Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Think Spring!

by cathym on April 1, 2019

by Valerie Shaw

The wind is howling, my daughter is home sick, and the snow can’t seem to decide whether it will melt, harden into ice, or smother us in another five inches. It’s starting to feel like winter will never end! Yet, beneath that icy layer, things are getting ready to change. Believe it or not, it’s time to start thinking Spring! 

Mini Greenhouses
How about some fresh veggies, right now? In our sunny living room, we’re trying something new this year. My son calls it, “Let Us Have Lettuce!” It’s easy, inexpensive, and fun. First, get a clear tote, with a lid, and a bag of potting soil (not starter, that’s different). Place the lid of the tote where you want the greenhouse; it’ll get heavy, so make sure it’s a sturdy table. Lay the bag of soil flat on this, and then cut a wide rectangle in the bag’s top, making a little garden bed. Fluff slightly with a fork or other tool, then generously sprinkle lettuce, kale, spinach, or other salad green seeds. Water gently, pat down the seeds a little. Now take the clear tote, and put it upside down over the lid. Our lettuce sprouted the very next day! If it’s too gloomy, you can use a halogen or other growing light to help your little sprouts. Just the same as any other method, if it gets very sunny and warm, make sure to lift the tote for airflow so you don’t cook your seedlings. You can use this this idea outside once it warms a little, too! This method also has the added perk of protecting your seedlings from too-curious little fingers, or interested family cats. You might also try growing radishes, herbs, or mini carrots this way.

Planning Ahead
One of the biggest pieces of advice I give both kids and parents doesn’t even need a trowel. Read! Read those catalogs, and read those seed packets before you rip ‘em open. Kids get hooked on gardening when they are successful at it, and reading ahead is one of the best ways to make sure that happens. For example, if you’re buying a blueberry bush, make sure it’s intended for your area. There are northern and southern varieties, and choosing the wrong one will waste a summer’s worth of work, and your moola, too. 

Garden Planning
Get out your pencils! Now is a great time to plan ahead and make some garden plans. It’s prime seed catalog time, and soon the nurseries will be filling with green choices. Think about the veggies your family likes to eat, and try a few new varieties. Or take the Veggie Challenge: As a family, pick a vegetable you don’t like, but know you should. Grow a few plants of it, and see how many different ways you can eat it. Maybe one will be a winner! Sometimes, we just have to try something a few times to change our minds. 

If you don’t have one yet, now is a great time to start a garden journal. No fancy book needed, a notebook will do! Colored pencils and stickers can help kids add their own touches to your records. Make sure to write down any funny or interesting memories, too.

Mom‘s Strawberry Jam. Photo courtesy Flickr: Meal Makeover Moms

Berry Good  
I highly recommend strawberry plants for children; they’re just so joyful and easy. Have the child paint a big flowerpot whatever colors they choose, put in some potting soil, and three to five strawberry plants. Or make a little garden bed out in the yard. And here’s a fun painting project that is very useful: painting a handful of strawberry-sized rocks can trick your local birds into leaving your juicy berries alone! Simply paint the rocks a jolly berry red (acrylic paint works great), and place in your strawberry patch a few weeks before your berries come in. The birds will attempt to “eat” them, decide that these are the worst berries ever, and then leave your patch unscathed when the real fruit ripens. Remember, “June bearing” strawberries will make a ton of berries all at once, great for making jam. “Ever-bearing” will keep pumping out berries for a longer season, but less at once.    

Pumpkin Club
This last idea is actually a year-long project, ideal for school, church, or other groups. It would be good fun in a close neighborhood, or group of friends! The group all buys a packet of pumpkin seeds, and plants them at the same time. Once a month, someone hosts a “pumpkin party”, and kids can share their growing tips and show off how their vines are doing. There’s a ton of fascinating methods on the Internet for growing big pumpkins (did you know some people feed them milk?). In October, there’s a final Harvest party, where everyone brings their ‘kins. Prizes can be given out for the biggest, the cutest, the most orange, spookiest, and so on. It’s a great way to bring families together for some gardening fun! 

Valerie Shaw lives in West Monroe, NY, with her lettuce-loving family, some silly goats, and too many wild deer that prematurely prune her fruit trees. She’s a youth coach at the Y, an avid gardener, and a painter that also loves to write long novels. She can be reached at magicschoolcar@yahoo.com for any kid-related gardening questions!

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