Over the past four years I’ve gone from a girl who couldn’t keep a plant alive to a girl who (with the help of my family) grows a full bounty of fresh veggies and fruits every summer. It’s exciting and fun to learn right alongside the children as we ‘homeschool’ in the everyday. I am by no means a professional when it comes to gardening but I sure have discovered some worthwhile tips and tricks when working with young children and introducing the art of growing fresh food. What an important skill and a rewarding family activity!
So, let’s chat about Spring seedlings.
Why do seedlings?
I used to wonder why people bothered with planting seedlings when they could just grab good plants from the store in May. We do seedlings for three main reasons: 1. it’s a rewarding and exciting process for the whole family, 2. it saves money (the cost of seedlings is about half the cost of buying full grown plant-lings), and 3. we can get started on our garden much earlier in the year offering a fun end-of-winter project. There’s nothing like seeing those seedlings pop up inside when there is still snow on the ground!
What you’ll need:
- A couple good planter trays with plastic (see-through) lids. Many gardening centers call them mini-greenhouse growers or Seed Starter trays.
- Good quality soil. We used a soil specifically for growing seedlings for vegetables.
- I suggest investing in the little biodegradable pots that decompose directly into the soil when transplanted. They protect the seedlings’ delicate roots and are incredibly helpful for transferring.
- Good quality seeds
- Sticks/Markers to label your trays
- A spray bottle with adjustable nozzle
Step One: Planning and Purchasing
Spend some time thinking about what kind of foods you would like to grow. We’ve experimented over the past few years and have realized what grows well in our area and what doesn’t. We’ve also discovered which plants give the highest yield per plant. I suggest grabbing some great books from the library or search the web for information related to your specific area and climate.
Also, some plants are great for growing seedlings, others do much better when planted directly in the ground come Spring. If you’ve never planted before, talk to experienced gardeners, and spend time researching with the kids. Then, make a list and take a trip together to the gardening center and purchase your materials and seeds.
This year, our family is planting the foods we’ve had the most success with: two types of Cucumbers, four types of Tomatoes, Green Zucchini, Yellow Zucchini, Green Bush Beans, Wax Bush Beans, Sugar Snap Peas, Eggplant, Spinach, Green Lettuce, Red Leaf Lettuce, Romaine Lettuce, many types of herbs (Cilantro, Parsley, Basil, Chives), and last but not least, three types of Pumpkin.
Step Two: Planting
- Lay out a painting mat or plastic table cloth before planting as it will certainly get messy.
- Show the kids all the materials you will be using and explain why it’s important to keep the planted seeds organized and labeled.
- Help the children fill each individual tray pod with soil. Pat the soil down firmly.
- Choose seeds and begin planting, paying attention to the seed packets. Most packets will have easy instructions about seed depth, follow those instructions, they are important!
- Have the children help you make stick labels (we just reused Popsicle sticks and wrote on them with permanent marker).
- Once the seeds are all planted and labeled, water the soil well. I highly recommend using a spray bottle with a misting option. It is easy to drown seedlings and also easy to damage them with a strong flow of water. Misting them with a light ‘rain’ is the absolute best way to go!
- Place the lids on the trays and find a good home for them where they will be warm and receive as much sunlight as possible.
- Have fun waiting and watching for those little shoots to appear!
A Few Friendly Tips:
- Some plants just won’t grow well as seedlings. We haven’t had much luck with lettuces (they do better when sprinkled outdoors in the warm Spring), and late harvest veggies like Pumpkins and Carrots which also fair well simply planted in the ground. Just do some research to avoid disappointment!
- If you are working with preschool aged children, you may want to pre-label your sticks/signs, and pre-fill your trays to avoid losing their interest before you get to the actual planting part!
- With younger kids, I suggest working with one seed packet at a time, keeping the extra packets away. This will help avoid mixing the seeds while children excitedly open various packs at once. Before you know it you’ll have no idea what seed is what. Been there, done that…
- Divide the seeds for different age levels. Some seeds are huge and great for toddlers and preschoolers to plant (ie: Cucumbers, Beans, Zucchini) where other seeds are so tiny they need to be planted by careful hands (tomatoes, herbs, lettuces).
- Find a great book about seeds and do a small unit study about seeds and plant growth!
After only a few days, here’s what we had:
Cassandra @ The Unplugged Family