As my love of gardening has grown, I’ve come to despise cold weather. Watching plants shrivel and die is akin to watching someone you love walk away. Sure…you know they’ll be back, but the knowledge of their departure hits you in the feels. Although I know winter is a time for planning (and indoor gardening), there’s nothing like digging your fingers into soil, warmed by the sun, as a breeze swirls around the wisps of hair surrounding your face…
(*sigh) I miss it so much already.
But as the song says, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven, (turn, turn, turn)…” So as the seconds, minutes, and hours pass…as we change the calendar, and the darkness covers us earlier, I exhale and accept the change of seasons. Not only in nature, but within myself.
I began this blog as a record of my transition to becoming a gardener. I was a woman obsessed with shopping for shoes & clothes, but as that season came to an end, a new season including began to rise. I began to realize that my life was NOT going according to plan. I began to realize that change is inevitable. I began to realize that no matter how much I hate it, there will be cold days. There will be cold days & icy days & rainy days. There will be tornadoes & hurricanes & blizzards…but that it is a necessary happening. I am realizing that this season is only at its beginning, and I will only rise to welcome it. So, as the weather grows colder outside, and as I cringe every time I look at the forecast (HOPING for an unusually warm day) the clouds are clearing, and the purpose under heaven is making a turn as I encounter this new season as my “…time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.”
So walk into this new season with me. Perhaps you will find your new season as well…
Excuses are like belly buttons–we all have one. The most frequent excuse I hear for why someone doesn’t garden, is lack of time. But, being a busy working single Mom of two, I easily pop a pin in that balloon of an excuse.
Yes, some plants and crops require more attention than others. Yes, some plants are needy and require consistent watering to get established. No, that doesn’t mean you need to avoid gardening all together.
Here’s a few ideas to try if you want to garden but feel you might be too busy.
Meadow or Pollinator garden– This garden is a lazy gardeners dream and often require minimal commitment and investment. Your yard doesn’t have to be just a lawn which lacks the ability to absorb considerable water, doesn’t provide food, and doesn’t provide habitat to our needed pollinators. You can set aside an area as small as 10×10 (100 square feet) and choose not to mow. This area will often repopulate itself with local native plants, simply through you not mowing. If you want to rush the process, and increase the diversity of the plants, you can spread soil directly over top of your lawn (some people choose to use a sod cutter to get rid of the grass, others choose to put cardboard down and pile new dirt directly on top of the cardboard) and sow native seeds. Depending on your area, you can plant various nectar sources and host plants, such as butterfly weed, milkweed, spicebush, yarrow, carrot, fennel, parsley, and coneflower. Once seeds germinate or plants are established, they need little attention, aside from a Spring clean up if needed. Plants native to your area, are likely to need less attention.
Planting en masse–This year we sowed poppy seeds en masse for the first time ever. It was such a striking sight and required little attention.
We spread soil at least 4 inches thick over the soil and grass. We then lightly raked the area and scattered poppy seeds in both the winter and the beginning of spring. Our poppy garden was incredibly striking, and all we did was occasionally put the sprinkler on it, paying more attention to young poppy seedlings. In summer, we planted an array of cosmos and zinnias. There are so many possibilities with planting seeds en masse!
Portable gardens– Our partner Gardenuity offers multiple options that offer flexibility. Do you use lots of garlic? Or maybe you love salad and want to grow a salad container garden? With the temperature extremes in NJ, you can lose crops if you don’t have the right set up for hot and cool weather plants. But if you plant salad or garlic in movable bags and containers, you can keep your crops healthier and assure they don’t die out with a premature frost or extreme weather event. We’re really excited to try Gardenuity’s Garlic planter!
Microgreens–Have you ever tried microgreens? These nutrient packed baby greens are popping up in upscale and trendy food markets and restaurants everywhere. You can literally plant microgreens after soaking seeds, water daily, and harvest for salad in 10 days or less–all from the comfort of a sunny windowsill in your home. We grow our microgreens in our porch pots throughout the summer, adding them to salads, sandwiches, and eggs. Radish and leafy greens are our faves so far!
Hydroponics– There are a ton of hydroponic systems out there! Now, many do require more of an investment up front, but considering it is reusable and does the watering for you, what’s not to like? You can even save money if you prefer to make your own system, but that will require time to research and build to your needs. This can be used indoors or out, depending your set up and location.
Self watering greenhouses– Have you seen our partner Vegepod? They offer self-watering greenhouses of different sizes. We love this option in NJ where the weather can be extreme at times. Our garden club kids sow seeds, water, and harvest food from our Vegepod like pros! The greenhouse helps keep moisture in when needed, but also allows rain and sunlight in. Bonus feature is it protects food from critters and deer.
These are just a few ideas to get the creative wheels turning for Fall and beyond! We can’t wait to show you more! Keep following @bullockgarden across social media for more details!
Children are wonderful teachers. With the experiences they have in nature, they are able to help understand the world around them, how they fit into this world, and the complexity and evolving connectivity of Earth and all living and non-living things. The understanding they have of the world around them, translates to often-immediate observations, behavior, and teachings to whoever is closest to them.
Children love to share what they learn about nature. Teaching an adult how seeds grow into plants and food, or why one turtle has webbed feet but another has flippers, not only develops communication skills, but can also increase the likelihood that this child will use their voice and actions to protect the world in which she lives in.
Many people learn best through teaching others. Time and time again, I’ve witnessed kids grow taller in teaching other children or adults about nature. Watching a child’s face light up and posture stand a little taller—these effects are visible.
Giving children the stage to teach others is very rewarding—you also may be surprised of what kind of information they find on their own or know before you even discuss a topic. If we’ve discussed or explored a topic (or even if we haven’t), giving a child the opportunity to develop their sense of inquiry, exploration, and expertise, translates to confidence in a subject, the ability to speak up without fear, and the ability to connect in community. In a time when research regarding screen time and mobile devices is showing negative health effects and disconnection to society, studies involving children in nature show a lot of promise (and an obvious solution to nature-deprived children.)
Children in the garden
The garden is a wonderful teacher of life lessons. Maybe your garden grows out of sheer luck, but usually you plan, prepare, gather supplies, build your garden, and nurture it to success. This is not a slow process. When kids learn on their own, through their own hard work in the garden, that beautiful fruits of their labor will come with hard work and dedication, you are setting children up with a self-discovered blue print for the future (they learn this through their own experience.) Planting a seed in spring just to harvest the vegetables in summer or even later, teaches them patience and perseverance. Some plants even take 2 years or more to come to maturity—fruit bearing trees, much longer—what a great lesson for them, to nurture a life.
The garden is a perfect place for children to discover failure. This year, numerous gardening projects of mine totally failed. In each situation, the reason for failure was different. One location was ravaged by geese, another by deer, and I’m still not exactly sure why one garden wasn’t as successful as expected or why my garlic did awesome at first and then failed miserably and suddenly. Back to the drawing board! Coming up with solutions to these problems is like solving a puzzle, rather than feeling like the end of the world. Due to the nature of seasons, sometimes a solution has to wait until spring (no instant gratification here!)
When plants or seeds fail, children can be disappointed, but they learn to build resiliency. “Wow, our garlic died” or “our milkweed seeds didn’t germinate” can lead to great opportunities for inquiry and problem solving—this is essential in life! What went wrong? What worked well? What can we try next time? Let’s work from the ground up—Is this the right soil for this plant? Or the right location for sun exposure? Were the seeds just bad seeds? Are other people having success with this plant right now? It is ok to fail. Failure gives us an opportunity to try something different, sometimes with more desirable results than the original plan. Allowing children to not be afraid to fail is an easy concept to foster in the garden.
Bringing nature to children
Last year my daughter, son, and I tagged monarch butterflies for the first time. We found monarch eggs and caterpillars in our neighborhood, and reared them. Fortunately, 3 of the caterpillars went into chrysalis in time to visit my son’s school. Because he had helped me through the process at home, my son was so proud and protective of these monarchs. He helped me teach his class about monarchs, habitat, migration, and why scientists tag and track their movements.
These curious children were so engaged that most had great questions and all sat attentive and patiently. After we tagged the monarchs and the children helped me record the tag numbers, we went outside to release them. Their teacher took a video and photos and the kids remembered the event all year, bringing it up any time I saw them.
That experience grew into a garden building project for the class and resulted in a spring planted garden for the entire school to enjoy. During the winter, I found milkweed seed donations, which I brought into school. These 3rd graders researched milkweed and were so excited to build their garden. The children used patience to pot soil, spread seeds, and use a spray bottle to wet the seeds and prevent them from being pushed too far into the soil. Everyone did such a great job!
A few children that would normally have trouble sitting still were engaged the most while we got up and took turns and changed stations. All hands are on deck in gardening, which is a great change of pace for kids that have to sit still during school. We accomplished this project by creating stations and putting all 22 kids to work. If they weren’t working, they were journaling about the project.
The continuity of the monarch tagging to milkweed sowing helped concrete the understanding of life and the life cycle of monarchs. This type of scaffolding, when used in related topics in science lessons (life lessons!), can have a profound effect on understanding. You learn by doing and you protect and have empathy and compassion for what you understand and love.