Monthly Archives: May 2011

Gardening with kids

Homemade Tomato Cages

Today I finally got around to getting some plants in the garden.  Earlier today I was writing about how I did a terrible job getting seeds started this “spring” (if you can call it that when it’s still snowing in MAY!)  So we went to the Friends School Plant Sale and bought some plants.  I also had a few tomato plants I’d picked up at the farmers market downtown.  Yesterday I came home from work with grand intentions of getting most of them planted.  After dinner I grabbed the box of plants and went out to the garden.  I got about 4 tomato plants in the ground before the sky got dark and Rachael came out to tell me severe storms were on the way, and there was a chance of hail.  I searched through the yard and garage and found a couple buckets, a large pot and a recycle bin to cover up the tomatoes I had just planted.  I put a log on top of each to keep them from blowing away and I packed everything up for the next day.

We ended up getting some rain and a bit of wind, but no hail.  I don’t think those plants would have had any trouble weathering the storm.  As it stands, I’m a bit hesitant to put plants in the ground since it was still snowing just over a week ago.

So yesterday’s plans were shifted to today.  Esther had to be somewhere, and Rachael had to bring her, so they were both gone.  Jed stayed home with me.  Once I got all the plants out, I asked him and his friend Lily if they wanted to help me.  Involving children is a sure-fire way to make sure things take longer, but I like to include my kids.  I especially like to include them if neighbor kids come along.  It’s not that I’m looking for help, since I can’t think of a time that this “help” actually sped things up.  I just like so share knowledge.  I had my own little garden when I was growing up, so I learned a bit about gardening.  Most of these kids don’t have a garden in their yard, let alone their own garden, so I try to include them when they’re interested.  In past years they’ve planted seeds, shoveled dirt, spread compost, helped build raised beds and a greenhouse, and of course helped harvest.  Today it was transplanting tomatoes.

I have a tendency to overcrowd my tomatoes every year.  Years back I read Square Foot Gardening, and got the idea to plant everything close together.  Problem is that now I tend to plant things too close.  Last year was hot and wet and with the overcrowding I had some trouble with diseased tomatoes.  Last year they were so close it looked like a tomato hedge 8 foot long and 3 feet wide.  So this year to aid me AND the children,  I got out the tape measure.  We stretched the tape measure across the garden and set plants where we would put them.  Then the kids grabbed their spades and each worked on their own hole for planting the tomatoes.

I showed them how to pinch off the bottom leaves so the plants can be set deeper and grow a better root system.  They also tossed a shovel-full of compost in the bottom of each hole before the plant went in.  I showed them how to get the plants out of the plastic pots without damaging the plants.  Then they set them in the hole and pushed the dirt back in.  I helped with the first couple, and they pretty much took over from there.  When they were done with the first bed, we moved to another one and they did pretty much that hole thing by themselves.  At one point Lily said, “My dad never goes to this much trouble to plant his garden.”
To which my son of course replied, “Your vegetables must not do as good then.”
“No, but they sure are delicious.” She said.

After the second bed of tomatoes they decided to go back to jumping on the trampoline.  I grabbed some decorative wire fencing that I dumpstered last year and proceeded to make it into tomato cages.  I usually use “stakes” for my tomatoes because they’re taller than cages and free-er than cages.  (My stakes are old tiki-torches, pieces of dumpstered metal tubing, large fallen branches and occasionally store-bought furring strips that I cut into stakes on the bandsaw.)  However, it’s sometimes difficult to keep the tomato plants from sprawling all over, so as long as I had the materials I made up some cages.  It was mostly a matter of opening up some hooks, folding 3 fence sections into a triangle and then retightening the hooks.  We’ll see how they do.

After Lily went home, Jed helped me plant some cucumbers.  I generally like to have plants, but I didn’t get them started, so this year we planted seeds.  I often have pretty bad luck with cucumbers.  The first year I planted them, I got a ton.  We even made pickles.  In the decade following, I don’t think I ever got that many cukes.  So I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong.  I decided that perhaps (since they’re a cool weather crop) I was getting them started too late, and they were getting too hot.  That first year I grew them in a patch of yard that wouldn’t grow grass because it didn’t get enough sunlight because of an overhanging tree.  So I decided that maybe I should give my cukes some shade.  I planted them behind a row of tomatoes (the row that turned into a tomato hedge).  Last year we got so many cukes that we couldn’t pickle them or give them away fast enough.  We ate SO many cucumbers! It was amazing! And I never even really liked cucumbers until I started growing them myself.  I’m not sure if my theory about shade is correct.  I suppose cukes and tomatoes could be companion plants, though I’ve never seen them listed as such (and I did a lot of research for my book.)  Whatever the reason, this year I’m doing the same thing and hoping for similar results.  We planted two rows of cucumbers behind two rows of (better spaced) tomatoes.

As it was getting dark I got a few pepper plants in the ground and then brought all my remaining plants back inside.  I think the plan for tomorrow is to try out a “3 sisters” planting in the small bed that served as my tomato overflow last year.  The kids are also working on putting together their own bed (from salvaged lumber) so they can have their own test gardens.