January/February 2012 Living Now
Garbage Gardening for Kids
by Debra Levey Larson
Gardening activities in spring, summer and fall may be easier, but there are plenty of gardening ideas for the winter months, particularly with children, says Martha Smith, a horticulture educator at the University of Illinois Extension.
“Garbage gardening is a great way to show kids that many of the things we throw away have value,” says Smith. “Plant parts that are normally thrown away are potentially beautiful houseplants, such as avocado.”
There are two ways to start an avocado plant from a pit, according to Smith. One way is to suspend the pit with toothpicks in a glass of water. Put the pointy side up and remember to change the water every couple of days while waiting for it to split and send out a root.
The other way to start an avocado is to plant it in soil. Let the pit dry for a day. Peel off the dark brown covering. Put the pit in a pot filled with potting soil, pointed end up. Leave about one third of the pit showing above the soil. Keep the soil moist and a shoot should appear in about four to six weeks. Once the tree has started and is up to at least 6 inches, put another layer of soil in the pot to cover the pit.
Carrots, beets, rutabaga and turnips can be started indoors. These root crops have a leafy upper portion. Cut a one-inch section from the top of the vegetable and plant it in moist sand with only the upper portion exposed. Keep the soil moist and small leaves will begin to appear in about 10 days.
“Seeds of orange, lime, lemon and grapefruit are easy to grow,” says Smith. “Kids can look for seeds while they eat a fruit. Soak the seeds in water overnight. Plant them about one-inch deep in a pot filled with potting soil. Put two to three seeds in each pot.”
For kids who like a challenge, try growing ginger. Look for fresh ginger roots that are showing signs of sprouting.
“You will notice little bumps that look like they are getting ready to burst,” says Smith. “These are 'eyes.' Just like when you plant potatoes, slice the ginger root so you have several eyes on each piece. Plant them in well-drained potting soil. Keep the soil moist. It takes about three weeks for ginger to sprout.”
Want more garbage gardening tips? Smith recommends starting a worm bin during the winter.
“This teaches kids the value of recycling, and they get to mess around with slimy worms,” she says. “They can learn about the interdependence of plants and organisms as they turn vegetable scraps into valuable compost.”
Kids can also help with cooking by planting a windowsill garden of herbs. Basil, parsley, rosemary and chives are a few Smith recommends.
“There are lots of gardening projects you can get kids involved with this winter. Fuel their interests now and you'll have a gardener for life.”