You don't need a country acre, a green thumb, or even a three-month commitment to gardening to bring gardening into your family activities. Here are five projects that will interest kids of all ages.
1. Stake A Claim. Instead of planting a new plot for your child, have her adopt an existing planting or wild space. It can be as big as she wants. Mark it off with stakes and twine and start spending time there. Pay utmost attention to what's happening there. Take photos. Draw pictures. Write poems. Collect and press a few leaves, flowers, or other finds. Keep a scrapbook throughout the season. Kids who try this really grow attached to their places.
2. Make and Bake A Compost Torte. You choose the size and site for this project. Making compost is like baking dessert for your garden. Start at the bottom with fresh green plant material, then add a layer of old brown plant material such as leaves or straw. Keep layering materials, and every 10 inches or so, frost it with a cup of limestone and an inch of well-aged manure. When the pile is 4 feet high, glaze it with a sprinkling of water. Say magic words over the top. Water and turn it every week, and it will heat up and become as rich as chocolaty brownies by fall.
3. Race For The Sky With A Half-barrel (or more) of Vines. Your race course can be twine attached to cup hooks on the side of the house, a twig trellis you've lashed together yourself, or a fancy tuteur. Mark the "course" with a marker showing inches at the bottom and after the first foot just mark feet. Choose and compare vines such as scarlet runner beans, other pole beans, small gourds, morning glories, moonflowers, love-in-a-puff, or other flowering vines. On your mark, get set, plant! Jump back and see who sprouts first, who takes off, and who wins. Water and fertilize for good competition.
4. Herbal Plant Wash and Bug Spray. Kids love squirt bottles, so they usually love the job of spraying plants. This concoction is safe for kids and helps to keep indoor or outdoor plant leaves clean and free of aphids and diseases. Use on smooth-leafed plants. Ingredients include the grated rind of one lemon, 1 cup wormwood or tansy, 1 cup lavender, 1 cup sage, 1 pint boiling water, and 1 teaspoon nondetergent soap such as castile or Murphy's Oil Soap. In a heat-resistant quart jar, mix lemon and herbs. Pour water over the mix. Let it steep until cooled to room temperature. Drain, reserving the liquid. In a plastic spray-pump bottle, dilute 1/8 cup of the herbal liquid to 2 cups water and add the teaspoon of soap. Teach your child how to safely apply the spray.
5. Send Good Bugs On Their Way. It's exciting to receive a package of beneficial insects in the mail, peek into the package, and release them outdoors. Lacewings are highly effective against aphids, mealybugs, scales, whiteflies, and several others, but they usually arrive in the mail as larvae and eggs. Ladybugs, one of everyone's favorite insects, devour aphids, Colorado potato beetle eggs, and other pests. Either costs about $14 for 1,000 insects and come with instructions.