Springtime is a wonderful time of year for agriculture. It’s time to think like a farmer to make your garden successful. The preparations you’re doing in your own backyard are like what farmers are doing now. This is the time to dream about the coming harvest. It’s time to prepare the soil, plant seeds, and divide larger perennials. You also need to make lots of decisions about what to grow, how to grow it, and when to start.
Engaging kids in planning, planting, tending, and harvesting the garden is important! Involving them means they will be more likely to eat all those fruits and vegetables. Kids of all ages, from preschool to high school, can contribute to growing the garden. Your kids use the math, science and reading skills they’ve learned at school in the garden.
Good things happen when you nurture living plants with your family, no matter where or how you garden. Whether you grow things in your yard, a windowsill, the wall, or in a community garden, you win. You gain a healthier lifestyle. You bond with your kids. You root them in your local community.
Here are 3 things you can do now to think like a farmer to prepare a successful garden:
Dream big, then plant realistic
Farmers are calculating how much of what crops to grow where and when. It’s a complicated and uncertain business. So much depends on the weather and future market conditions. There are also a lot of considerations that influence how a farmer plants crops. Planting seeds in a greenhouse, then transplanting larger plants to the field makes crops less susceptible to weeds. But, that’s more expensive than planting those same seeds straight into the fields. Farming is serious business. It’s impossible to imagine all the considerations (economic, environmental, social) that go into planting decisions. There are some great family games, though, that you can play to bring these farming lessons to life. Examples are The Farming Game and Life on the Farm.
For your home garden, the best place to start is with a vision. Create a vision board. That’s how you can learn about what your family wants to grow. Ask everyone to write down, or cut out pictures of what they want to grow. Chances are everyone will want to grow more than you have room for. Your kids will like the challenge of calculating plant spacing and planting timing. Some seeds, like peas, you plant early in the spring. Other plants, like tomatoes, you wait until the soil has warmed up in summer. The older your children, the more elaborate and precise the planning can be.
When you have completed your garden vision board, post it in a visible place like the kitchen fridge. This will keep the whole family focused on the shared vision. Looking for photos of things you can grow to cut out? My favorite sources photos to cut out are catalogues. You can order, or download, Seeds of Change and Territorial Seeds.
Check your soil
Right now, farmers are checking the soil to see if it’s dry enough to work. If it’s too wet, the heavy tractors will compact the soil. That makes it hard for plants to grow. In your own garden, check if your soil is dry enough by digging a shovel full of dirt. If the soil does not stick to the shovel, you’re good to go.
Farmers are also testing the soil’s nutrients to see what they need to add. If farmers don’t add enough fertilizer, the crops don’t grow as well as they could. But, if they add too much, the fertilizer could runoff. This wastes money, and the fertilizer can potentially end up in streams or waterways.
To make sure your home garden soil has the right structure and nutrients for plants, get a soil test. Your cooperative extension office can help your family learn how to collect soil samples. It can provide you with fertilizer and amendment recommendations. Your budding scientists will love digging around the garden area and correctly collecting samples. Check the State-by-State List of Soil Testing Labs at Cooperative Extension Offices to find soil testing help in your area.
Plan your irrigation
Farmers are already thinking about how they will use an irrigation system to water crops during the summer months. In fact there are more than 10 different irrigation methods farmers use.
When you are planning what to plant, think ahead about how you will water your plants for the whole season. Whether you use drip irrigation, sprinklers, or hand watering, make sure you have an easy and conservative plan. Challenge your kids to figure out irrigation and water conservation. Use those math skills! They can calculate how many feet of irrigation tubing you need or what time of days is the most efficient to water. Watering plants is a great job to give to kids. It is a huge yet fun responsibility. It intimately connects kids to the ongoing growth of the plants. If you have a rainy day, you can have some indoor fun exploring the amazing water cycle with your kids.
What do you hope to do with your family garden this year? Tell us about it in the comments or on our Facebook page.
Video re-posted with permission from the Oregon Department of Agriculture.