Category Archives: Kids Organic Gardening

Kids Wildlife Habitat

Kids can be responsible stewards of the earth by starting in their own yard. Creating a sustainable landscape with low water usage and low maintenance where we live is an attainable goal. Ninety percent of insects are beneficial and aesthetically beautiful native plants are their food and shelter. To make a landscape sustainable the plants must be climate appropriate, be planted with awareness of their future growth, grouped with plants with the same water needs, and arranged for wildlife habitats. Birds, butterflies, and bees need certain plants, shrubs, and trees for food, water, and shelter. To encourage wildlife, kids can plant a balanced ecosystem, with plants that repel pests and attract friendly insects, birds, and critters. Kids can get their Wildlife Habitat certified by The National Wildlife Federation by going to www.nwf.org.

Kids can plant native plants in the right place for their sun and water needs instead of lawns.  Raised beds and planter boxes for organic herbs and veggies filled with rich organic soil are attractive, wildlife friendly, and provide the best tasting, healthiest food for the family. Kids can keep water run-off on the property with land sculpting to add water features, which can solve drainage and erosion problems, as well as bring needed water for a wildlife habitat. Kids can plant fruit trees that grow well in their climate around the perimeter of their yard.  The sound of running water, the smell of fresh fruit and herbs, and the cheerful colors of the flowers attract birds and butterflies, as well as turning the yard into a tranquil garden retreat.

Harvesting Rainwater and Greywater

“Rainwater, the cleanest and healthiest water for our gardens,” said Laura Maher, an organic seed saver and Ventura County water saving expert pictured above, “but this wonderful water is dispersed and lost into rivers, lakes, and oceans.”  Kids can harvest water right where they live and use the water for their fruit and veggie gardens by attaching a rain barrel to the down spout from their roof.  Rain barrels usually hold 60 gallons, but fill quickly in a rain storm. Gutters, downspouts, and pipes can be installed from the roof to various sizes of tanks and cisterns, even placed at some distance from the house, as long as the tank inlet is at least one foot lower than the bottom of the gutter.  Tanks should use screens to keep out insects and be dark colored to discourage algae.

Native plants used in a home’s landscape require the least amount of water and offer food and shelter for beneficial insects and wildlife. By using native plants rather than a lawn, contouring the landscape, making curb cuts from the street, and building swales, homeowners can harvest an abundance of rainwater on site. Swales are recessions in the soil or low tracts of marsh land that hold water and keep organic matter on site. To create a swale, dig down six inches and use the dirt to make a berm on the downhill side. This swale will manage water runoff, filter pollutants, and increase rainwater infiltration. By using mulch and cover crops, the flow of rainwater during a storm can be slowed and encouraged to percolate into the soil.

Families can also divert gently used water from their shower, bathtub, bathroom sink, and laundry to water trees and shrubs. However, greywater users must switch to plant friendly laundry soap as salts and Boron are micro-toxins that can build up and kill their plants. One simple reuse option is using a bucket in the shower to catch the cold water before it heats up. This can often be the right amount to water patio plants and veggies or flush a toilet in an apartment. Families can harvest and store the most water by creating swales and by sculpting their landscape to keep the water on site.

Kids Organic Raised Bed Garden

When families grow an organic raised bed garden where they live, they have easy access to fresh organic food and benefit from a sanctuary that restores them mentally, physically, and emotionally. The raised bed can be a 5’ x 4’ wooden container in a site that gets 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, away from trees and high winds.  A planter box of cement or rocks edging a wall is a productive raised bed as plants growing off the ground aren’t as easy a prey for pests and disease. Raised beds warm up quicker for earlier planting and extended growing season. Staggering the plantings of veggies is accomplished easier as kids can reach, rotate and harvest crops over an extended growing season in a small raised bed. Kids can terrace their veggie plants to capture the most sun and grow a bigger harvest by putting the tallest ones in the back and the shorter ones in front. A trellis can be attached to the raised bed to keep vines weed and water free. Kids can fill their raised garden bed with organic soil and compost from their compost bin, garden center, or local organic soil company. To save time, money, and water, kids can easily add a drip watering system or a soaker hose with a battery run timer so that watering takes place at the best time of day for maximum absorption and minimal evaporation. Filling the raised bed with fresh balanced organic soil creates a perfect start to growing abundant fruit and veggies. Kids can add castings from Red Wriggler worms that create the highest quality compost with nutrients and micro-organisms for water retention, air flow, and minerals and make the best fertilizer for the soil and the best food for the plants. Kids can hardly wait to taste the healthy variety of homegrown fruit and vegetables that they have grown in their organic raised bed garden.

Biochar for Soil Sustainability

“Biochar’s high carbon content and porous composition helps soil to retain water, nutrients, protect soil microbes, and ultimately increase crop yields while growing healthier, more productive, disease-resistant plants. All the while helping combat global climate change by sequestering and stabilizing rich organic carbon in your soil,” explained Michael Wittman.

Biochar is a charcoal soil amendment that has been made in Asia, often from bamboo, for thousands of years to increase plant productivity. Charcoal been used for years as an air and water filter. “A natural amendment,” said Michael Wittman, “biochar is a microscopic honeycomb that holds beneficial soil bacteria, moisture, and nutrients.” It can improve soil structure, reduce erosion, and do its job in the soil for hundreds of years. Like a fire in the forest leaves charred wood to enrich the forest floor, biochar enriches the soil by retaining moisture and nutrients. Bamboo biochar has ten times more surface area, a fixed nutrient ratio, more water retention, and absorbs more soluble nutrients than other biochar derived from wood, straw, or manure.  Delicate beneficial fungi are difficult to keep in the soil, but biochar can build fungal qualities in all types of soil.

Touring Michael Wittman’s Thousand Oaks garden, Organic Garden Club members learned how to make biochar from wood burning in a small kiln. To keep gophers, squirrels, birds, and bunnies out of the veggies, Michael built a wire house under and around his raised bed garden and hung his tomatoes from the roof. He grows strawberries and herbs in satellite dishes for easy reach with a fire pit cover to keep out the critters. To harvest the rain water, he has two large 350 gallon tanks connected to the rain gutters from his roof with a hose at the side of the tanks to water the garden. He keeps his compost in a wire house, where he mixes it with biochar to provide a home for the growing bacteria and fungi.

The process of making biochar pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and returns it to enrich the soil and grow plants that breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen.  With biochar you can as Michael said, “Leave your carbon footprint in the garden…”

Kids grow Golden Beets

Kids love the sweet golden beets in salads, soups, and casseroles.  Kids can easily grow beets as both spring and fall crops. Kids can plant the beet seeds in early spring after the last frost directly in their raised bed garden filled with rich organic soil and compost and harvest them in July. Plant the seeds ½ inch deep at three inch intervals for an abundant crop that shades out most weeds.  Kids can plant beet seeds again in the fall about seven weeks before the first frost. Golden beet tops make especially delicious greens that are mild like spinach and can be picked as soon as several leaves per plant appear large enough. Cut a leaf or two with scissors from different plants, which still allows the beets roots to grow well. Kids can see the tops of the beet root immerging from the soil. When the beet root is about two or three inches in diameter, kids can grab the leaf stalks just above the root and pull it out of the ground. Golden beets are sweeter than purple beets and make a delicious roasted beet, avocado, and beet green salad with organic extra virgin olive oil and organic balsamic vinegar.

Kids Garden Notebook

Kids can learn something about math, science, nature, art, and music when they grow an organic garden in their backyard, patio, or balcony. Keeping a garden notebook is a fun way to discover clue after clue about how nature works and how all living things are connected. Kids can have lots of fun in a backyard veggie garden, digging in the dirt, discovering insects and animals, and eating food they have grown themselves. Kids can find a shady place to put a seat where they can wonder at the beauty of their garden. Sitting in their special place, kids can make a map for their notebook and measure the garden area by making an inch on paper represent a foot of garden. Kids can record in their notebook the date, time, and weather and note what animals, birds, insects, or flowers they see, hear, and smell. Kids can draw pictures of spiders spinning webs and caterpillars nibbling leaves. Kids can glue the seeds, beans and dried flowers they find in their notebook. Kids can plot the sun on the map and find where to place their raised beds, planters, and pots in the best sunlight for their veggie plants to thrive and grow. Kids can make a colorful garden plan in their notebook to choose what veggies, herbs, flowers, and fruits to plant and where to plant them, putting the low growing plants in front and the tall plants in the back. Different parts of the county have different growing seasons. As their organic veggies garden grows, kids can keep track of when to start seeds indoors, when to plant and when to harvest in their notebook.  Kids can have lots of fun with their notebook in their shady spot in the garden, discovering worms, bees, butterflies, birds, and toads, and growing their favorite fruits and veggies for dinner.

Kids Patio Lime Tree

Lime trees make a lovely addition to the patio with their evergreen leaves and the delightful aroma from their flowers and fruit. The lime tree pictured here in my patio is nestled between a fig tree and an avocado tree, and all three are fruiting.  Limes like the sheltered area of a sunny patio and grow well in large containers of rich organic soil. They flower and fruit all year and produce an abundance of fruit that can take six months to ripen. Although the fruit is ripe when it is still green, limes turn yellow when fully matured.  All lime trees are self fertile with small white flowers that are richly fragrant. Kids can attract beneficial insects to keep the lime tree healthy by planting cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, and catmint nearby. In cold climates, lime trees grow well inside a greenhouse or a sunroom. Put a wheeled caddy on the bottom of the tree’s container and grow it outside during the summer and wheel it inside for the winter. Kids can feed their tree organic compost every other month spring to fall. Lime trees need little pruning, only to remove any deadwood and let more light into the center of the tree. Kids can make a refreshing drink by squeezing a lime into a quart of water and adding a sprig of mint or some grated fresh ginger and maple syrup.