Dig In: Tips for Starting Your Family Garden - MetroFamily Magazine
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Dig In: Tips for Starting Your Family Garden

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For as little as the price of a take-out meal, your family can experience the joys of gardening and a delicious and nutritious harvest. This is part two of a four-part series about gardening with kids. Last month, we revealed some of the benefits of gardening at home. Read on to find easy expert tips for starting your own garden at home this spring.

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in Oklahoma City who has more experience gardening with kids than Mason Weaver. He’s the director of the Regional Food Bank Urban Harvest program, an educational gardening program that teaches kids a new skill and alleviates hunger by growing food for after-school programs throughout the metro area. 

Weaver and his Urban Harvest team have 40 community gardens in central Oklahoma. The gardens grow a variety of produce, including about 6,000 pepper, tomato and herb seedlings that will be harvested this year and shipped to partner food pantries.

Weaver believes there are endless benefits to teaching kids to garden. There’s been a lot of research in the last 10 years, he said, showing direct links between kids gardening and having an increased interest and willingness to eat new foods and try fruits and vegetables.

“If you’re the kid who took that radish seed, put it in the ground, watered it every day and it grew,” he said, “then you’re more likely to try it than if I just put a radish on a plate in front of you.”

When it comes to knowing whether your kids are old enough to start gardening, Weaver said it’s in the best interest of parents to start as early as possible. Even if kids aren’t old enough to do major garden work like planting or watering, they’re never too young to watch and they can participate as they’re able.

“You can’t plant a garden and expect an 8-year-old to tend it,” he said. “You should expect to tend it, but your kids should be engaged so they can feel like they’re part of it and responsible for it. Empowered kids from the age of 10 and up can be in charge of something. As long as you’re committed to having a home garden and it being your responsibility, you can allow your kids to be part of it and it can be a really powerful thing for your family to do together.”

Expert Tips

If you’re planning to start a garden for the first time, Weaver recommends a raised bed garden. Here are a few tips he has for getting started:

Invest in a good gardening book. Weaver’s favorite books for gardening with kids are “Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots” by Sharon Lovejoy and “The Victory Garden Kids Book” by Marjorie Waters, which is out of print but can be checked out at most libraries.

If you’re gardening with kids, be conscious about how large your raised bed is. Do not choose a bed that is four feet wide if you’re expecting children with short arms to help plant, harvest or dig weeds in the center of the bed. 

If you want to plant on top of bermuda grass, start by digging up the grass where you plan to set the raised bed. Many people think laying down weed barrier or newspaper will keep grass from growing into the bed, but bermuda grass can grow through those materials.

Run a piece of nylon twine to denote a path for walking. It’s difficult for children to remember where things have been planted.

Getting Started

If Weaver has you convinced that starting a family garden is a good idea, it’s time to purchase some supplies. We’ve asked Colin Brooks with Marcum’s Nursery (169 N. Main, Goldsby) to help provide some tips and favorite products for getting started.

First, you’ll need to determine your garden’s location. One main ingredient for success is a sunny spot that gets at least six hours of sunlight or more, Brooks said. Beyond that, the sky is the limit. Backyard gardeners can use just about anything to grow their vegetables from a five-gallon bucket to raised bed. Here are a few suggestions:

  •     Free    Used nursery pots
  •     Free-$10    A new or re-used bucket or storage container with drilled drainage holes (must hold three to 10 gallons)
  •     $5-$50    Decorative pots
  •     $40 & up    Halved whiskey barrel planters
  •     $30-$50    Earthbox gardening systems
  •     $20-$20    Growbags

Container gardens will require frequent watering, especially during the hottest summer days. Options like self-watering planters can stretch watering up to four days in between. 

Next, you’ll need a high quality garden soil. Container gardens need a potting mix. Brooks recommends one with a mix of bark, peat moss, vermiculite and coarse perlite. A raised bed garden needs a more soil-like mix that incorporates compost, top soil and drainage aggregate like professional potting mix. 

  • 20 quarts for $8; 40 quarts for $11 or 2.8 cubic foot for $19: Professional Sungro Potting Mixes.
  • Plants need nutrition, just as we humans do. Here are options to feed your veggies:
  • $2.50/lb.: Osmocote 14-14-14, a slow-release fertilizer incorporated with the potting soil at planting time.
  • $6.50/40 lb. bag: Redbud Compost, made at Marcum’s Nursery, is an organic fertilizer that will last all season.

Now, it’s time to select your tasty treats! Smaller items like lettuce, spinach, greens, herbs and root crops like carrots can be started from seed in place. They are quite easy to grow and produce long lasting harvests. For the larger vegetables, Brooks advised transplants are the easiest way to get started and are available at most nurseries and garden centers.

To save on garden square footage, Brooks recommends using dwarf varieties. Here are his top picks: 

·    Beans: Tendercrop, Bush Blue Lake & Contender

·    Beets: Bull’s Blood & Ruby Queen

·    Carrots: Scarlet Nantes, Danver’s, Napoli & Little Fingers

·    Cucumber: Bush Crop, Littleleaf, Picolino Hyb. and Salad Cucumber

·    Eggplant: Black Beauty & Diamond

·    Lettuce: Any kind except romaine varieties 

·    Peppers: Any kind, just remember the hotter the pepper the longer it takes to produce

·    Radishes: Champion, Sparkler and Early Scarlet Globe

·    Spinach: Bloomsdale Long-Standing

·    Summer Squash: Early Yellow, Crookneck, Straight-neck

·    Swiss Chard: Bright Lights

·    Tomatoes: Celebrity, Early Girl, Jet Star, Patio, Sun-gold, Super Bush, Sweet 100, Roma, Rutgers & Yellow Pear

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