Posted by Keith Nevison, Monticello Manager of Farm and Nursery Operations
Calling all avid gardeners – young and young at heart! With millions of America’s children currently ‘stuck at home’, we’d like to share some ideas for gardening, art, and nature-based projects that kids and parents can enjoy together. No kids? No problem! Several of these ideas don’t age discriminate – they’re fun and productive activities for all.
Spring is springing in the northern hemisphere, and plants want to get in the ground as soon as temperatures are appropriate. Ideal soil temperature for planting and growing most vegetables outdoors is 65° to 75°F. Vegetable seeds and seedlings require these minimum soil temperatures to germinate, grow and thrive.
At Monticello’s Center for Historic Plants, we have a large line of vegetable, herb and flower seeds, most of which are heirlooms passed from one generation to the next. Find our complete seed inventory online.
You can use old nursery pots for starting seeds, or even use egg cartons. Paper egg cartons retain moisture, creating an optimal environment for seedlings which enjoy evenly moist conditions. This is a great project for kids! We suggest using easy-to-start plants, such as those found in our Young Gardener collection.
Garden Tidy Up: Kid-Tested Cleaning
It’s common knowledge that kids hate cleaning their rooms. But get them outside with some garden tools and a pair of gloves and they’ll clean up a storm.
With winter soon in the rearview mirror and perennials re-emerging, now is a great time to get rid of fall and winter debris in your garden and cut back old plant stalks to make way for fresh growth. While cutting isn’t recommended for young children, anyone can contribute to applying a layer of compost and mulch that will benefit nearly all plants — providing nutrients for rapidly growing flora and soil protection from the stormy seasons ahead. At our home, we like to rake out remaining leaves to clear the ground for new seedlings to emerge. We pile our leaves, chop them up, and let them break down in a separate compost area to apply later in the season.
Pinecone Bird Feeders
Another guaranteed hit with crafty kids is to make and hang a pinecone bird feeder. When you’ve found the perfect pinecone, tie a string or twine around the feeder, placing it two to three rows of scales below the wider end of the cone, with the scales overlapping the string to hold it securely in place. The top of the string can be left open in order to tie it to a branch for hanging or, if it’s long enough, the loop can be tied first.
Use peanut butter or vegetable shortening as the binder, then roll in a mixture of bird seeds recommended for song birds in your area. Find a tree limb to hang from that birds can access but squirrels have a difficult time reaching.
Enjoy the diversity of birds that come to your feeder! For extra credit, an age-appropriate bird identification book can help turn the project into a scientific evaluation.
If you’re unable to source a pinecone in your area, you can purchase one through the Monticello Shop like the one seen here.
Blooming Ice Cubes
Enhance your family favorite beverage with homemade floral ice cubes! This kid-tastic activity is easy and a guaranteed hit. What you’ll need: edible spring flowers (buy or pick these. If the latter, confirm edibility before using!), distilled water (for clearness) and larger-sized ice cube trays.
If picking edibles from home, wash the flowers carefully before using. Fill the ice cube segments approximately ¼ full, then place flower face down on top of the water. Freeze. When frozen, add water to about ½ full and freeze again. Finally, fill the cube to the top and freeze one last time.
Here’s a partial list of edible flowers that are grown to be eaten and available at most grocery stores: orchids, nasturtiums, pansies, and snapdragons. At our home, we frequently harvest violets and redbuds for our edible treasure cache. Be sure to confirm edibility before consuming any flower!
Outdoor Art Party
When it’s absolutely time to get out of the house, here’s a messy suggestion that will turn cooped-up frustration to laughter and fun. Get ready to get messy and let loose the modern artist inside! This project will keep the kiddos occupied for a good while and let’s their creative juices flow.
Materials You’ll Need
- Inexpensive framed canvas (available at craft stores or online)
- Paint brushes
- Items available from the garden: stems, leaves, rocks. Use your imagination to find items to paint with!
- Tempura paints and paint containers
- Water bucket (or hose) for rinsing the artist’s instruments
- Old newspaper, paper grocery bags, or butcher paper to line your paint area
- Tape for securing the protective lining
Splatter away! Use a branch to draw fine lines! Leaves to make paint patterns on the canvas! There’s a budding Jackson Pollock in there, we just know it!