I don’t have a green thumb. In the past, I was able to kill off even the hardiest of houseplants. I was pretty sure the green thumb master gene in my mom skipped me.
So when we moved to our new home, I was very cautious about buying houseplants. I love plants, but I really dislike throwing good money after bad. My first houseplant was a propagated bamboo/aloe mix from a good friend. It was free so I thought I would try it.
I slowly but surely gained more confidence in gardening. However, I was still very cautious — almost every plant in our indoor garden was a gift or came as part of an inexpensive workshop. The uber tall lucky bamboo and Christmas cactus were given to us by my neighbour when they moved away. We got our ming aralias inexpensively as part of a kid’s gardening workshop at our local nursery. The flowering impatiens was propagated by my green-thumb mom when she was here a couple of summers ago. I transplanted them outdoors last summer, and have since moved them back indoors to overwinter, and it’s still going strong. (Ha for me, miss black thumb!)
The only plant I bought was a pothos, which incidentally is thriving pretty well! Maybe I am getting the hang of it.
One thing’s for sure when it comes to gardening – I definitely want my children to love and not fear gardening. Gardening has always been so therapeutic for me, however my fear of killing plants and wasting money made me shy away from it. Which is so sad really, especially when it can be so healing to the spirit.
The great thing about having a Montessori lifestyle in the home is that almost every activity can be adjusted to accommodate even the youngest member of the family. So there is no reason why I wouldn’t involve the children even as I’m fumbling to learn all about gardening.
Because we are all learners together, I try to start with free or inexpensive ways that we can experiment and develop gardening skills. And I try not to limit us to a narrow view of gardening, instead I broaden the scope to learn about plants in general, so some of the activities below will seem more like science experiments than gardening activities per se.
Here are some of the things we have done so far:
1. Grow bean sprouts from mung beans. Here’s a really good video showing how. Mung beans are inexpensive and if you can’t find them from your local oriental grocery store, you can find them on Amazon. You can harvest and eat these in about 7 to 10 days! Just don’t let them get too green and overgrow like we did.
2. Grow celery from kitchen food scraps. Just leave about 1 to 2 inches of the base, soak in water for a week, then transfer into soil. Celery does take a much longer time to grow. Above is our celery at 3 weeks.
3. Grow spring onions from kitchen food scraps. Similar process to celery, except these grow much faster. Roots will start extending in about 3 to 4 days. We transplanted to soil, but those didn’t work out so well for us. The ones in water did much better, however was only able to last for 2 harvests. The second harvest saw visibly limper leaves, so I think it wasn’t getting enough plant food. We’ll have to keep experimenting with this.
4. Grow garlic from kitchen food scraps. Sometimes we don’t use our garlic fast enough before they sprout. Based on my (google) research, garlic really needs to be grown outdoors and flower in order for the bulbs to form. However, indoors we can always take the opportunity to grow garlic scapes (the long edible leaves). Within one day, the sprout has grown twice as long, and Zachary commented “Mommy, the sprout is longer and has divided into two like an intersection.”
5. Grow plants from seeds. We don’t buy many seed packets, we do some, however why not let the children try planting seeds from the fruits that you eat? We’ve (attempted) to grow cantaloupe and acorn squash (which didn’t work because we learned we didn’t provide enough humidity). Now we’re attempting to grow papaya from seed. I was just thinking we eat apples all the time, why not try growing an apple seed? My friend has also successfully grown tomatoes from seed. If it fails, it fails!
6. Grow plants through propagation. Why not try propagating everything? My mom is really good at this. She will walk in the neighbourhood and come home with a small stem to stick into soil. I once asked her if she knew it would grow, and she simply said “I don’t know, but why not try?” (That small stem ended up being this beautiful flowering impatiens after two years.) Let the children cut anything — leaves or stems — and just stick it in soil, or soak in water, to see what happens.
7. Learn about how plants absorb water. Simple experiments but very concrete, hands-on learning for children. And if you eat celery or cabbage, it’s almost free! After we finished this experiment, Matthew asked me if I had been watering our impatiens with red-coloured water because its leaf vines are naturally red. So we discussed, questioned that if I did that then why did the leaves not turn red as well, and did some research on the internet. Yes! This is exactly why I love having all of our plants grouped together – somehow it brings a greater ability for the children to spontaneously learn because they can easily see and compare.
8. Observe seeds and leaves under the microscope. Tiny tiny thyme seeds compared to gigantic slimy papaya seeds makes for an interesting conversation!
9. Keep a nature journal. We don’t have an official journal at this point, we are still winging it. But even if you’re not ready, you can always jump in with loose sheets of paper. Here Zachary is keeping a daily drawing of his bean sprout growth. He takes a photo of his daily observation and does a quick drawing. These cards I’ve made measure 2.5 x 4 inches and are designed so that we can join them up once he’s done to have a linear timeline of seed growth. (Unfortunately, we’ve had another mistake which is not giving the bean enough air so its growth is quite stunted and we have to start over.)
In my opinion, the main points when involving children are to provide them with appropriate-sized tools and giving them free reign over the garden. My children are good about asking me before they do something, but if they want to cut off a stem to look under the microscope, why not? If they want to pull out sprout from a seed starter pod so they can look at the roots, why not? The only times I won’t let them do it is when I know they will kill the plant altogether (like if they want to sever the main trunk of our tall lucky bamboo).
But what they are allowed to do is already more than enough to keep them interested in the process of experimenting, discovering and learning.
And this is why I like to start off with plants that are inexpensive or almost free. Perhaps later we will evolve to more sophisticated plants, but for now while we are all learning, it’s nice to remember that we have kitchen food scraps, inexpensive seed packets, and Google search.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this! I would love to hear from you if you have more ideas on how to enjoy and learn about gardening inexpensively with your children.