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Good Growing

Keeping you growing with good ideas

Growing with Kids and Youth

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

I'm always trying to think of good ideas for gardening with kids. Ways to get them interested in gardening when they're young and hope that it carries through as they get older. I remember as a child my Mom allowing me to have a window box with seeds which I merrily planted and then ran off to the neighbor's yard to play leaving her to care for it but it was still a positive influence. And go figure – so many years later here I am teaching people how to garden and care for plants. My Mom's gardens gave me a basis for my knowledge that has only proved beneficial as I've moved through my career and of course she takes full advantage of when I come home to help in the garden. My knowledge has continued to grow, but I feel that the entire reason my career took the direction it did was because of the gardening influences of my Mother when I was a child. When I reached college and was trying to figure out a career path and I discovered they taught horticulture in college, I never looked back.

But what kind of activities can we do with children during the winter months? There are plenty of opportunities to excite kids about plants. One that's fun that even I do personally, is gardening with plant scraps or garbage gardening. Its take what would normally end up in the garbage or compost pile from vegetable or fruit scraps and turns them back into growing things. I started two avocado pits and now have 1 ½ foot tall avocado trees. They took a few months to germinate and to begin growth and will never be big enough indoors to produce avocados, but they are fun to have in the house during the winter months. During the summer I take them outside to enjoy the sun. To start an avocado plant, take the pit from a ripe avocado, wash it off, and let it dry overnight. Make sure to have good quality potting mix and a container with drainage holes. Plant the flat part of the pit down and the pointy side up leaving 1/3 of the pit above the soil line. Keep the soil moist (not saturated) and within one to three months you'll have roots and then after that top growth begins to form. This does take patience especially if working with young children, but once the plant begins to grow it's a great opportunity for children to make observations. Even starting a few avocados and placing them in different locations, differing amounts of water, etc. Science experiment!

Pineapple is another plant that's great for garbage gardening. Cut the pineapple off below the green rosette top of the plant. Remove as much of the pineapple flesh as possible as this will only rot. Let the top dry out on a counter for about two days and then remove any dead leaves and some of the lower leaves creating a stem. Plant the exposed stem into the potting mix and make sure to keep a small space between the bottom of the leaves and the top of the soil. Keep the soil evenly moist and keep the newly planted pineapple in indirect sun for 2-3 weeks. After that time, move it to a sunny window and keep watered. It's been quite a few months since I planted mine, but I now have some side shoots growing and a very happy plant.

Another great activity to get children interested in plants and gardening is houseplant propagation. Plants such as pothos or philodendron are easy plants to propagate and you can see much faster results as compared with avocados and pineapple which might be more suitable to younger children where fast results might help keep their interest. Both pothos and philodendron can be started in either water or potting mix. The benefit of starting in water in a clear container is that children will be able to see roots develop. Once roots begin to form, you'll want to place the cutting into a good quality potting mix and container with drainage holes to prevent the plant from eventually rotting which results from sitting in water too long. Make a cutting approximately 4-6 inches long, removing some of the lower leaves and make sure that the stem area where you removed the leaves is below the soil or water line depending on your preferred method of starting these plants. Who can argue with growing new plants! Another plant that is easy to propagate as it creates new plants readily is a spider plant, just cut off the new plantlets and plant directly into potting mix.

A third activity is soda bottle hydroponics. Hydroponics is growing plants with a nutrient solution with or without a growing medium (potting mix, perlite, etc.). If you search the internet for soda bottle hydroponics you'll find a lot of instructions. I always recommend referring to educational websites (.edu) when searching to make sure that you are getting reliable information. Soda bottle hydroponics is great for growing quick germinating plants such as grass seed. It's not a long term option as the nutrient solution in something like this is not carefully balanced like it would be in a full scale hydroponics operation, but it will last for some time. You can also take advantage that once you set up your soda bottle hydroponic system, you can try different plants and growing mediums and see what results. Make sure to place it somewhere that will provide adequate and proper lighting for whatever plant you are growing.

All of the above activities are easy and fun for anyone of any age. It may be cold out, the days may be short, but that doesn't keep us from growing.

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