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Themed Gardens for Kids: Pizza Anyone?

June 7th, 2011

 

Getting kids interested and involved in gardening is not only a great way to spend quality time together, it’s also a fun, adventurous activity for them, and it’s a great educational experience—you never know, you may have some future plant botanists or horticulturalists in your family!

Make gardening with the kids fun by allowing them to help plan the garden from the start. Incorporate a theme that will really get them excited, such as “Pizza Garden,” “Stir-Fry Garden,” or “Peter Rabbit Garden.”

Decide together what you want to plant and how the plants will be arranged in the garden then get in there and grow your own foods. You can also mark a wall calendar with fun, colorful gardening stickers on the days that you and your kids will be tending to the garden; this will give them something to look forward to, and it’s a great way to incorporate routine and responsibility into their lives.

Help your kids make and decorate some whimsical signs for their garden or let them pick out a few garden accessories to place in their garden.

Pizza Garden

A Pizza Garden is as much fun for the adults as it is for kids. Why? Because who doesn’t like pizza? And this themed garden is shaped like a pizza!

Place a stake in the ground, attach a 3 ½ foot piece of string to the stake then mark off a circle, keeping the string tight. Divide circle into six wedges.

In each wedge, plant classic pizza ingredients: 2 to 3 basil plants, 1 to 2 bell pepper plants, onion, 2 to 3 oregano plants, 2 to 3 parsley plants, and 1 tomato plant. If you plant more, you can always transplant them into another area of your yard.

It just doesn’t get any better than homemade pizza made with fresh herbs and vegetables from your own garden.

Stir-Fry Garden

Stir-fry is one healthy meal, and fresh-from-the-garden vegetables make it simply amazing. This is a great dish for experimenting with your favorite food flavors.

Some classic stir-fry ingredients include: bell peppers, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chives, garlic, green beans, hot peppers, squash, etc.

With stir-frying, foods cook fast so they retain their flavor and texture, and cooking fresh ingredients contain less calories than packaged stir-fry entrées.

Peter Rabbit Garden

Beatrix Potter’s characters are great inspiration for kids to garden, and this theme is a wonderful way to educate kids on nature and animals.

Plant a variety of herbs and vegetables along a border or in raised beds then tuck garden bunny statues in between the plants. Name the statues after The Tale of Peter Rabbit characters: Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy, and/or Cottontail. Even though Mother Rabbit forbade her children to enter Mr. McGregor’s garden, your children’s garden can be a cozy home for their sweet garden statues.

Parsley, sage, thyme, bush beans, cabbage, and carrots are perfect for a Peter Rabbit Garden.

Making fun, meaningful, and long-lasting memories with family is so important, and this is an activity your kids will cherish for their whole life.

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Starting Garden Seeds Indoors

February 10th, 2011

 

For many gardeners, February is the perfect time to start seeds indoors 2-3 months before your average date of final frost. If your region’s average final frost date is the end of March then February is a great time to get started so your seedlings will have a good 6-8 weeks to prepare for their new home in your garden.

Starting seeds indoors is easy, and you do not need expensive supplies to get a head start on spring gardening. Supplies include: containers that are 2-3 wide and 2-3 inches deep, like a plastic 40 count tray; loose textured potting mix that has soil, vermiculite or perlite and sphagnum peat moss; seeds; popsicle sticks, a waterproof pen; clear plastic bags large enough to go around your container(s); a 15-15-15 soluble fertilizer; and snail bait.

Here’s how to sow spring garden seeds (such as broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, head lettuce, onion, peppers, squash, and tomatoes) indoors:

1. Fill your container with pre-moistened potting mix then level the soil. To moisten soil, simply put potting mix in a large bag and get it wet until it’s just moist.

2. Sow 1-2 seeds in each tray cell. Gently press the seeds into the soil then add a little bit of soil to the top, to cover seeds.

3. Mark your seedling trays by using your waterproof marker on the popsicle sticks, noting the date you planted and variety of seeds.

4. Place the tray inside of a clear plastic bag then tie it shut. If covering the tray with plastic wrap, you will want to make sure that the plastic does not touch the soil surface. Once covered with plastic you will not need to water the soil until your seeds sprout.

5. Set your seed tray in a spot that is evenly warm, such as the top of your refrigerator if you have the room. Do not place your seed tray in an area that is too drafty or too warm.

6. Once the seeds have sprouted remove the plastic and move the seed tray to a sunny south-facing window. If you do not have a window that provides full sun, you may need to purchase lighting equipment. If the region you live in continues to get very cold at night, you will want to move your seed tray away from the window so that the seedlings do not get too cold.

7. Watering your sprouts is easy. You’ll want to check the soil moisture daily by feeling the soil with your finger. If the soil is dry use a spray bottle that contains room temperature water and mist them with a fine spray.

8. 3-4 weeks after seeds are established, add some complete soluble fertilizer to the water. You’ll only need to fertilize once or twice before planting your seedlings into the garden.

9. After 6-8 weeks, you can start hardening off your seedlings by placing the seed tray outside in full sun for 2-3 hours. Bring the seed tray in after the allotted time. As your seedlings start adjusting to the 2-3 hours in full sun start moving them into the shade too for a few hours before bring the seed tray back indoors. You’ll want to follow this process for about two weeks. After the two week hardening process you can leave your seed tray out all day and night, as long as the temperatures are not freezing. This process, of putting your seed tray outdoors then moving them back indoors allows your seedlings to get used to being outdoors and keeps them from going into shock.

10. Once you’re ready to plant the seedlings in your garden you’ll want to: transplant them in the late afternoon when the sun is low; make sure the seedlings are well watered before planting them in the garden; make sure the garden soil is moist; try not to disturb the root ball when transplanting; water the seedlings once planted, to make sure the soil has settled around the root ball; place snail bait around the seedlings; and keep the seedlings moist for the first 4-5 days after transplanting, to make sure they get established. Once established you can water your seedlings when the soil is slightly dry in between watering.

That’s it! Starting seeds indoors gives you a head start on the spring gardening season and is an activity that provides you with great gardening practice (if you’ve never gardened before) and a wonderful sense of accomplishment. We’re excited for the spring garden season, and we hope you are, too. It’s going to be a great year for healthy, homegrown food!

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Garden Villain: Itsy Bitsy Spider Mites

August 1st, 2010

 

If you have beans, peas, squash and tomatoes in your garden then keep your eagle eyes peeled for the itsy bitsy spider mite, because this eight-legged arachnid—and more specifically, colonies of spider mites—will feast on plants, sucking the cell contents from leaf tissue.

What to look for:

  1. Plant leaves that look like they have light specks on them
  2. Gray, yellow or bronze colored leaves that eventually drop off of plants
  3. Fine silken webbing on leaves or branches

Life Cycle

  1. Adult female spider mites lay round eggs on bark, leaves or in webbing
  2. Once eggs hatch, spider mite larvae—which only have six legs during their first stage of life—can develop into adults in as little as two weeks
  3. With plenty of food and appropriate temperatures, there can be multiple generations of spider mites per year
  4. Female spider mites may lay 100+ eggs during their short four weeks of life

If you suspect that you have spider mites but cannot see any, hold a white piece of paper underneath plants leaves then shake or tap the leaves. Dislodged spider mites will fall onto the paper and appear as little moving flecks. Spider mites may be brown, cream-colored, green, red or yellow.

Natural enemies of spider mites include lacewing larvae, lady beetles, and minute pirate bugs. Instead of using insecticides in your garden, try implementing some of these natural biological garden heroes.

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