Kelli Harris

As an avid gardener, I start thinking about next year’s spring planting while I’m harvesting my sweet potatoes and the last of my other fall vegetables in late October. Over the winter months, I peruse seed catalogs and develop a plan for what I want to plant the following spring. I am fortunate to have a large space to plant a variety of vegetables and flowers.

Many people believe that you need a large space to have a garden, but you can grow vegetables in relatively small spaces. In the many programs I have assessed, I have seen this done in a variety of ways- dirt and seeds placed in plastic cups sitting on a windowsill; seeds wrapped in a damp paper towel then sealed in a resealable bag and taped to a window; dirt and seeds sown directly into the ground in a garden box or other area. But there are many ways to container garden with children year-round.

The most obvious is pots. Pots come in many shapes and sizes and can fit in a relatively small space. Many vegetables grow very well in pots- tomatoes, peppers, peas, lettuce and other greens, cucumbers, and small eggplant varieties. If you have a relatively deep pot (such as a five-gallon bucket), you can plant potatoes or sweet potatoes. Since these vegetables grow below the ground, they require a pot with more depth. Don’t forget about hanging pots- small peppers, cherry tomatoes, lettuce varieties and herbs all grow well in hanging pots and they don’t take up any counter space.

Have you considered eggshells or cardboard egg carton cups? You can start seeds in egg cartons and transplant them to a larger pot or container after they begin to grow. Almost anything can be started in an egg carton cup.

Be creative! Many containers can be free- ask your families for donations of leftover milk cartons, plastic pots from plants purchased at nurseries or garden centers, yogurt cups, brown uncoated shopping bags, and newspapers. There are many YouTube channels showing tutorials on how to make pots out of paper shopping bags and newspapers. These are great because the materials are compostable, and the seedlings can be dropped into the ground without being taken out of their “pot.” You can teach the children about gardening, composting, and recycling all at once!

My favorite vessel for container gardening is milk jugs. Last year, a friend told me about a webinar that was reusing milk jugs to grow seeds outside in the snow. I thought that there was no way that this was possible. I watched the webinar for myself, and sure enough, people in Minnesota had milk jugs sitting on their decks in snowstorms and grew vegetables! In the spring, they transplanted their vegetables to their gardens. I tried it this past winter and I grew herbs, microgreens, flowers, and some vegetables in gallon milk jugs, even in a snowstorm. The idea is that the milk jugs create their own mini greenhouse to grow the seeds. They stayed outside from January through May and were very low maintenance- I just had to water them occasionally. Try it with your children!

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