outside after dinner, tending to my flowerbeds, weeding and watering while I listen to children play or birds chirp.

It’s fun trying to grow new things together – one year we did watermelons, another year we did pumpkins and every year we try and find something unusual to test out, like cucamelons or chocolate mint.

We revel in our crops and love cooking and eating what we’ve worked hard to grow. I hope our son cherishes these experiences so that he, too, can have a garden of his own house one day.

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