gardening with kids: starting seeds

I have read this book countless times since a friend gave it to me when I was 8 years old.

A timeless story about courage, determination, friendship and overcoming loss, intertwined with a garden coming alive. It instills the desire to experience it yourself.

My tattered paper copy has well thumbed pages. With no illustrations, my imagination created my own vision of Mary, Dickon, Colin and the Garden. I still see what they look like in my mind to this day.

WHILE THE SECRET GARDEN WAS COMING ALIVE AND TWO CHILDREN WERE COMING ALIVE WITH IT

The Secret Garden

This one here contains three classic children’s novels by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and the original, unaltered version of the Secret Garden (hard to find it unaltered) and the quality of the book is beautiful, made to last.

Leading to Our Own Secret Garden

Anyone Can

Growing up, our mother was The GreenThumb. People would walk by our house just to look at her beautifully landscaped garden. For a very long time, both of us girls appeared to have not inherited this talent. Everything green shriveled under our care.

But much to our mothers delight, it seems as though these Green Genes have started to germinate. We have both managed to grow and keep plants alive! We have embraced the joy of gardening.

So, we can honestly say, if we can make a success, anyone can! Gardening teaches patience, responsibility, to slow down, and also about boundaries. After all, you can guide nature to a certain point, but you can’t just force it to do whatever you want whenever you want.

what do you need?

We asked our mom for tips.

  • Egg carton or seed starter tray (there are self watering ones too if you want). Just make sure there are drainage holes (or make your own for each egg carton holder)
  • Seed starting medium (not just regular soil)
  • Select a warm spot that gets the most sun, but is away from drafts (our mom uses a heating pad under the trays, it keeps the little plants warm and boy do they grow – like this)
  • Use plant tags if you are planting multiple types of plants (100 inexpensive plastic, or there are for the same price 30 bamboo with a marker) or a marker to label the trays
  • Watering can or spray bottle TIP: allow the water to stand in a bucket for a few days to allow the chlorine to evaporate, then use in watering can

Seeds to Choose

Kids, we know, don’t have the most patience sometimes. Perhaps choose seeds which germinate a little faster.

  • Marigolds
  • Poppies
  • Sunflowers (beware they will drop seed and spread)
  • Radishes, they aren’t fussy
  • Lettuce, grows fast and is easy

Buy good quality – cheap seeds will often fail to germinate. Go to a good gardening center, or order from a reliable company.

Our family orders from Stokes and Veseys. We personally prefer non-GMO or altered seeds, leaning towards ‘heritage’ and unaltered seeds.

An interesting website for heritage seeds (Canada only: Heritage Harvest Seed)

When to Start

If you are planning to grow indoors, this is entirely different – see this article for indoor tips or this for hydroponics.

For outdoor planning, this depends on where you live as each climate varies. In some warm places you can plant year round, but in many places, it’s too cold.

Some plants can tolerate or even like the cold (like lettuce or kale), some don’t like it at all (like tomatoes).

Check your climate zone. Look for the first frost free date for spring, and the last frost-free date for fall. Some plants such as peppers & herbs might need longer. The days in between is the growing season. You can easily google growing seasons based on location too, or check the maps below if you live in North America.

Good resources for climate zones: US Department of Agriculture Map or Natural Resources Canada Map

You will see seed packets and plants are assigned a “Hardiness Zone Rating” making it easy to know what you can grow where you live. Home Depot has a little blurb about this.

Start your seeds indoors at least 5 weeks before the listed ‘frost free spring date.’ This means the seedlings will have grown big enough to plant when it’s warm enough outside.

By starting your seeds early: The juvenile plants will have a higher chance of survival. And you can enjoy your vegetables or flowers much sooner!

For when to plant outside, see “Acclimating” in the How To Steps.

How to Steps

  • Read the back of the seed package first. The package tells you how deep to plant, and so forth.
  • If using egg cartons, poke a little hole in the bottom of each holder to allow for drainage.
  • Fill the individual pots with seed starter medium (other soil will work, but not as well as seed potting mix).
  • Check the seed packet for details, but most seeds like to be kept moist but not soaked. If you are unsure about watering:
    • Spray with water daily using a spray bottle
    • Stick your finger in the little pot, it should be a little dry before watering again
    • Or use a self watering tray – the plants will automatically soak up the water they need

Acclimating

To toughen your plants up before the first frost free day in your Hardiness Zone, take your little plants outside during the day, but inside overnight if the temperature drops will drop to close to freezing.

To plant them outside, wait until the first frost free day – the weather should be above 1°C overnight.

TIP: before planting, dig some soil up and squeeze it. The soil should be soft and moist – if it’s too hard in the ground, it’s still too cold to plant.

Once planted, our mom watches the weather every night during the early spring, and is ready to cover her plants if the temperature looks like it may be under 3°C

Options include a garden frost protection blanket, a mini greenhouse or tunnel.

It’s a good idea to have something to cover your seedlings if you live in a temperamental climate! There is nothing worse than going to all that work to see your plants shrivel up after a cold snap!

Our mom uses a standing mini greenhouse (in the photo above) to acclimatize plants and help them get a lot of sunlight outdoors before planting them in the earth.

Ready to Plant Outside or Inside?

Whether you have an indoor garden, a balcony garden, or a large plot, you can grow beautiful flowers and vegetables.

See: Tips for The Outdoor Indoor Garden

Books

Let’s Get Gardening: for children 5-8, step-by-step guides teaches kids how to grow vegetables. Includes material lists, tips, little fun projects like bee hotels, and the importance of recycling and caring for wildlife around us.

The Kew Gardens Children’s Cookbook: has step-by-step guides to grow various vegetables in your garden, an allotment, in patio containers or in window boxes. From planting seeds to watering, harvesting, composting, and then cooking them…with advice on cooking utensils and healthy diets. Produced in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Kid’s First Gardening: Fantastic: for 5 To 12 year old kids, 120 easy-to-follow step-by-step projects, discusses safety, equipment and commonly used terms, to how plants grow, general care and sustainable gardening. The chapters discuss everyday techniques, edible treats, flower power, craft projects, wildlife gardening and indoor gardening (including small scale); and has lots of photographs.

Square Foot Gardening, 3rd Edition: more for parents, making the best use of small spaces and includes a part on gardening with kids

more activities to germinate interest

Free Download

seed starting checklist

Free Download

Garden Journal

Gardening journals are a way to learn from your experiences, and also keep track of your gardening memories.

Miniature Garden

One way to get your kids interested in gardening is by giving them a little space to create their own miniature garden. Kids love miniatures.

Outdoor Train Set

Model trains for the outdoors? Absolutely! Gardening, the outdoors and trains are irresistible.

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