Long Weekend Family Projects
by Rob Sproule
“Hamlet” is one of my favourite plays, and it’s on my mind every May Long Weekend as star-crossed gardeners float into the greenhouse, their eyes alight at the possibilities of a colourful, bountiful summer ahead. Through the cold, protracted months of winter, gardeners stare outside and await this weekend like kids await Christmas, and yet the indecision remains.
“To plant or not to plant,” is a familiar, hand-wringing refrain. Will a surprise frost snuff out those petunia’s and tomatoes’ mortal coil, or will you get more colour and fruit with the earlier planting?
My advise is to check the long-range forecast. If none of the night-time lows are below 2 degrees, go get your hands dirty! When you do get into your yard, why not make it a family affair?
Get the Family Involved
I’m consistently surprised that gardening isn’t at the top of every spring/summer list of family friendly activities. It’s outside, it teaches kids great habits, and you get to watch the literal fruits of your labour bloom and ripen for months to come.
The best way to get the kids involved is to start early and recognize their contributions. Tell them you that you need their help to make the garden amazing! Don’t just hand them a shovel and say, “dig”; make them feel included, incorporate their ideas and they’ll be racing to get outside.
Project #1: Edible Container Gardening
One of the most common laments I hear is, “I want to grow vegetables but don’t have the space.” I’m always happy to reassure them that all you need is a spot of sunlight to grow containers full of veggies.
Planting mixed edibles has taken container gardening by storm! People are learning that veggies, herbs, and small fruits are just as aesthetically beautiful as their ornamental cousins, and they’re proudly adorning their front doors and patios with tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, salad green, and rosemary.
The best way to get the family involved is to talk about food! If your son’s favourite food is pizza, he can help you plant oregano, tomatoes, and basil. If your daughter loves berries and cream, plant strawberries for a sweet summer treat. Plan it with them, take them shopping, plant with them, and they’ll count the days until those tomatoes and berries ripen.
Project #2: Planting a Garden
If you want to breath fresh life into that back corner of the yard, build an edible garden for even more bounty. Plant tasty treats like snow peas, strawberries, raspberries, and carrots, and you just must find the kids snacking in the yard instead of on the couch.
There are a couple of ways to install an edible space. Both are more involved, set-up wise, than container gardening, but older kids can still help out.
The traditional method is to strip sod, fork in a generous helping of peat moss and sea soil, and dig a border in around the plot, which can be any size you want. Classic plots are fairly easy and cheap to install, but you may find more weed and drainage issues than with raised beds.
If Dad is handy, raised gardens look great and tend to grow better quality plants than their ground level cousins. I recommend using untreated wood, as treated may leech chemicals into the soil. Cedar will last decades, even untreated.
For an even easier solution, make a cinder block planter. They’re easy to find, cheap, and their hollow sides make ideal herb planters. Concrete will leech calcium into the soil, which will act as a natural bone-meal and ward off blossom-end-rot on tomatoes.
Once your new garden is ready, pack the kids up in the car and head out for seeds and starter plants. In May you can sow many seeds (carrots, peas, beans, salad greens) directly into the garden. Heat loving plants, like tomatoes and peppers, and longer season edibles, like melons and corn, are best started from starter plants.
It may be hard to get the kids outside initially, but once they get a taste for having their hands dirty it will be harder to get them back in. Every day I see kids whose eyes shine just thinking about growing their own flowers or, better yet, food.
Passing our love of gardening onto our kids is one of the best gifts we can give them. Not only is knowing how to grow food a valuable skill-set, but having an appreciation of how plants grow will nurture their natural wonder for the world around them.