April 7, 2013


Spring has finally sprung, in most of the country. Now is a great time to share some “growing fun” with your great-grandchildren.

Children are always fascinated with watching how one thing can turn into something else. Here are a few spring growing ideas, which you can do indoors and or outdoors with your family. And if you grow enough, perhaps there’s a healthy meal or two at the end of the experience.***

The most basic way to watch plants grow is to get a few dried: lima beans, black beans, pinto beans, etc. Use a large mouthed, shallow (not too deep or tall) clear glass jar (jam, small mayonnaise jar, baby food, etc.). Have a bag of small cotton balls or paper towels handy. With your great-grandchild, choose 2 or 3 beans for each jar. Roll the paper towel or bunch up the cotton balls. Wet them and stuff tightly into the jar. Wedge the bean seeds between the side of the jar and the paper. Then add enough water to cover the bottom of the jar, and viola, you have an instant bean garden. Children can watch the water being absorbed, the root system develop and finally leaves being produced. You can also document the growth with a camera/phone, tape measure, or a stick, and keep track of how long it takes.

Be sure to keep the cotton/paper damp, and the jar in a sunny window. After it has grown too large for the jar, you can transfer the bean plant to a pot with soil, and put it outside with adequate sun and water.
If you’re a long distance great-grandparent, you can share this simple activity. Mail dried beans with written instructions enclosed, to your great-grandchildren. Engage the help of the parents to replicate this project, and then share the steady growth via photos. You both can commit to taking photos, each day, at approximately the same time, and either post them online, or email them to each other.

Vegetables such as carrots, radishes and lettuce, or crops that bear fruits over a long period of time, such as tomatoes and peppers, are perfect for outdoor container gardens. Depending onthe amount of space available, the size of the containers, and what your family enjoys eating, you can make some choices on what to plant. Containers can be made of: terra cotta, pressed fiber, plastic, galvanized steel, wood, etc., or something that you’ve made yourself with your grandchildren. Many decorative ceramic pots are pretty, but have no drainage holes, and the holes are necessary for success. You’ll also need a container that is at least 12” deep, and at least 12” wide. Basically, the bigger the container, and the more room you give the plants, the better the outcome.

Those of you who more purist gardeners may want to start from seed, but others, may buy small plants from the local nursery, or you can do both. Either way, you need a good potting soil, preferably one for veggies.

Start with: 1 or 2 cherry tomato plants, some small lettuces, and some basil and chives in a large container (about 30” diameter). They grow well together and have the same water and sun requirements. By late summer they might not be very pretty, but they'll keep producing into the fall. In another container of about the same size, plant a row of carrot seeds and radish seeds. Follow the directions on the seed packages, and water as needed. Be sure all containers get enough sunlight, drainage and water. You should be able to start picking some of the lettuces and basil soon, and eventually the rest will be on your table.
Watching nature at work, is very fulfilling, just as it is to watch your great-grandchildren develop and mature. Enjoy the spring weather, the planting and the yummy salad.

*** Just an FYI.  We are IDEA people, NOT master gardeners, so if you need more helpful information, please check with your local nursery, bookstore or online.