If you wait until young people are teenagers and then introduce them to gardening by telling them to go mow the lawn, it will hardly endear them to the pastime. But, when you plant seeds with a child, you’ll be planting a seed in their head. When the seed in the soil sprouts and begins to grow, the magic of this amazing process will never be forgotten.
This is important, this understanding of how the natural world works. We’ve heard how too many city children can make no connection between milk and a cow, and I dare say there as many who haven’t a clue where the lettuce on a Big Mac comes from — it grows in dirt? — Oh yuck.
Okay, it may have been grown hydroponically, but my point is, we now have a generation that has had little contact with the natural world. There’s practically nothing that can’t now be done online in a virtual world, including gardening. Sure, there are no dirty hands, but a computer program will never replicate the joy in the face of a child seeing their very own seeds sprout — or maybe it will. Maybe it doesn’t matter; maybe it’s too late, but it will be a loss, so start seeds with a child today and give them a gift they’ll never forget, something they may need someday.
It’s easy enough; young plant growers need seeds, a container, and soil. Other essentials are warmth, light, food and water, and a few minutes of attention each day.
Small children (and plenty of adults) need instant gratification; therefore fast germinating seeds are essential for the first time grower. Fast germinating flower seeds include Centaurea (bachelor buttons) 5 to 7 days, Cosmos 7 to 10 days, and Zinnia 5 to 7 days. A favourite of mine is Four-o’clocks (Mirabilis). It’s ideal for small children because the seeds are large and easy to handle. Soak them overnight and they’ll sprout surprisingly quickly.
For a container, almost anything that will hold soil will do providing there’s a hole in the bottom for drainage. Mini greenhouses for starting seeds are available, including whole kits, but using stuff from around the house is fun. The container should be deep enough to hold 50 – 75mm of soil. Too shallow and the soil will dry out quickly. Clear plastic food containers are great because you’ll be able to see the roots growing as well as the plant. Use a second one as a cover and your mini greenhouse is complete.
Fill with a light, good quality potting soil, not garden soil as it may contain weed seeds and unwelcome bugs. Moisten the soil before planting, and then after you’ve planted the seeds, cover them lightly with more potting soil, but not too deep. Too much and the seed won’t have enough stored food to make it to the surface.
Some seeds need light to germinate, while others prefer darkness. This information is usually on the seed packet, but regardless; don’t plunk the container down on a window sill in full sun right away. It will get far to hot and broil everything. The soil has to stay moist but not wet.
When the seeds have sprouted, remove the cover and move to a sunny location beside a window, but avoid a window that faces full south as it may be to hot for the seedlings. If they grow leggy and lean towards the window, it means they need more light (growing under lights avoids these problems).
It’s essential to check at least once a day to ensure the soil hasn’t dried out, but don’t over water. It’s best to water from the bottom if possible as a permanently moist soil surface can result in fungal problems.
Remember, like seedlings, kids need care and attention, but as they grow they become tougher, tough enough to rake and hoe, to plant and harvest, to pull weeds — and mow lawns. Start them early for future success.