Growing up in my father’s “feed and seed” store — the precursor to garden centers — I was always aware of the importance of fresh, just-picked garden vegetables. It never occurred to me to complain about veggie nights or resist eating these lovingly hand-grown delights.
Today children often don’t have an opportunity to know that carrots grow underground or strawberries can be easily grown in containers on the patio and picked — ripe and luscious — savored straight from the vine.
So, how about planting a family garden? Engage everyone in the joy of gardening?
Here are a few ideas to captivate even the most veggie resistant youngster:
• Create a pizza garden — what, grow a pizza? Well, almost. What makes a pizza great? Tomatoes, onions, peppers, basil, parsley, maybe a garnish of arugula
• Salsa garden — tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, garlic, cilantro
• Bugs Bunny garden — carrots, lettuce, cabbage
• Fragrant herb garden — parsley, thyme, basil, chervil, chives, cilantro, sage. Mint is a great addition, but is best grown in a container as it can be incredibly invasive.
• Pick it and eat it garden — strawberries, blueberries, blackberries (highly recommend the thornless types), apples, pears…
Sound like fun? It’s easy to get started and include your entire family in every step of the process.
Assess your growing area. Do you live in an apartment with a deck for growing? Herb gardens are perfect for limited areas. If you have nice sun, a strawberry pot could be a good addition and wonderfully tasty for the family.
Is your landscape totally manicured? Try adding a row of loose leaf lettuce, kale, or parsley. They all make attractive and delicious border plants.
An ideal growing space would be a patch of level open land that gets several hours of sun each day, but few of us have that perfect spot and need to improvise.
Your first task is to clear the space of weeds, grass and rocks. Enlist the help of all ages in this digging project. How’s your soil? Soil is alive with living organisms to help support life with nutrients and minerals. You may need to purchase potting soil and/or compost to mix into your native soil. Taking time to enrich your soil is an extremely important step to insure success. Feed the soil along with compost, compost, compost are two common Master Gardener mantras.
Once your planting area is ready, access your sunlight. The amount of sunlight you receive will help determine the types of plants you can grow. Do you have an extremely shady garden? Do not despair — a variety of lettuces and herbs will thrive year-round — a salad garden. Add some pansies, calendulas and nasturtiums for tasty, colorful edible flowers.
Tomatoes and peppers definitely require more sun but there are varieties that will produce in cooler weather areas. Reading seed packets and labels on vegetable starts at the garden center will give you more advice on the amount of sun required, how deep and far apart to plant the seeds or starts, days from planting to germination, and days from planting to harvest. Engage the family in reading the packets, measuring the distances, counting out the seeds and carefully following the directions on how much soil is needed to cover the seeds. Some seeds need light to germinate and are only pressed into the soil. Other seeds require darkness and need to be completely covered.
Assign daily monitoring of your plants to identify any pests that might decide your fruits and veggies are mighty tasty. Learn to identify the “good bugs” that will support your organic gardening practices.
There is much information available to help you succeed. The UC Marin Master Gardener website has numerous articles available. Go to marinmg.ucanr.edu and click on the link “Marin Master Gardener Independent Journal Articles” and search the fruits and vegetables listings. Also, stop by the Master Gardener information tables at many of your local farmers markets for advice.