GARDENING 101: A Summer Home Economics Course
Summer is nearly here, and most of the schools are on break for the season. In the Chicagoland area, the park districts and camps are still closed, leaving kids with less to do. This gives parents an opportunity to teach them life skills, along with some horticulture. A large yard is not needed, even a small patio or balcony can bring this lesson to life. For the gardening season, our growing zone is number 5, meaning we grow food and vegetation from May to October. Gardening 101 can be taught from the seed to the plate.
The course begins with planning. Allow kids to figure out how much space they have to plant and what they are interested in planting. Burpee (Burpee.com) and Johnny’s Selected Seeds (JohnnySeeds.com) are two sites that have some ideas and list the details about the conditions the plant needs to thrive. Once the size and area is determined, have the student make a list of what they intend to plant and map out the garden on paper.
If space permits, the student can even help build a simple, raised garden bed out of untreated 2”x6” lumber. Ideally, purchase three, 2”x6” boards, 8′ (feet) in length and eight, 3″ wood screws. Cut one of the boards in half; then, using an electric drill, place two screws in each corner where the boards meet. They may even be learning a bit of wood shop, as well.
Now its time to prepare the dirt for planting. If the garden will be planted in pots or a raised bed, the student can help mix the soil. A good blend includes top soil, perlite, vermiculite and mushroom compost. This is great for grounding and the kids’ immune system. The ions from the soil help boost the immune system. The soil should be of a fine texture similar to course cornmeal when it is ready for the seeds.
Each student can read the seed package for planting details, including how deep to plant the seeds and how far to space them apart. A few easy-growing seeds that are easy to cook and prepare include bush beans, peas, carrots and cucumbers.
Remind the student to water the garden each day if there is no rain. This will help keep the seeds moist, and within seven to 14 days, the sprouts will typically appear. The student can continue to tend to the plants during growing season by weeding the garden and removing dandelions and grass that may take root in the new soil.
Once the veggies are ready for harvest, allow the student to pick them and wash the dirt off using a strainer in the sink. Simple cooking techniques like steaming on the stovetop or a stir-fry are a great way to taste the flavors. Younger students can help slice and dip the veggies they grew in ranch dressing for a snack.
Lessons can be brought inside by learning more about our growing season and the map of growing zones. This may be a great time to get them a field journal or sketch pad so they can recreate the map with paint or color pencils or learn each part of the seed and draw them. Each week, they can pick one plant from the garden to sit outside and draw, bringing art into the summer classroom.
As seen in Natural Awakenings Chicago Magazine