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Intergenerational gardening at the Pine Street Garden in Carlsbad. Photo by Jano Nightingale
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A children’s garden

When I was teaching after-school classes in Vista, one of the assignments in my Art and Nature class was to grow pole beans.

Each student received a paper cup filled with soil, four pole beans and a plastic bag. The assignment was to plant the beans, add water, cover with a plastic bag, place in a warm, well-lit room and report their progress the next week.

The following Wednesday, six of 10 students brought back beans that had sprouted, but one student, Joseph, was not happy. “I don’t know what I did, but my bean died!”

We all had questions for Joseph, including about watering, the placement of his beans and how much sun they were getting. His conclusion: “It just dried up! I put the cup on the windowsill, but maybe it was too hot!”

This led to a further discussion regarding the responsibility of growing food and the difficulty of feeding a family with homegrown vegetables.


This activity led me to think about how detached our children are from where their food comes from. With the availability of drive-through fast food chains and DoorDash delivery, many parents are either too busy or too tired to make dinner every night.

In the coming months, I will feature gardening activities to do with your families, which are based on the Kids Growing Food curriculum I worked on as a master gardener at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Cooperstown, New York.


The next two activities are enjoyable introductions to gardening and could be the perfect addition to your spring break or weekend gardening projects. Before you begin, give each of your children a small composition book, a small box of markers and a pencil. They can record the progress of their projects, and add drawings as well.

An example of a tipi garden. Stock photo


This playful idea came from a lovely children’s book about seeds, “Seeds and Seedlings,” by Elaine Pascoe. The Tipi Garden creates a wonderful place for children to play, hide and harvest their own summer vegetables. Be sure to have your children bring their journals each day to illustrate their progress.

Soil preparation

Choose a sunny area and prepare the ground for planting. Be certain that the soil is clear of weeds and grass. The final area should be 2 feet by 4 feet and freshly raked.

You will need:

*5 poles, 6 feet high — tree branches or dowels will work

*Strong twine and lightweight string

*Edible climbing seeds — Pole beans, peas, trailing nasturtium, assorted sunflowers, small pumpkins, mini summer squash and gourds (any seed marked “trailing” or “climbing” will do).

*Plant markers and permanent markers (craft sticks work well)

Creating the tipi

  1. Lay the poles on the ground in a bunch, and tie them together at one end with twine.
  2. Stand the sticks up, and spread them out to create the tipi frame. Press sticks into the ground.
  3. Plant an assortment of seeds at the base of each pole. Be sure to place plant markers at the base of each pole with the names of seeds planted. Plant at least three of each seed, with a total of 12 seeds in each hole. Leave a space in the front of the tipi with no seeds, so the children can crawl through.
  4. As the seeds grow, encourage the leaves and stems to crawl up the stakes by using lightweight string or floral wire.
  5. Go outdoors every day with journals, rulers and drawing materials to chart progress.
  6. In a month’s time, the children should have a wonderful hideout as the vines take over, and they will be producing food as well.


This activity will test your child’s observation and forecasting skills, and will teach them about plant growth as well. Be sure that they write their ideas in their journals each day.

What you will need

*Two 8 inch by 14 inch plastic boxes with lids (called sweater boxes)

*Two packages radish seed

*One bag seed starting mix (or lightweight potting soil)

*Hand-held drill (parents only!)

*One small mixing bowl

*One 8 ounce bottled water

*One 1 cup measuring cup

*Cellophane wrap


  1. Adults will need to drill holes in the bottom of the plastic boxes. Drill one hole every 3 inches. Long garden trays with drainage holes will also work.
  2. Fill half of each box with seed starting mix. Use a measuring cup to pour 1 cup of water at a time until soil is slightly damp (not soaking wet). Pat down gently. Set aside 2 cups of soil in mixing bowl for later.
  3. Use a large pencil to make three rows from top to bottom in the soil. Leave a space of 2 inches between each line.
  4. Sprinkle seeds in rows, as if you were sprinkling salt, spreading evenly. When you are finished, you should have approximately 20 seeds per row.
  5. When the rows are finished, scoop up with your measuring cup just enough soil to cover each row, barely covering each row. Pat down rows lightly.
  6. Placement of boxes: Find a room in your house that is warm and has windows, but a spot that does not have direct light. The first box will be covered in only clear cellophane, with no lid. This box will be in an open area, such as the top of a coffee table or bookshelf. The second will be in the same room but in a darker area, such as the bottom of a bookshelf or under a table. The second box is covered with the lid.
  7. In three days open the lid on each box, to see if anything has sprouted.
  8. The two boxes should both have sprouts coming up, compare and contrast which is growing more quickly and which has turned green. Chances are the one in the dark has sprouted, but does not have green leaves.
  9. At this point, both boxes can go outdoors and you should have radishes in two weeks!
  10. Be sure to have your child record their observations in their journals, and drawings as well! Did they observe that seeds do not need light to sprout?


Please send me any projects you and your children or your child’s school are doing regarding vegetable gardening. We might just come for a visit and feature you in an article. Contact me at [email protected]

Jano Nightingale is a Master Gardener and horticulturist and teaches vegetable gardening at the Carlsbad Senior Center. Contact her at [email protected] or call the Senior Center at (442) 339-2650 to register for gardening classes.

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