April showers bring May…fruits and veggies! This Earth Day (Sunday, April 22nd) take a moment to plant a few seeds in your backyard or in pots that fit your well-lit kitchen window sill, and by Memorial Day weekend, you and your family could enjoy fresh, homegrown ingredients in your summer salads.
“Learning that the apple doesn’t come from the grocery store, but it grows on this tree is particularly important for kids ,” says Claudia Barker, executive director at Edible Schoolyard New Orleans <http://esynola.org/> , a six-year-old program modeled after the original founded by legendary chef and food activist Alice Waters in Berkeley, California in 1996. “Kids will be amazed at how quickly things grow and they’ll love to harvest something and then learn how to cook it,” says Barker, who oversees this fantastic food-to-table curriculum in five schools (serving 2,400 kids in K through 8th grade) in The Big Easy. “If they grow it and cook it, they’ll eat it,” she adds.
Here, Barker breaks down building your own healthy garden into five fun and easy steps.
STEP 1: Make a Grocery List
If this is a family project, sit down with your kids and talk about what kind of fruits and vegetables you would like to grow. Make sure there’s a good balance of food that both the parents and kids like. Don’t know where to start? Consider some staples, like beans, broccoli or carrots. Also, anything kids can pick and eat immediately, like strawberries, is terrific.
STEP 2: Talk to an Expert
The folks who work at your local nursery are budding geniuses when it comes to what grows best this time of year in your particular part of the country. Ask them which plants thrive in your area’s climate (level of sunlight, moisture, heat, etc.) and have the highest tolerance of pests (insects, weeds, etc.).
STEP 3: Create a Grid
All plants need a certain amount of space to reach their full potential. Once you’ve gathered all your seeds, plot out a five-foot-by-three-foot garden so that each plant has enough room (see packet instructions, like “plant five inches apart”) to grow without encroaching on the others territory. If you have a small backyard, consider creating a container garden. Edible Schoolyards in New Orleans got its start in pots in 2006! Our garden gurus say good potted plants include peppers, tomatoes and all herbs, such as basil and rosemary.
STEP 4: Prep the Soil
The foundation of a really healthy garden is the soil. One technique Edible Schoolyards in New Orleans uses is affectionately called “lasagna layers.” They layer the garden soil with two to three inches of organic compost followed by a layer of low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer (you can get both at your local home improvement store or nursery). Then they repeat the process: soil, compost, fertilizer. Doing this helps improve drainage and enhances the dirt’s ability to hold moisture.
STEP 5: Watch It Grow
After you’ve planted your seeds, all that’s left to do is care for your garden. Water when necessary (when the soil looks dry). Also consider placing shredded leaves or pine-straw mulch around the plants so that you can reduce evaporation, which means they’ll stay moist longer. And keep an eye out for pests, like bugs and weeds. Assign the kids to check the garden regularly, flipping over leaves to make sure critters aren’t hanging on. The healthier your plants are, the more pest-resistant they become.