|GARDENING WITH KIDS!|
Ideas from Raintree Nursery's Horticulturist Theresa Knutsen:
Grow an edible playhouse from a Weeping Mulberry tree!
Shape a Weeping Mulberry into a wonderful playhouse for your children and grandchildren. Not only can the tree be shaped to make a living, private playhouse with plenty of room for the neighboring kids but delicious edible fruit will form each summer that is only visable from the inside of the tree. When the fruit turns purple it is fully ripe, however the kids might eat it when its still red and tart.
After planting the Weeping Mulberry, tie the central leader to a stake to keep it growing up until it reaches the height you would like it to start weeping from, perhaps 5-6’ or up to 12’. Spread straw or leaf mulch under the tree.
Year 2: In the early spring cut the top back to the desired height to encourage branching, assuming the tree grew tall enough the first year. If the tree did not grow tall enough, wait one more year or until the desired height has been reached. Most of the new branches will tend to grow out a bit, and then down. After a number of years it will form a ‘dome roof’ under which the children can play.
If you would like to develop the roof more quickly, construct a frame work to support the new branches so they grow out (or better somewhat up and out) 2-3’ or up to 6’ before weeping down, creating a wide ‘cave’ underneath. Remove any branches on the main trunk that are lower than the crown area you are developing.
Year 3: In the spring head back last years new growth to about 12” (if not using the support system) or to the outer edge of the support system (last years growth that tended to go more upwards and didn’t reach the edge could be headed back to about 12”). The new growth will tend to arch out a bit and then down. Some shoots may arch over the middle, rather than out, keeping some of those will help develop a thicker canopy over the top.
Year 4: In the spring head back ½ of last years new growth to about 12” (if not using the support system) or to 4-6 buds. Be sure to enjoy the fruits that ripen this year during the summer (some of the best picking is from within the ‘cave’ that is beginning to develop).
After year 4: Each spring thin out growth that is older than 2 years, especially from the underneath side of the canopy. Fruit is produced on both last year’s and current year’s growth, enjoy the tasty fruit each mid-summer.
Ultimately the area under the playhouse canopy will be too shaded for grass to grow, you may want to keep it mulched with straw, or some other material that is comfortable to crawl around on.
Exploring how roots grow!
Materials: clear plastic cup, paper towel, water, and bean, pea, or corn seed.
Loosely pack moistened paper towel into a plastic cup. Push seeds down the side of the cup, 4-6 seeds per cup, so they are sandwiched between the paper and the side of the cup (add more paper towel if needed to support the seed). Loosely cover the top to slow down evaporation. Place in a warm place, like the top of the refrigerator. Keep the paper towel moist, but not sopping wet. Check daily to see how the seeds are progressing. When the seed leaves are beginning to emerge bring out to a bright light location. When the seedlings have two true leaves, or the corn is several inches tall, plant outside (if all danger of frost has passed) or plant in pots and keep in a sunny windowsill until time to plant outside.
Neighborhood Fruit Stand!
Plan a fruit stand project with older kids, like the lemon-aide stand idea. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are all relatively easy to grow, not too space hungry, and readily accepted by passersby.
Ideas from Raintree Nursery Horticultrist, Katy Fraser
Leftover Carrot and Avocado parts make great projects!
Cut the top off of a carrot and put it into a saucer of water
Best Choices of small plants for kids to grow!
On a sunny windowsill, in a pot, or in the ground, radishes and beans are
The Centennial crab apple tree is the perfect kids apple tree- miniature in every way. It only grows to about 6’ tall even on a semi dwarf rootstock. Its sweet fruits are only about an inch across, the perfect size for a child’s lunch or snack. They are very winter hardy and thrive in USDA Zones 3-9. Consult our pollination chart for a pollinizer.
Kid-sized tools are important! Nobody likes to have cheap tools that break!
Kids can help building garden teepees!
Let them help with putting string out for straight rows, or building brush
Gardening with kids is a very rewarding activity for the child and for the parent who can watch their child explore and learn about the world around them.
A great way to get your child involved with gardening is to have them help you plant seeds. Peas, beans, corn, squash and melon seeds are the easiest for the youngest gardeners. As a child gets older and their dexterity increases you can have them sow your salad greens and carrots.
Try growing edible flowers!
I have found that edible plants are endlessly fascinating to kids, especially edible flowers. Edible flowers are often very easy to grow and make a beautiful and nutritious addition to salads. The easiest edible flowers to grow are calendula, borage, arugula (let it go to flower after you are done harvesting the greens). Many seed catalogs now offer edible flower seed.
Help them learn about beneficial insects!
Another great activity is planning and planting a garden for beneficial insects. Older children can research and help plan the garden and younger children can help plant and water the garden. You and your child can learn about the important roles that beneficial insects play in the garden, and watch the populations of beneficial insect populations increase as your garden grows.
You can see the whole lifecycle of a ladybug on a fennel plant. The eggs are laid then hatched. The larval stages are spent on the fennel or near by. You can see if you can find the shed pupae cocoon stuck on one of the fronds. The adults will fly into your garden to find aphids.
Everbearing (also known as day neutral) strawberries also make a great snack and edible treasure hunt for kids. They produce berries from June through to frost. Kids never get tired of searching through the strawberry patch for the hidden berries. They are a nice snack and a great opportunity for kids to help out in the garden. Even two year olds can recognize (and find) a ripe strawberry.
A few more Raintree plants that are great for kids! Notes from Sam Benowitz
Empress Tree: This has got to be one of the only trees that you can plant with your young child and it will grow so fast that your child can climb it before they are a teenager. In seven or eight years it can reach 20 feet tall and have nice reachable sturdy branches for climbing.
Blueberries: Blueberry plants are easy to plant with children. They have all their fruit below six feet in height so kids can easily reach out and pick and eat. You can choose varieties that ripen throughout the summer while the kids are home from school.
Butterflies will flutter by: Plant a butterfly bush and the butterflies will come from far and wide to your yard. The bushes are beautiful with elongated magnificently colored flowers. Remember to cut the bush back to a foot tall each winter. It will grow back in a compact manner and be full of flowers.
Mini-Dwarf Apple trees : Raintree Nursery graft many varieties of apples trees on EMLA 27 rootstock that makes apple trees that are only six feet tall at maturity. They are a perfect size for picking by children.
Gunnera : Raintree Nursery also offers the Gunnera plant. Once the plant is a few years old, one leaf is as big as an adult. Children can easily hide behind a single leaf.
Making Apple Cider: Kids love to gather the apples (or at least you can try telling them that and see if they will help). I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t love to toss the apples into the cider press hopper. Best of all, kids can demonstrate their strength by turning the large screw that squeezes the juice. Then, of course, comes the task of drinking the delicious cider. It’s a great family activity.