The Q&A Archives: Selecting Seeds for Children's Gardening

Question: My wife and I are co-chairman of a science courtyard garden at our children's primary school. One of the projects we plan this winter is having the kindgergarten, first and second grade classes start seeds in their classrooms, then plant them in the science courtyard's garden later in the spring. I have your '97 catalogue and am looking for suggestions from you for seeds to use in this project. We plan to have the children use individual peat pots (the dics that expand when you add water to them)primarily for ease of handling and to give each child a plant of his or her own to look after. The seeds I am looking for need to fill these criteria: a) they should be easy to handle (i.e. not too small); b) we'd like to have some relative assurance that they would germinate in the classroom (given the appropriate light and water conditions) and survive transplant into the garden; c) ideally, the plants should have a shorter germination-to-produce period so that the children could enjoy seeing the fruits of their labors before school ends in mid-June. I am leaning toward vegetables -- peas, beans, carrots, leaf lettuce -- but also would consider some flowers (sunflowers). I would very much appreciate hearing your recommendations. Thankyou. Matthew Vita Chevy Chase, MD

Answer: I can't think of any plant that will fill all your needs, but here are a few suggestions. First of all, peat pots have their limitations. Though they make transplanting easy, they do tend to dry out quickly, and sometimes tender roots can't penetrate the walls. If you do plant them directly in the ground, be sure the top of the pot is covered with soil--otherwise the peat wicks moisture away from the roots and into the air. 1) Leaf lettuce will sprout and grow to a size large enough to sample in a sunny window, or can be set outside in early spring. It can also be direct-seeded outdoors for an early harvest. The seed is quite small. The same for spinach. 2) Beans are fun to grow, the seeds are large and sprout quickly, but you will probably not be able to harvest beans before school is out. 3) Peas are fun to plant, and can be set out in early spring. Or direct-seed in the garden in early spring. 4) Carrots and other root crops do not transplant well--but you can direct-seed radishes in early spring. Will you be able to bring the children back to the garden in the fall? Will someone be available to maintain the garden? You might consider planting fall-maturing crops, including carrots, pumpkins, and squash. Marigolds are a favorite--they're reliable and easy to grow indoors. Sunflowers will take all summer to mature, but should be in full bloom when school starts in the fall..

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