Kid's Activity: Container Gardening

by Cindy Enghusen

"Hey, Mom! I am SO bored!!"
"But Dad, there is NOTHING to do!"

Dirt!School is out less than a week. The pitter-patter of feet has led them to YOU for entertainment. Just what is a parent to do? Get dirty! Literally! We are talking hands in the soil, dirt all over the patio. Add water. And we have the formula to end boredom for a bit. Grab a pot, grab some dirt, grab the kids and let's get to work!

The Basics: Why garden with children?

There are tons of reasons but here is the big one -- boredom. Boredom can drive a parent nuts! And you like fresh veggies, fresh fruit, fresh cut flowers? This is where your kids come in. They can help and be un-bored at the same time -- works all the way around!

Fruits and veggies rarely taste as good as fresh off the vine (unless, maybe fresh off someone else's vine). And dirt! What goes better with kids than dirt? Mud? I think not, but you can work with mud as well (if you are feeling adventurous). Besides, it can also be the perfect reason/motivator to get a child to try something healthy for them as well! After all, they grew it, maybe they will be more tempted to eat it.

The Bones of the Project

Potting soil and garden soil

Potting or garden soil holds water better than "plain" old dirt. I very highly recommend investing in a good potting soil or garden soil mix -- one with nutrients in it. Bear in mind it is important to use the appropriate soil type for the plants you choose.

What is in here?Be aware of what is actually in the cheaper mixes. I bought a cheap knock off one time, figuring I would fertilize it myself, and ended up with weed seeds and tiny (but painful) thorns. It came pre-seeded and all. Sadly, nothing that came up was anything worth growing! I like Miracle Grow™ Garden Soil for veggies and flowers, but that is a personal preference. I have heard of much success with other brands, and would recommend trying one or two smaller bags until you find the one that best suits you. If you have even marginally good ground, mix the garden soils with the potting soil or you can mix it with some topsoil. Read and follow all directions on the bag.

Nutrients

When choosing a bagged soil, know that each one has been "formulated" to have the right mix of nutrients (called N, P and K which stand for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, respectively). For instance, N is good for thick dark green grass as it promotes leaf growth, but isn't good to overdo with a plant you want to flower or produce fruit. So it would be good for lettuce, but not necessarily great for green peppers. With too much N, you can either burn (kill) the plant, or have a huge leafy plant, but little more -- few to no flowers. This can mean few to no fruit (not good).

Phosphorus can promote flowers and fruiting and root growth. Potassium can promote the storage of starches (plant food), quality of fruit and also aids in root health. For more information on plant nutrients, read "Essential Nutrients in Plants". Please bear in mind, any nutrient done in excess can kill a plant. It is important to use the correct nutrients, but also in correct amounts. You can buy simple kits to determine soil nutrient level if you are interested. I have never really tried them, and usually "feed" my plants a slow release when potting, and regularly as needed. This can vary widely from place to place as conditions are not the same. I hate that "as needed" phrase because it can be difficult to determine, on the other hand, what works for me, might not for you. If you have questions, you can always call a master gardener in your area or a local nursery.

Pots and Containers

Ok, so now I have bored you with what is IN the soil. Just remember, you, too, can bore your "bored" herd with it!