Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Little Sprouts II


Try this easy gardening project with the little people in your life. My son and I sprouted these pumpkin plants indoors earlier this year, but now, in Southern California, you could start them outdoors. My two-year-old placed the seeds in these old baby food containers (punctured on the bottom). I liked how he could see the plants' roots once they sprouted. The containers were too shallow for such big seeds/shoots, so the seedlings were a bit droopy--but fine. I love this shot of them in the windowsill, seeming to gaze longingly outdoors.

  1. If starting in a pot, fill it with potting soil and compost. If you don't have compost, make a green manure of cut-up veggie scraps, either from your garden or your kitchen. "Even the best potting soil is sterile," says Marta Teegan of Homegrown Los Angeles. You want the beneficial microbes compost or green manure will provide.Teegan recommends adding some slow-release, granular vegetable mix organic fertilizers such as Dr. Earth or E.B. Stone Organics. If you do all of the above, she says, you shouldn't need to add more fertilizer later. If you use green manure, wait two weeks before planting in the soil.
  2. If you're starting directly in a garden bed, add the mixture above to your soil. You can also try mounding the enriched soil on top of your existing soil.
  3. Make 1/2 inch-deep holes, and place one seed in each hole, laying it sideways. Cover the hole with soil and water. 
  4. Keep soil moist but not drenched. If you use a pot, it needs to have a hole at the bottom.
  5. Put your pot or plant your seed in a spot with full sun, i.e. at least six hours a day.
  6. If you're transplanting to a large pot, you'll need stakes to grow the plant up. In a garden bed, place your little pumpkin where you'll have ample space for the vines to wind. Ours are planted where they can skirt blueberries in barrels and creep over irises as they die back later in the year.
  7. Spread mulch around your plant, but leave an inch or two of bare soil near the stem.
  8. For pumpkins in pot, break off the growing tip of the plant--the very top part--when the plant reaches about two feet.

By the way, kiddie gardening tools are great for starting and watering seedlings. I use my son's miniature trowel to scoop soil for small pots. The fine spray from his watering can is perfect for little sprouts.

Gardening with toddlers is fun--and challenging. Of course, they want to pick everything. I keep a few patches of weedy wildflowers so I channel his plucking energy in that direction.


My son and I like the Let's-Read-And-Find-Out Science book From Seed to Pumpkin. Beautifully illustrated, it describes the life cycle of pumpkin plants.

Currently, there isn't a great one-stop organic veggie growing book for our region. But try a combination of The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward Smith and Pat Welsh's Southern California Gardening. Smith's book provides a good overview of organic gardening, as well as growing tips for most vegetable plants. Welsh's book, although a bit dated, will tell you optimal times for planting locally, which you won't find in most gardening books.
I also like The Edible Garden by the editors of Sunset Magazine. 

Last but not least, check out The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen. This book has great gardening, composting, water recycling, and canning tips. Plus many DIY projects for your home and garden. The books is widely available, but why not buy it from them at Homegrown Evolution?

Another great way to learn: take a class. Make sure it's an organic gardening class. I recommend Marta Teegan of Homegrown Los Angeles. Teegan also teaches composting. The LA County Department of Public Works offers composting and "water-wise" gardening workshops. Check out it's Smart Gardening website.

More from me on sustainable gardens.

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