Christmas break is the perfect time to unwrap gardening fun with children, says Donna Aufdenberg, University of Missouri Extension specialist in horticulture.
Plan for spring by making seed tapes. “Children can paste seeds on 1- to 2-inch-wide strips of newspaper or paper towels using white glue or a flour-and-water mixture,” Aufdenberg says. Small seeds such as lettuce, carrots and radish are best bets for this activity. Wildflower seeds also work well. Let strips dry and store in a plastic or paper bag until spring.
It is also a good time to teach about vermicomposting, organic matter and plant health. “Children are always amazed to see red worms in action as they devour food scraps from the kitchen,” Aufdenberg says.
Break down kitchen scraps into “black gold” for the garden. Most vermicomposting sets are made of a 10- to 18-gallon storage bin with ventilation holes. Use shredded newspapers, cardboard or leaves for bedding. Add water and a small amount of soil from the garden for moisture. Then add scraps from potatoes, carrots, apples, banana peels and eggshells, and worms that you can order. For more information, Aufdenberg suggests “Vermicomposting in Childcare Center Gardens,” a free guide from North Carolina State University Extension available online at bit.ly/2zZg3XL.
Miniature gardens also create magic for youngsters, she says. A wide-mouthed jar makes a great miniature glass house. Add potting mix and small plants from local retail and garden centers. Aufdenberg suggests African violets, peperomia, polka-dot plants, succulents and small ferns. After planting, use gravel, small rocks or moss to cover the soil to make it more attractive. Add small figurines, driftwood, seashells or fairy garden items for interest. Water sparingly. Put a lid on the jar to create humidity and a terrarium-like atmosphere.
Children also will enjoy painting terra-cotta (clay) pots for growing plants in spring and summer, says Aufdenberg. Start with a clean clay pot. For younger children, use a 4- to 6-inch pot. For older children, consider a 10- to 12-inch pot. Let children apply acrylic craft paints with foam brushes. Add fine lines with a small regular paintbrush or cotton swabs. When dry, apply a clear acrylic coating to preserve.