The purposes of growing plants with young children are to give children some undivided attention each day by adding gardening and nutrition knowledge, fun, and quiet conversation. They need to hear 20,000 words before kindergarten to become good readers and thinkers.
Straw Bale Gardening
If your family is a little adventurous, have poor soil, dislike weeding and bending, try straw bale gardening. Straw consists of the stems of plants.
SABIN, DAVIS, HETRICK, ANDEREGG, MACALADY, WALKER, DARLING and KATERS
Hay, however, is food for animals and has seeds that will mess up your garden. This straw bale gardening works in any climate.
There are many methods. One involves a straw bale with several layers of newspapers underneath and placing potting soil holes where the plants will grow. This method is easy with small children. Details are found at state sites.
The bale will get heavy, so place it where it will stay. Concrete and gravel are fine. Turn the bale narrow side up. The strings holding the bale together are on the side. On the narrow side, the straw will be folded over. On the other side the straw is cut. Place the cut side up. These will act as straws to let the water penetrate.
Condition the Bale
Water the bale for about 10-14 days before planting and let children keep a chart. Children will enjoy watering the bale until it softens up a bit. For three days keep it damp.
For the next six days water it and add a little mixture of about a capful of water-soluble fertilizer in a gallon of water. On day 10 only water again.
Show children how to use a meat thermometer to test the temperature of the inside. It may go as high as 120 degrees and then will come back down to 60-80 degrees that is ideal for growing plants.
Together dig out holes as you would dig soil to plant. Place some potting soil (not garden soil) in the holes and a plant. Almost any plant will work except corn. Tomatoes have large roots and heavy fruit so plant them a bit deeper than normal, place the removed straw on top, and stake them. Vines like cucumbers and zucchini especially love this system. Space them the usual amount.
After planting, water regularly so the bale does not dry out and fertilize normally. The plant roots will stay warm even if cool nights prevail.
Could you attract critters? Sure just like any other garden. Plant some marigolds in the bale. Some families wrap the bale with gopher mesh. Bales can be used for more than one year.
They will turn into good compost.
For more child centered family activities see grandparentsteachtoo.org and pod casts in wnmufm.org.
Editor's note: Grandparents Teach ,Too is a non profit organization of elementary and preschool teachers from Marquette, Michigan. Writers include: Jan Sabin, Mary Davis, Jean Hetrick, Cheryl Anderegg, Esther Macalady, Colleen Walker, Fran Darling, and Iris Katers.Their mission since 2009 is to help parents, grandparents, and other caregivers of young children provide fun activities to help prepare young children for school and a life long love of learning. They are supported by Great Start, Parent Awareness of Michigan (PAM), Upper Peninsula Association for the Education of Young Children (UPAEYC), Northern Michigan School of Education, U.P. Children's Museum, and NMU Center for Economic Education.