THIS year!  Is finally The Year!

gardening with kids

After ages and ages and ages of planning a Real Garden, we’ve finally tilled the soil and sprouted seeds.

growing a garden with children

Back in graduate school, I studied prehistoric human/plant interactions, focusing on uses of the acorn as a primary food source in the ancient Southeastern United States (true story).  While I was a full-time student and had a flexible schedule, I also completed something I’d wanted to do since I was 20 years old: I became a certified Master Gardener.  What, what!  That’s right.

planting seeds in egg cartons

The Master Gardener program (link is for Georgia, but you can easily search the Googles for your local branch) is administered by County Extension Offices throughout the US as a FREE (it is!) program to the citizens, training them in techniques ranging from better turf building to raising vegetable crops to controlling erosion.  I will be totally up-front and admit that most of the programs in most of the counties (at least, twelve years ago, when I did the sequence) focus on conventional techniques and what I consider “lawn care.”  That’s what most folks who take the course–generally at an average age of 65–are interested in.  My suspicion (and hope) is that these agencies are now including more organic and sustainable, food-producing content in their courses, and that they’ll reach into concepts of restoration agriculture, seeking to encourage residents to plant food-bearing crops as yard plants.  We can all dream.

starting seeds indoors

My point in sharing all this is that in all this time, since I first dug up the sandy backyard of my rental house in Florida as an undergraduate and planted squash and tomatoes, have I ever had a home where I could plant a real garden.  I’ve grown everything in containers from basil to corn (corn!! is HUGE! in a container), but this is the first house where we’ve had the space to put in a real PLOT.  I’m beside myself.

gardening plot

It took ages to select a location on our spot.  We have a large lot, about an acre, but it’s in an “established neighborhood,” which means the houses are older and the trees are mature.  Mature = TALL.  So our yard gets a lot of shade that moves across the landscape throughout the day.  In fact, the only spot that gets all-day sun is SMACK in the middle of the lawn, which we’d like to keep for the children to play on.  We spent a large chunk of the past three years watching sun patterns and sketching out potential sites before finally choosing to place the garden here, against our Eastern fenceline.  (I’ll share more about the sun patterns later–I took a whole series of photos during one day just to chart the shade.  Because I’m super cool like that.)

morning glory seedlings

Once we’d chosen the spot, we had to move four crepe myrtles (the previous owners had an unnatural fixation with the crepe myrtle, which is a lovely tree, but really, who needs TWO DOZEN of them?) and fight back the English ivy that was largely believed in the 1960s to be a charming addition to any suburban plot but is now widely seen as an invasive perennial that harbors rats and snakes.  It’s a constant battle.  We tilled the whole plot, which measures about 8′ by 30′ or so.

cucumber seedlings

I planned to order seeds online, and had them all selected and in my shopping cart, when the kids discovered packets of organic seeds we’d purchased at the local hardware store over the winter.  So those went in egg cartons on the kitchen table to sprout.  At least half of the space we tilled will go towards pumpkins, which sprawl and take up massive amounts of room–and which we’ve never grown before, because I couldn’t quite work out how to manage them in containers.  Pumpkins!  At my HOUSE!  We’re also doing cucumbers (above), which we’ll trellis.  Fun!

carrot seedlings

A classic to grow with children: carrots.  The youngest was in charge of sowing the seeds for these, and wanted to use ALLLL the seeds.  The concept of one seed = one plant didn’t quite register, so there will be some thinning to do here.

morning glory seedlings

Along the fence, morning glories, which sprouted super quickly and made the kids really excited to see them.  They’re aggressive climbers, so maybe they’ll give that wretched ivy that keeps trying to come over from the neighbors’ yard a run for its money.

garden bed mulched with straw

Later today, we’ll put all those sweet seedlings here, in our plot.  This has been mechanically tilled to a depth of 12″ and then mulched with a layer of straw–my husband picked up a couple of bales at the local hardware store before we hosted his birthday party last weekend, in an effort to dress up the exposed clay-filled soil and prevent it from washing away before we could get our plants in the ground.  The kids will be helping with every step along the way, and are ELATED at the idea of planting seeds and growing food.  They almost can’t believe that such tiny seeds make REAL food, so it’s an incredible chance to watch them make connections about our universe and environment and our food systems that can be built upon as they get older.

garden bed with soaker hoses

And for his birthday, I got a present!  He had a drip irrigation system installed and attached to our homes irrigation system, which means my little babies will be watered gently, at the root, with very little waste and on an automated schedule.  There’s even a water sensor that will prevent it from coming on after it rains.  Magic.  Martha would be right proud.

What is it about gardening and sewing?  I was obsessed with both while I was working on my graduate degree (and not just because I didn’t want to work on my dissertation proposal, although I’m sure that could have been a factor).  And I know a TON of folks in the online sewing community who also feel passionately about gardening.  Maybe it’s the sense that we’ve made something out of nothing, that we’ve put our fingers on something synergistic that’s greater than what we poured in when it comes out.  Maybe they both feel a little like magic, a little like a miracle.

At least, they do to me.

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  • Samina
    June 10, 2015 at 10:57 am

    Congrats on your soon to be garden! I really want to grow some plants with my youngster, but I truly, deeply & utterly suck at gardening. I can keep dogs, cats & humans alive, but I just can’t do plants. I don’t like dirt. I don’t like bugs. I don’t like having to water or any of the rest of it. So, I’ll have vicariously enjoy your garden, thanks.

    • Deborah
      June 11, 2015 at 10:37 am

      Thanks!! My goal is to put in plants that will stand up to near-total neglect. The book that I linked to talks about that–failed plants aren’t your fault, they’re just the wrong plant for where you’re growing! We all should be looking for plants that LOVE the climate and conditions of our yard/container/etc so much that we can pretty well leave them alone and have them grow and produce. That’s my Holy Grail in the garden!! (I’ve killed way more than my share, too, so I totally am with you on all of it.)

  • Emily
    June 10, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    It will be fun to watch your garden grow this summer!

    I became a certified master gardener years ago through our university system’s extension office. I was really into gardening at our old house but it’s fallen by the wayside since I’ve had children and became obsessed with sewing. 🙂 I’m trying to make a better effort this year; I really do enjoy it. We already harvested some spinach to add to our salads the other night.

    • Deborah
      June 11, 2015 at 10:39 am

      Isn’t it incredible how much value you can get from the extension service, and most folks don’t even know about it?? Totally an undiscovered treasure in most counties!! We’d love to grow greens here, but it warms up so quickly that they’re really not a spring crop–I’d have to put them in by Feb to have them not bolt by now. But this year! Cloches in the garden for baby greens all winter long!!

      So nice to hear from another gardening seamstress!! 🙂

  • Ruth
    June 10, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Our garden went bust this year because of drought conditions out here… in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. We probably should figure out how to rid all that seawater of its salt….

    Sounds as if you have yours all figured out, so please keep us posted. I shall garden vicariously… 😀

    • Deborah
      June 11, 2015 at 10:40 am

      Crazy!! I had no idea there was a lack of rainfall there?? So surprising–and disappointing! Of course, with that sandy soil, you must really struggle to keep moisture in the garden without enough water, I bet. So sad to hear that, will have to work extra hard on ours and post photos to get you through!! 🙂

  • Kaoru Marie
    June 10, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    I’m totally jealous of all that land you have! I could only fit a 3’x4′ frame in my front “yard” (I live in a townhouse with a patio and tiny plot of dirt).

    I JUST got into gardening and planted a couple seeds. It’s so much fun to see what grows. How did you grow corn in a container? I’m now going to spend way too much time researching this Master Gardner program!

    • Deborah
      June 11, 2015 at 10:43 am

      The irony is, we don’t have much more space than you that gets 8+ hours of sunlight, even with all this room!! We’ll see if we’re successful this year–it’s really an experiment to determine what will grow in this more traditional garden plot. All the “failures” will then find homes in future seasons in other parts of the yard–way less convenient to spread the plants out like that, but you do what you have to do, right? And it will help me find varieties that will tolerate less sunlight and a fair measure of neglect in our humid climate but still produce well.

      Corn in the container!! Argh. That was the straw that made me abandon the concepts of conventional agriculture altogether. ONE stalk and ONE cob of corn after 100+ days of grueling tending and care. SO not worth it. And it was a huge container!!

  • Christy Haggard
    June 10, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    I totally agree–there’s something about sewing and gardening that’s magic. I hope it’s a productive growing season for you! And thanks for the tip about free master gardening classes. That sounds SO COOL. I want to do it. 🙂

    Happy Summer!

    • Deborah
      June 11, 2015 at 10:43 am

      Totally!! I’d love for more people to take advantage of the extension service and all they do. They also have TONS of handouts and publications about food storage, canning, all manner of things. Such an incredible resource!