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Winter growing, reading, and making with kids

by Valerie Shaw

It’s a chilly early winter day, there’s frost in the garden, the furnace humming expensively, and your little ones are waiting with anticipation for the next holiday, or snow day, or weekend. You may not be able to convince your kids to venture outside, but don’t worry, there’s still green-thumb fun to be had!

One of the bigger trends right now has the rather gross name of “Kitchen Scrap Gardening,” which just might sound icky enough to be interesting. You can also call it “Plant Rescue” for the kinder of heart, or “Garbage Gardening,” “Bio-active Recycling,” or something similar. Whatever you call it, it’s a quick process with satisfying results.

Tops and bottoms: Save your celery or onion bottoms, or your carrot or beet tops, and stick them in either a little container of water or some moist potting soil. Give them a few days and, like the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers creatively hidden in every dish, they’re backkk! You can make this a quick experiment and toss them, or plant them in pots and keep them in a sunny window. Feeling especially green? Try doing this with lettuce roots or turnip tops. Once we kept “perpetual lettuce” growing for an entire winter. It didn’t make enough for a salad, but it was fun to pick fresh leaves to stick in a sandwich.

Tubers: Sweet potatoes make lovely vines, as you probably have discovered in your plant-buying travels. Simply wait for a sweet potato to sprout from an eye and stick it halfway in water. It’ll put out roots and leaves shortly. They like sunshine and will climb upward to frame a window.

Growing an avocado tree from a seed
Photo courtesy Flicker: Maria Keay.

Avocado Tree: Want lots of leaves? Enjoy your avocado, then scrub the seed clean. Stab it with four toothpicks and suspend at the top of a jar with the wide part of the seed touching the water. Change out the water every two days until the jar fills with roots. Plant it in a big pot and put it somewhere sunny, then stand back. These are abundant and fast-growing plants! The Internet is full of different advice about growing these, so you can assign your science-minded kid a project to determine the truth.

With the holidays approaching, I’ve compiled some new projects that will get your kids busy, and still inspire them to love their “planty” pals.

Photo courtesy Flicker: Marco Verch

Cranberries: They are not only delicious, and grow in intriguingly different methods than most plants, they are also quite cheerfully beautiful and their large size makes them easy for kids (and grownups!) to handle. Kids will enjoy making cranberry ornaments, garlands, and even easy candle displays, and the fresh cranberries remain bright red even when dried. For an easy ornament, simply string cranberries and beads (silver or gold look lovely) on floral wire and twist into a circle. Tie a ribbon on top and you have a pretty, lightly scented ornament for your room, or as a nice gift for grandma! Check out Ocean Spray’s website for more great cranberry crafts.

“The Secret Garden” courtesy Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division

Reading: Oh yes, books are a gardener’s friend! Try The Secret Garden, Seed People, or, for the little ones, Peter Rabbit, for cozy reading when the snow’s flying.

Flowerpot People: All you need is a clay flowerpot to make a cute, funny pal. Have your child paint a face on the pot with acrylic paint, then fill with potting soil and sprinkle some chia or grass seeds on top. You can use wheat grass seeds to make this a cat treat, too. Water and keep somewhere sunny, then enjoy trimming the pot pal’s “hair” when it begins to grow long!

That’s all for this year! Happy holidays, from my garden to yours!

Valerie Shaw is a YMCA coach, PTO mom, and aspiring novelist with too many distracting goats. She lives on a patch of plant paradise in West Monroe, NY, with her wonderful husband and two energetic tweens.

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