Gardening has become my favorite stay-at-home mom escape. The smell of the soil, the warm sun beating down, and the joy of watching edible things grow is better than therapy! From March through October when the question “where’s mom” is asked in our home, the most obvious answer is, “in her garden.”
I love prepping the beds and starting seeds in the greenhouse in late winter, transplanting sprouts in the spring, and nurturing them to grow into yummy, fresh produce in the summer. Even on blazing hot days, I enjoy watering, pulling weeds, and watching our “farm” grow.
But my favorite part about gardening is getting the kids involved. They love working side-by-side with me, learning about the earth, and discovering their own little green thumbs. Like caring for pets, children learn tenderness by nurturing delicate things. It teaches them discipline and the importance of hard work as we daily water, weed, mulch, stake, and trim each growing plant. And they learn patience while we wait and watch seedlings mature to harvest.
I think the best life lesson that gardening teaches my children is generosity. There are always more plant starts than we need, which we share with other gardeners, both novice and expert, and at harvest we also have extra produce to share. We give squash, tomatoes, lettuce and green beans to anyone who will take them!
Whether you have a half acre like us or a tiny apartment patio, there are plenty of ways to add the fun, and learning of gardening to your family’s spring and summer. You really don’t need much space, or the know-how of an arborist, and our mild Pacific Northwest weather is perfect for growing almost anything April through October!
Here’s a simple, month-to-month Family Gardening Guide for the PNW:
Early March – Mid April:
- Begin to start seeds indoors. If you don’t have a greenhouse, a well-lit, warm windowsill works great!
- Get the kids involved by allowing them to put the little seeds in the dirt and hand-water them each day.
- Start your cold crops first…radishes, peas, and lettuce greens.
- Then move on to your summer crops like beans, corn, squash, cucumbers, etc.
- Plant seed potatoes, and sweet potato slips directly into the ground (or pots).
- Once the danger of frost is gone, you can transplant your little seedlings, and even direct-sow in the warming spring soil.
- Sow your warm weather loving herbs…basil, cilantro and dill.
- Start your hot crops indoors…tomatoes, tomatillos, and peppers.
- Have the kids drop the seeds in the dirt for you, or hand-write the markers. They’ll love being included!
- Continue direct-sowing, or, if you are buying starts instead of seeds, you can transplant them outside now.
- If you are limited on space, just about anything can be grown in a pot! You can even stake up climbing plants like peas, squash, pole beans, and cucumbers onto patio railings to save space! The only plant I do not recommend growing in pots or even in raised beds is corn, which seems to do best in open ground.
Mid May – Early June:
- As the weather starts warming consistently, put out/transplant your hot crops, but if it still dips to the 40s at night, cover them or bring them back inside overnight.
- You’ll now start reaping the benefits of your cold crops…fresh radishes and lettuce greens for salads, and maybe even a few early peas!!!
- Weeds will be rampant now, too, so pull them while they’re little. The kids can be great helpers with this, too. Just make sure they know which are weeds!
Important note: If you’re planting from seed, a good PNW deadline is Memorial Day weekend. Anything planted after should only be well-established starts, or you may still have green tomatoes in late September!
Late June – July:
- This is when harvest starts getting fun! Green beans, cabbage, summer squash, first tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs are ready to pick. Give the kids a basket, and teach them what and how to harvest.
- As the hot summer sun comes into full force, much of your cold crops, and sun-sensitive herbs like cilantro and basil will begin to bolt (where they stop producing/go to seed). Prolong them by cutting off the flower shoots when you see them forming.
- You’re probably up to your elbows in zucchini, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, corn, beets, brussel sprouts, potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower.
- Have the kids write sweet notes, and take baskets of extras around the neighborhood, to church, summer activities, retirement homes, homeless shelters, or food pantries. They will enjoy seeing the kids, and will love the fresh produce!
- Still have extras? Use this easy guide to preserve your seasonal fruits and veggies.
Late August – Early September:
- Most of your late summer crops, like winter squash, should be ready to pick now, just in time for fall decorating! Watch for the stems and vines to dry up before cutting them. It will keep them fresh longer.
- Portland weather is GREAT for planting a fall crop…similar to spring cold crops: lettuce, radishes, and even peas!
Late September – October:
- Prepare beds/pots for winter by laying compost and then covering them with black plastic tarps, or planting a nutrient-rich cover crop (winter rye, sweet peas and red clover are great for our area). Doing this will save you a lot of weeding next spring, while replenishing important soil compounds as well.
- For overwintering perennials like chives, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, mint, and oregano, trim them down, and cover with a thick layer of compost or lawn clippings to keep them warm and protected. You can keep some exposed for harvesting throughout the winter.
Because our ground never truly hard-freezes like some other parts of the country, you can keep root veggies like carrots, potatoes, garlic, onions, and even leeks in the ground for digging and picking until spring, too! And nothing melts my hearts more than handing a small child a basket, and sending them out in the rain to retrieve some fresh, backyard veggies in the middle of a drizzly PNW winter!