Grit Blogs > Back To Our Roots

Teaching The Future Generation: Pt 2 - Gardening

Traci N SmithThere have been multiple disasters in the last decade that have hit this country, as well as others. Some of those include the snowstorm that hit Buffalo, New York, last year; Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc on the Eastern U.S. in 2012; the Joplin, Missouri, tornado in 2011; the California wildfires in 2007. The one thing all of these have in common is that there were people who survived. Some lost their homes, their cars, their jobs, etc. People made it through with help from FEMA, American Red Cross and many other agencies. But what if those agencies weren’t there? Or if they couldn’t reach you for days?

Would you survive if a disaster happened to you? Would you be able to provide for your family if the power grid went down indefinitely? What if you were snowed in and you had no electric or heat? What would happen if you lost your home and literally had nowhere else to go? Could you build a new life with nothing? Could your kids survive something like that?

If you remember from my last article, the top skills that folks thought children should know were:

Top survival skills kids should know 

Do your children know any of those skills? I am ashamed to say that not only do my children not know, but I don’t know most of them either. So this series will be a learning process for both you (the reader) and me, together.

So the way to learn things that you don’t know is to research, research, research. And that’s exactly what I did. I turned to those who know more than I do, as well as to the Internet. And I found a WHOLE LOT that I didn’t know!

32 skills kids should know 

Among the things I didn’t know, I found this list of 32 survival skills that children should know (you can read the full article here). These 32 skills build on the list that we already had, and adds some new skills.

So I decided I would make this series a little bit easier to follow. Each article following this one will be over one skill set. And I will attempt to include the next week’s set at the end of each post. The one thing that I will NOT be covering will be religion. This does not mean, however, that I will not discuss morals or other aspects that may seem religious. But I will try to keep it as secular as possible.

These articles will be written in a way to help everyone from all walks of life (or as close as I can get to it) and I ALWAYS appreciate feedback on them. If you have ideas on ways to teach others skills, feel free to leave it in the comments!

So here we go with the first skill!


I chose this one because it was easiest for me to do; I'm going to put the harder ones later in the series so I have time to research and learn them as well as try different teaching techniques with the Critter Kids. This is also an easy skill for you to do just about wherever you are. If you live in an apartment with no yard, use containers on a patio or in a well-lit room (using natural light of course); if you live in a house with a yard, plant a small vegetable garden in your yard; if you live out in the country with lots of land, then feel free to plant as much as you want in the yard or in containers!

I got my start in gardening when I was young. My dad and I used to plant a garden every year. I remember going out with him after he had tilled the ground and poking holes in the dirt for him to put seeds in. Then I got to help harvest the vegetables at the end of the year. Wasn’t a whole lot and I didn’t learn much (or so I thought) at the time. But what I did learn was extensive.

I learned that proper preparation of the soil makes a difference. So does proper maintenance. He was out there every evening weeding and watering and caring for the plants. He showed me perseverance, hard work and many other traits. He also taught me to appreciate the taste of homegrown tomatoes and corn versus store-bought. Don’t think that teaching your children gardening skills will just teach them how to grow food. Because it teaches them SO much more!

Facebook How Does Gardening Help You 

So here are the general basics of what it takes to get produce from a plant:

Plant needs 

The basics of gardening

Graphic from:

There are, of course, MANY different ways to achieve all of these things. I’ll try to cover as many as possible. But if I miss any, PLEASE feel free to mention them in the comments, or join the discussion by adding me on Facebook.

A good way to start out with younger children, if you don’t have the freedom or the space to plant a garden in your yard, is to start a container garden. You can do this inside your home or outside, as long as the plants get the right amount of sunshine and water and aren’t exposed to too much of either or to extreme temperatures. A lot of schools study the plant life cycle by having students plant a bean seed in a Styrofoam or plastic cup. I like to use glass mason jars for this lesson so they can see the roots as they expand around the outside of the jar, but it is individual choice.

When container gardening, you can still plant a wide variety of vegetables and edible plants. Use a 5-gallon bucket to plant corn, tomatoes and green beans (be sure to provide a trellis or cage for the tomatoes and beans). Use a 10-gallon plastic tote to plant potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, any number of root crops. The possibilities are endless when you are container gardening. You can even tie this skill in with recycling if you like. I have seen many wonderful container gardens made out of recycled containers. I will include a few links at the end to help you even more.

Collage of container gardens 

Two container gardens 

Some people have been known to use old tractor tires (the great big ones) and fill them with dirt, but not block off access to the existing yard. This allows plants that have deep reaching roots to still access the natural nutrients of the existing yard while still being decorative.

Decorative tire beds 

You can also use planters. The kinds that are intended for flowers. Some people use those built into their porch or even along a decorative wall by their driveway. This is also a form of raised bed gardening.

For those who DO have the room to plant a garden, whether that is a 4-by-4-foot area or more like an acre or two, you can do container gardening as well. Or you can plant a traditional garden. This is the approach that I prefer. There is something very soothing about digging in the dirt in the yard, instead of in a container for me. (I have been known to take a flashlight outside to dig in the garden at 1 or 2 a.m. if I can’t sleep.)

There are even many different ways to garden in the yard! The two that come to mind are raised beds and the traditional garden bed. Raised beds are often the best choice for areas that have bad soil. (You can add in manure, fertilizer, etc., into the soil as well if you do choose to use a traditional garden bed, so don’t fret!) The best way I have found to build a raised bed consists of some type of framing material (cinder blocks, 2-by-6s, tractor tires, etc.) and lining the bed with black plastic. This prevents bad things in the original soil from being absorbed by your plants. It also allows you to build your ideal soil inside the bed without worrying that the ground around it will leach out the good nutrients.

Once your plastic is down, then you can put down manure, compost, fertilizer, straw, etc., and then add either finished compost or bagged potting soil on top of it. The organic material in the bottom of the bed will eventually decompose and provide your plants with time released nutrition. Once you have your bed built and the soil added, then all that is left to do is plant!

Two examples of raised beds 

Classic raised garden bed 

Traditional beds are a lot easier to put in. You just till up the area you want to plant in, and then plant! We spread horse manure and bedding, as well as bedding from our chicken coop on top of the ground, then tilled it all in when we do the initial tilling. I let it sit for a week or two and then plant directly into the soil.

Traditional Garden BedThis can cause problems if the manure is too hot, however, as that is not very long for it to break down. Some manures, like chicken manure, are too strong to use directly on plants and will burn them as it decomposes. I will cover composting in a future article.

Now that your beds are made, it is time to decide what you are planting. And where you are planting it. If you are planting from seed, then be sure to read the directions on the seed packet! And if you are transplanting started plants, then read the info stick included. This will tell you how deep to plant it, how much water and sunlight are needed, as well as lots of other information. Be sure to keep your packets and tags even after you have planted. This helps you refer back if needed, as well as help you keep a record of what varieties and types you planted so you know whether to plant them again next year. Once your plants are in the soil, then your next step is to water them. Make sure that you don’t overwater them.

Explanation of the back of a seed packet 

Back image of a plant tag

Once they have been planted and watered, then all that is left is to maintain them until harvest time. (Different plants mature at different times, so be sure to read your plant information.) Daily maintenance includes watering, weeding, and checking the plants for signs of disease, malnutrition and pests. Maintaining your plants properly will lead to healthier and more nutritious fruits and vegetables for you and your family.

You need to make sure to keep weeds from growing around your plants. If there are weeds growing with your plants, then your plants aren’t getting all the nutrients out of the soil because they have to share them with the weeds, or other plants, if they are planted too close (although there are some beneficial group plantings you can try, such as green beans and cucumbers planted in with your corn). A few signs that indicate malnutrition, disease and pests: drooping leaves, the plant turning brown when it shouldn’t be (both of those can also indicate too much sun), holes in the leaves, and/or actual pests seen on the plant. (There are too many ways to treat these issues to include here. I would recommend taking advantage of another gardener’s knowledge on treatment, visiting the local library, or even a local nursery.)

Some ideas on how to teach gardening to your children, from the world of Facebook:

  • “You could do some small potted herbs/strawberries/etc. to grow in your home or on a patio. We have a large garden, and the kids love to take my herb book out while I'm gardening and they love to look through the book til they find an herb they are standing in front of, identify the leaves, and then learn what the herb's benefits are.” – Lindsey G.

  • “I guess the main thing is to make the learning fun ... and start when they are young.” – Kym O.

Next week’s skill: Foraging

Further Reading:



Container Gardening:

General Gardening:

General Information: