Time to get growing

Get kids started on summer with an indoor garden

Think it’s too cold to garden? Think again. You and the kids can fast forward to summer by initiating your garden inside the house, and then transferring plants outside when the weather warms.

To impress kids with the full life-cycle process, start from seed—and temper childhood impatience by choosing quick-growing vegetables.

Kate Stonefoot, horticulturist at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, recommends radishes, beans, peas, corn or onions. She’s also a fan of herbs, which germinate quickly and can be transplanted easily. Eileen Prendergast, family programs coordinator at Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe agrees and notes, "When kids are making their own food of something they grew, they’re a lot more likely to eat it and try new things."

Flip through seed catalogs for inspiration and to expose kids to new varieties. "They’ve probably only eaten one kind of bean ... they don’t even realize that this whole other bunch exists," says Stonefoot. She’s wary of discounted seeds at the garden store because they might have low germination rates; order from a seed company instead.

Ready to get growing?

 To begin, read the seed packet since care instructions can vary widely.

 Put regular potting soil into an egg carton to germinate the seeds; the smaller the seed, the less soil you sprinkle on top.

 Keep the soil moist, but not soaked. (Tip: put plastic wrap over the top with a few holes punched on top to create a mini-greenhouse.)

 Once the sprouts are 2 inches high or so, transfer them into a larger container like a yogurt carton, metal can or pot.

 Wait a week or more after the official "frost free" date (typically May 15) to move your plants outside.

 Once outside, baby the plants initially by monitoring water levels and using an organic fertilizer.

From a small seed can sprout larger life lessons. Gardening with kids will not only reap a tomato or two, but also creativity, patience and a long-lasting connection to nature—and to one another.

Jill S. Browning

Kids Eat Chicago

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