Saturday, January 2, 2016

The FUNdamentals of Gardening

Because I was a late bloomer, not gardening until after retirement, I didn't pass on my passion to my children. But I hope that at least one of my grandchildren will discover the joy of growing things. To this end, during my Christmas visit to my son's family in Arizona, I helped my 12 year old grandson, Anthony, plant a small vegetable garden in a container. One advantage of the desert climate is the extended gardening period. In December and January it is possible to grow cool-weather crops, while being careful to cover them if frost is forecast.

My grandson gathered his supplies: a self-watering container (I bought him a gardening kit for Christmas), potting medium, plants, tools, etc. Earlier, we went to the garden center where he picked out some vegetable plants, a herb and a flower. We also purchased peat-based potting medium. Following the instructions that came with the kit, Anthony began by moistening the potting soil, then pouring it into the container.

He filled the box to a couple of inches from the top. He added a layer of dolomite (included in the kit) and mixed it into the top two inches of soil.

He sprinkled dolomite evenly over the potting medium.

My budding gardener added moist potting medium over the dolomite up to the rim of the container. He made a two inch channel down the middle where he would place fertilizer. We used all organic supplies.

Anthony poured organic fertilizer into a center channel...
 ... then mounded the fertilizer channel with potting soil.

After mounding more moist potting medium over the line of fertilizer and filling the box to the top, he added the plastic mulch that came with the kit. He placed the plastic mulch with its black side up; the other side is white for hot weather. Then we carefully cut holes in the plastic mulch for the plants: he planted two lettuces, three broccoli, one basil and a pretty cyclamen that he chose for its lovely bloom. We purchased too many vegetables for a small planter, so he gave the extra lettuce to his pet guinea pigs.

Cyclamen and basil planted through holes cut in the plastic mulch.
Back row: lettuce, cyclamen, basil, lettuce. Front row: three broccoli.

 (Please forgive the quality of the pictures: I used my iPhone and at a time of day when the light was all wrong.)

Anthony wheeled the planter to a sunny spot on the patio.

His final task was to add water through the tube in the corner of the self-watering kit. He told me he enjoyed planting his garden and couldn't wait for his first harvest.

When gardening with children catch them young, if possible, and start small: you do not need a perfect plot of land to create learning opportunities. I believe, however, it is important to give the child genuine tools. I gave Anthony an adult's trowel shaped especially for container gardens and a serious pair of gardening gloves. I originally bought packets of seeds, and Anthony wanted to sow the carrots, but because they germinate slowly and produce tiny, slow-growing seedlings, I decided starter plants would be more suitable, especially as I wouldn't be there to help with thinning and encouragement.

Anthony made important decisions about what to plant and where to locate his garden. I focused on the basics:
  • the best spot to place the garden
  • great soil
  • spacing
  • water requirements
  • feeding requirements.
I hope Anthony thought learning the FUNdamentals of gardening was indeed fun! I loved spending that time with him, creating wonderful memories.
I came to gardening very late in life, but my love of horticulture stems more from the inspiration of my childhood than from any other factor. I recall the heady smell of wallflowers in my grandmother's spring border as I 'helped' my grandfather tend his veggie garden. Mother allowed me to pick crocosmia (she called it monbretia) from her flower garden. I would mix the spikes with cardinal flowers and phlox and carry them to school for my teacher. Because of that memory, I grow crocosmia in my cottage garden today. I loved to pick tomatoes in Dad's greenhouse and watch as he pruned his beautiful roses.  I thank my parents and grandparents for their inspiration.

Do you have someone to thank for inspiring you, dear gardening friends?

Happy New Year!

Prickly pear cactus in my PA garden

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  1. can you get a sustainable replacement for peat?
    Coir maybe?

    1. You pose an excellent question, Diana. I have not found a suitable replacement as yet -- coir is sustainable but not a good environmental alternative here because of the shipping considerations. There are two sides to the story of course, and the conversation rages on with the industry saying it is OK and getting certification of sustainability. I continue to use peat for seed starting and initial planting, but use compost (which I make myself) for nutrition purposes.P. x

  2. How wonderful to be able to introduce a child to gardening. Congratulations!

  3. I think it was my grandmother who inspired me, because my mom only grew tomatoes and clematis. But grandma had a big veggie garden, and that's where I first pulled a cherry tomato off the vine to eat like candy!

  4. Since my association is through my job, there really was no one in my family that gardened. My grandfather had a gentleman's farm, but caretakers did all the work. I remember liking to grow plants from an early age though.

  5. I'm fortunate to come from a long line of gardeners. Not many were around for me growing up, but the pictures were fascinating and my parents were always inspiring!
    Happy New Year

  6. Young learned is done old, they say here. Enjoyed to read and see how you learn the basics of gardening to your grandson. My grandson harvested his first raddishes and broccoli past summer, grown from seed. He had far too many broccoli plants but it was fun for him and a pleasure for us to see how seriously he was in growing plants.
    I defenitely have the inspiration for gardening from my grandfather, he inspired and learned me on some square metres of the large vegetable plot at my parents farm.

  7. congratulations, grandma, and anthony, on your lifetime memory and leisure activity. applause. i, too, am coming into gardening late, as of retirement in november, and will enjoy learning along with anthony. wish our growing season was a little longer, like anthony's in arizona. --suz in ohio

  8. Oh how lovely to have a grandchild take an interest in gardening and he has a great teacher...I got the bug from my parents and my sister gardens a bit in AZ. I have one grown niece who started too. Happy New Year Pam!

  9. This is wonderful--for so many reasons ... the memories of times with your grandson, encouraging a young person to garden, the lovely southwester climate that allows year-round gardening, the plants your grandson chose, his pride. And of course--your joy! I loved reading about your own memories of family members gardening, too. :)

  10. You go Grandmom ! Been to Arizona a few times and it didn't seem to be the best state for gardeners BUT with your help...yes your help thinking your grandson will make a difference. Happy New Year.

  11. Like you Pam, I am a late comer into gardening and my son could not be any less interested in gardening if he tried!
    However, I can't wait to get my grandson into it. At 6 months, I already take him for a wee wander (weather permitting) around the garden and talk to him about it. We watch the birds together - not that he takes any of it in but still, I'm working on the theory of getting in there early. Who know what the future will bring.
    Well done on you encouraging Anthony, I could imagine many a youngster like him would have blown you off by telling you he had something better to do.
    I wish Anthony's wee garden all the very best. Happy New Year to you too Pam.

  12. Interesting activity! I love to get gardening kit like that.

  13. Pam, that's wonderful! I helped my daughter's boyfriend make a terrarium last weekend, and it was loads of fun picking out plants, a container, and then putting it altogether. I'm convinced these small steps make gardeners. If we all did them, we could change the world. ~~Dee

  14. Just the sort of stuff memories are made of. My interest in gardening definitely came from my Grandparents.
    There seems to be a growing train of thought here that its not so bad after all to be using peat