GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 12, 2013

Plant projects the kids can start now

North Shore Gardener
Barbara Barger

---- — Q: Any hints for keeping little hands busy during the hot and rainy days? The kids can’t find “anything to do” and we still have beautiful weeks of summer ahead. Some easy indoor gardening to do with the kids ... to tide you over the boring, vacation days! They could plant greens or other quick maturing plants for a cool growing summer garden. Or they could plan next year’s garden. Kids are never too young for a garden. But, what can they do right now? Today?

A: Help the kids to grow something quick and easy indoors. Planting encourages interest in gardening and the very green world that is all around us. The responsibility of caring for a living plant can be a simple life lesson in caring for all living things. It’s a responsibility that can be taken on by even the youngest child.

What will you need? Plants that are cheap and fun and easy and quick to grow. That’s something to do when there’s nothing to do, and it’ll keep the kids busy. There is cheap, free stuff right in your kitchen to grow now! Most of these projects will require just a $1 or $2 bag of potting soil, a small cost for the project. The rest of the stuff you probably have in the kitchen right now or you can add to the shopping list this week, with little expense.

What containers should be used for planting? Recycle the throw-aways. Don’t bother with standard pots, unless you already have them. Yogurt cups, even paper cups are fine for these short-term projects. For larger plants, a plastic cola or milk bottle can be cut to size.

Start with seeds –– use seeds from fruits. Grow little trees from oranges, grapefruit, and apple seeds. Stick the seeds into a cup of soil and watch the tiny tree grow. The leaves of citrus are pretty and shiny. Keep the trees well watered, and in a sunny window. Bigger seeds of avocados and mangos grow well indoors and can be moved outside during the warm weather. Ask your produce department manager –– he or she may have an over-ripe fruit (the best for planting) to give away ... when he or she hears what you are doing.

Roots and vegetables make interesting houseplants. Open the refrigerator and you’ll find lots to plant, mostly root vegetables. Plant a forest of feathery carrot tops in a dish of water. Beet tops are even prettier, with their dark green foliage and red-veined leaves. Turnips and parsnips will also grow interesting foliage in a very short time. Most kids would rather plant them than eat them! How long has it been since you grew a sweet potato vine? Suspend a potato in a jar of water. Sweet potatoes grow splendid vines, but not as splendid as we remember. Now, most potatoes are treated with some chemicals that prevent or retard sprouting and add shelf life. The best potatoes for growing will be found at an organic grocer or health food store where these chemicals aren’t used. Cheer up – only a few more weeks to keep kids occupied.

This week’s dirt: It’s not just the former president and kids who don’t like broccoli. Researchers at the University of California have discovered that ground-up raw broccoli applied to the soil will prevent the growth of certain mold and mildews.

Also, be very careful when watering plants, filling a kid’s pool, bathing or rinsing after quick swim, or getting a quick rinse from a garden hose; you can scald easily. Run the water for a few minutes before using, then hand-test before using.

North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger is a periodic feature of Friday’s Living section. Reach Barbara at nsgardener@comcast.net or write c/o Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at www.nsgardener.com.

Garden Tour The self-guided Gloucester Garden Tour takes place Saturday, July 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All profits from this tour will benefit the plantings of the Fishermen's Wives Memorial and the new HarborWalk Butterfly Gardens. Tickets, $25, can be purchased at www.gloucestergardentour.com, or in person at the Grand Banks parking lot (Exit 12 off Route 128 north) in Gloucester. The first 50 ticket purchasers who do not have a Gloucester resident beach sticker will receive a free parking pass for the Stage Fort Park parking lot. Please contact Susan Kelly at Susan@generousgardeners.com or 978-282-3306 with questions.