Starting a family garden can be one of the best ways to bring family members closer together and be one of the best ways to teach about eating healthy foods. Because healthy eaters are grown in the garden. But before you have the feeling of being overwhelmed, I'm going to break it down for you. As a certified master gardener, and author of The Mom's Guide to a Nourishing Garden, I'm sharing the BEST tips for starting that family garden. I believe you can do it!
First let me share why our family garden so much:
- It's an activity where we work together as a family - quality time together.
- It provides excitement each day when we see something new happening throughout the summer months -- a new bloom, a new fruit growing off the bloom, the height of a sunflower, the first seed that germinates, the first harvest.
- That harvest becomes the center of our plate where we build meals around it -- how much fun it is to have planted something from a seed so small you lose it in the soil, and see it grow into something that provides food for our family is astonishing.
- It creates vegetable love - who doesn't want to try the first picked tomato or the freshly pulled carrot from the ground?
- It provides a quick nutrition lesson -- from the soil to the sun to the water and nutrients, what the garden needs to grow, so do we.
You won't regret the experience a family garden brings! And yes, there will be trial and error. That's all part of the process.
Through a tour through our recently renovated and rebuilt garden, I'm sharing my best tips for getting YOUR family garden started.
Tip 1: Start with good soil.
We really worked hard on the soil with this garden renovation using a sheet mulching process. What that means is that you layer compostable ingredients on top of each other to provide nutrients and moisture while not having to dig up the grass underneath. Here's more information on how to do it from the Oregon Extension Service. It's very much like making a lasagna - layer after layer of ingredients to feed the garden. Our layers included cardboard, sawdust, blood meal, grass clippings, composted manure, straw and a large load of black dirt to top it off. Every layer got watered before the next layer was added. It's seriously the best garden growth we have had and it all started with the soil.
Tip 2: Choose kid-friendly plants and give them a plot of their own.
What do I mean by this? Basically choosing plants that your kids want to plant! There are so many options here, and what interests them most will be the most fun. In our garden we have a mix of flowers and vegetables -- from sunflowers and bachelor buttons to radishes and cantaloupe and everything in between. And since our garden is sectioned off by a walk way in six different sections, each of my kids has their very own square garden plot they designed and planted and now are weeding and watering.
In this plot, my daughter designed a small walkway that enters towards two teepees. Underneath, she is growing radishes, and on each pole of the teepee she planted a seed of either morning glory flowers or a "Jack-Be-Little Pumpkin". They are wrapping their vines around the teepee poles providing shade for what's underneath as well as a little for the beets. In the back, she planted sunflower seeds that will grow to about 5 feet tall, and one cherry tomato plant. It's not your typical row-by-row style, I think it's even better!
Tip 3: Weed and water together.
While the planting and harvesting are often the most exciting times in the garden, it's the weeding and the watering that makes or breaks the harvest. It's essential to work together on these two tasks and it makes for great conversation time (or silent thinking time!) in the garden. It's been killer hot this week in Minnesota, and while I set up the sprinkler over the garden, we also weeded with the water dripping on us. It was so satisfying to pull the weeds out of the soil knowing they were not going to get the water that was meant for the plants we do want growing in the garden. Plus wet soil makes for super easy weeding.
In this plot, my son planted mass plantings of different herbs and vegetables, ranging from dill and parsley, to spinach, lettuce, broccoli, green beans, potatoes, snap peas, carrots, peppers and two tomato plants. It's a true kitchen garden. And because he didn't use a row planting system, he was actually able to fit more into the space which is only seven-by-seven feet square.
Tip 4: Know the good and bad bugs.
It's important to know which bugs belong in the garden and which do not. Take for example, the Japenese Beetle -- it doesn't belong in the garden at all and can damage your crops by eating through the leaves in an instant. Remove those that you see and put them in hot, soapy water. Want to know which other bugs are good and bad? Check out this fantastic Good Bug, Bad Bug book resource as a family from the University of Vermont Extension Master Gardeners. Another great learning experience!
Tip 5: Have fun and don't stress!
The whole family pitched in on the garden demolition and rebuilding this spring -- I have to give major thanks to my husband for this project! While he isn't a gardener, he can sure build an awesome garden for the family. And with our slope in our yard requiring raised beds and the math skills to figure all that out, I am grateful he is so smart and good with his hands.
With our garden renovation taking place this spring, we got a late start on planting. You might be surprised to know that all the plants in our garden this year (except for the tomatoes) were planted from seed on June 10 (only five weeks ago), it's the latest we have ever planted. And there was no need to stress about the later date, as everything is growing so well. Were there a few things that didn't germinate? Yep. We just replanted two weeks later with flower seeds and carrot seeds. And we will be replanting underneath my daughter's teepees she's designed, as the radishes have mostly been harvested and it's time for another crop that loves a little more shade and cool air - spinach and lettuce.
Gardening as a family is such a rewarding experience -- you plant, water, weed, and harvest. You won't regret it!
Here's the day we finished up the garden building project with the planting on June 10 and a picture of how it looks today as it's growing five weeks later.