Just one day of sunshine in March is all we need to excite us that spring has come!
Last weekend our granddaughters spent the night with us. McKenna, 8, woke up before her younger sister Kendall, 5. Sunshine that flooded our house woke her. Before she said, “Good morning,” or “Could we have pancakes for breakfast?” she made a declaration: “I think we ought to plant a vegetable garden!”
As a retired teacher, I’ve always capitalized on the teachable moment. I knew we had one!
I had purchased a book, “All New Square Foot Gardening,” by Mel Bartholomew. Last year a friend and her husband followed the directions and celebrated their garden’s abundant and healthy plants.
Together McKenna and I looked through the book. It’s very user friendly — both for a child as well as for beginning or advanced adult gardeners. Bartholomew’s method is a departure from single row gardening, where an entire packet of seeds is planted all at once. Did you know that seed packets can have more than 500 seeds in them? He recalls that, as a beginning gardener, he questioned long rows — 30 feet of cabbages, 30 feet of brussels sprouts, 30 feet of everything. Just how many cabbages can a family eat?
Bartholomew’s plan is fairly simple: build a 4-foot by 4-foot above-the-ground garden.
A — Choose a spot as close to your home as possible that gets six to eight hours of sunshine daily. It should be clear of trees and shrubs whose roots might interfere. The area should not puddle after a heavy rain.
B — Build a box. Buy four 2-inch by 6-inch boards, each 4 feet long. At the same time, buy six 4-foot-long pieces of wood lath you’ll need to create a grid. Pre-drill three holes in one end of each of the 2-inch by 6-inch boards. Screw three large coarse-thread deck screws though the pre-drilled holes, attaching the boards end-to-end until you have a square frame.
C — Move the frame to the spot near your home and put it on top of a piece of 4-foot by 4-foot weed cloth.
D — Fill the box with 6 inches of his soil mixture: 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 blended compost (not all the same type of compost, but several different types.)
E — Water and let soil settle. Do this several times until the soil is a full 6 inches deep.
F — Arrange the six 4-foot-long wood lath pieces in a tick-tack-toe pattern on top of the square frame, ending up with 12 squares, each 12-inches on a side. The lath pieces need to stay in place the entire season so they need to be bolted or secured at every juncture.
G — Then it’s planting time. Bartholomew makes it very easy for children to understand the mature size of plants. In one 12-inch square an extra large vegetable, such as broccoli, cabbage or pepper, can be planted. In another 12-inch square four large plants — such as lettuce, Swiss chard or marigolds — have adequate room to grow. Nine medium plants, such as bush beans, spinach and beets, can be planted four inches apart in another 12-inch square. And 16 small plants, carrots, radishes, and onions, can be housed in a 12-inch square. Rather than planting an entire packet of seeds, plant some a week later to stagger harvest times.
The book has wonderful charts, very understandable to children, about vegetables and when to plant and harvest them. It even has suggestions for how to use the herbs/vegetables in cooking. Bartholomew also has a cookbook that might be fun for children, the “All New Square Foot Gardening Cookbook: Taking the Harvest to the Table.”
My granddaughters and I already have made one trip to The Red Rooster Grocery to buy our non-GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds. The owner, Lisa Boulware, was a natural teacher and talked to us about which varieties would work well here in the Pacific Northwest. We’ll probably go back one more time to make our final purchase of seeds.
This weekend my husband and I have a date with McKenna and Kendall. Together we’re buying the mix for the soil and the wood for the frame. (I wonder how they’ll handle an electric drill!) We might add a trellis at one end of the frame — another of Bartholomew’s suggestions — where sweet peas, bush beans, tomatoes or snap peas can grow, adding even more versatility to the garden box.
As we are experiencing an economic downturn, we have an opportunity to stretch pennies by growing our own food. When children become involved in the growing process, they are much more likely to try new vegetables in their diet. The whole family becomes healthier because they work together in creating and sustaining a garden … and eating the harvest. Everyone gets to have an “ah-ha” moment of witnessing the miracle of new growth.
Simply to open a seed packet and to study the seeds is a moment of awe. Each seed has its own history bred into it and the hull protects an amazing entity that knows how to grow up.
Our weekend is planned. It all happened when a day full of sunshine prompted our granddaughter McKenna to plant a garden.
Bev Hoffman can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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