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Winter gardening-type activities for kids

January 2, 2013

Staff Report

Winter gardening-type activities for children can make gardeners for life, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

Gardening activities in spring, summer and fall are easy to do, but what do you do to keep that interest alive through the winter months?” asked Martha Smith. “You are forced indoors with a few houseplants. Well, there are many gardening-type activities you can do with your kids.”

Smith offered a few ideas for indoor gardening projects involving your family, scout troop or other youth group.

Garbage gardening is a great way to show kids that many of the things we throw away have value,” she said. “Plant parts that are normally thrown away are potentially beautiful houseplants.”

Take the avocado. It needs light to germinate, and there are two ways you can start it.

Plants can be started by suspending the pit with toothpicks in a glass of water,” she said. “Put the pointy side up and remember to change the water every couple of days while waiting for it to split and send out a root.

The other way to start an avocado is to plant it in soil,” Smith continued. “Let the pit dry for a day, and then peel off the dark, brown covering. Put the pit in a pot filled with potting soil, pointed end up. Leave about one-third of the pit showing. Keep the soil moist, and a shoot should appear in about four to six weeks. Once the tree has started and is up to at least 6 inches, put another layer of soil in the pot to cover the pit.”

Carrots, beets, rutabaga and turnips are root crops with a leafy upper portion. Cut a 1-inch section from the top of the vegetable, and plant it in moist sand with only the upper or top part exposed. Keep the soil moist, and small leaves will begin to appear in about 10 days.

Citrus seeds like orange, lime, lemon and grapefruit are easy to grow,” Smith said. “Kids can look for seeds while they eat something that’s good for them. Soak the seeds in water overnight. Plant them about 1 inch deep in a pot filled with potting soil. Put two to three seeds in each pot.”

For kids who like a challenge, ginger is something to try. Look for fresh ginger roots that are showing signs of sprouting.

You will notice little bumps that look like they are getting ready to burst,” Smith said. “These are ‘eyes.’ Just like you plant potatoes, slice the ginger root so you have several ‘eyes’ on each piece. Plant them in a well-drained potting soil, and keep the soil moist. It takes about three weeks for ginger to sprout.”

Worm composting offers another interesting activity. Starting a worm bin indoors teaches kids the values of recycling, and they also get to mess around with slimy worms.

They also learn about the interdependence of plants and organisms as they turn vegetable scraps into valuable compost,” she said.

If you have any budding artists around the house, why not let them loose on some inexpensive garden containers? Kid-safe, durable paints to dress up the containers are available at most craft stores.

Why not plant up that old fish bowl or an old mayonnaise jar?” she said. “Carefully place some soil and plants inside a clean glass container. Cover the opening with clear plastic wrap. Watch as the plants and roots grow.”

Feeding the birds, though not a true gardening project, is a fun activity.

Pine cones coated with peanut butter and then rolled in birdseed make great bird feeders,” Smith said. “Have the kids keep track of all the different types of birds that visit your back yard and what date each was first spotted.”

From the Jan. 2-8, 2013, issue

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