by Cassie I. Story, RDN
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There are few activities in life that bring the entire family together. Well, let me rephrase that – there are few activities in life that every member of the family enjoys doing at the same time. Think about it. How often do your weekends revolve around trying to keep every member of the family happy? Oftentimes, that involves sacrifice from one member to another.
Trust me – I have to psyche myself up to endure the bright lights and loud noises that inevitably come from my daughters’ request to visit the local arcade. At the same time, I’m sure they’re not thrilled when I announce, “Get your shoes on – we’re going to the grocery store!” (Yes…I do actually enjoy going to the grocery store.)
Activities that bring joy to every member of the family are few and far between. Gardening is one of those rare pastimes! Two-year-olds flourish when playing in the dirt. 11-year-olds are thrilled by science and experimenting, and 17-year-olds…okay, I don’t know if those with a newly possessed driver’s license will like gardening, but you can give it a shot!
Planting a spring garden can reap many rewards far beyond the food that you grow. Bonding with each member of the family, tasting homegrown produce, experimenting in the kitchen with pounds of tomatoes (seriously – what do you do with all of those?)… Surely great memories are to be made when your family decides to plant a garden.
Fortunately, starting your own garden has never been easier! With one quick glance online, you can find and purchase any type of garden that works for your space and household. Or, if you’re the crafty type, a few pieces of scrap wood and your imagination could serve as a template for an interesting container. If you would like a more linear garden, one stop to your local hardwood store can provide you with pre-cut wood and a few simple tools. With the help of a few sets of hands, you can build a garden box within an hour or so.
Container Gardens for Families with Young Children:
Container gardens are easy to plant, require few tools and will hold the attention span of young children. Follow these easy steps and enjoy the fruits of your labor in no time!
Choose Your Containers.
1. Start with a large container or pot that is at least 15 inches deep and wide. If you are a beginner gardener, bigger is better because you can hold more soil and lock moisture in longer. Larger flowerpots, barrels, baskets, planters or any larger container will work – so get creative!
2. The container or pot must drain well. Ensure that there is at least one hole in the bottom for water to run out of. If your container does not have drainage holes, use a drill to create four to six holes throughout the bottom.
3. Choose one vegetable or herb for each container, especially if this is your first time gardening. It’s important not to overcrowd the pots!
4. Place Your Container in an Appropriate Area.
5. Choose an area that receives about six to eight hours of sunlight a day. If you live in warmer areas of the country, you may need to elevate your container from the hot concrete. Try placing it on a small cart or wooden box.
1. Purchase potting mix that is designed to retain moisture well, along with quality plant starts or seed packets from your local garden store. Fill the base of the container with an inch or two of small rocks or pebbles to help drainage and to prevent mold or mildew.
2. Add soil to the container, leaving about two inches of space from the top. Thoroughly water the soil and let drain for a few hours before planting the seeds or starter plant.
3. For seeds, plant them according to package directions. For starter plants, dig a hole deep enough for the soil to reach the same level they were growing in their pot.
Water Your New Plants.
Maintain moisture levels. The soil should feel moist about one to two inches below the surface. Depending on the climate you live in, you will likely need to water your plants multiple times per week. Watering in the morning is preferred to the evening because it helps the plants stay hydrated during the heat of the day.
When and What to Plant
The best time to plant your garden is two to four weeks after the last evening frost. Your local garden store will be able to help you determine what will work best for your climate. In general, hardy to semi-hardy vegetables make for a great spring garden.
Spring Vegetable/ Herb Chart
3. Brussels sprouts
7. Herbs: basil, oregano, sage and thyme
9. Melons (for a summer harvest)
Raised Garden Boxes for Families with Pre-teens/Teenagers:
If your family would like a larger garden, a raised garden box is the way to go as it helps to eliminate many challenges that can come along with gardening (weeds, varying soil types, etc.). You can buy a premade garden box online (that you assemble at home) or purchase wood from your local hardwood store and create your own. This time of year, most hardwood stores have piles of wood laid out specifically for a garden box, along with detailed building instructions.
Once you’ve assembled your garden box, follow these easy steps and in no time you’ll enjoy some delicious homegrown produce.
1. Place your garden in an area that will receive adequate sunlight (once you place the box, you won’t be able to
2. Place a thin layer of newspaper (black and white ink only – no colored advertisements) along the bottom of the box. This will help prevent weeds from growing and it will also decompose.
3. Cover with gardening soil (the hardwood store can help you determine how much soil you need based on the size of your garden box).
4. Plant! Water! Eat!
Whether your family members are novices or seasoned gardeners, planting a garden can be easy, rewarding and great for bonding.
Now – go play with your food!
What do I do with my Harvest?
Members of the cruciferous family, Brussels sprouts contain large amounts of antioxidants that can protect the body from damaging free radicals. They’ve also come a long way from your aunt’s soggy steamed Brussels sprouts dish that we all remember from family gatherings long ago.
How to Store: Keep them in a bag in your refrigerator for several weeks. Wash and dry them just before using. The outer leaves will shrivel and turn brown – remove those prior to cooking.
How to Use: Half or quarter (depending on size) and toss in a bowl with olive or coconut oil. Let your imagination run wild with flavor additions (herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and dried fruits) and roast in a 400 degree oven until edges are slightly browned and crispy.
Recipe: One of my favorite side dishes is roasted Brussels sprouts tossed with coconut oil, walnuts, a small amount of honey, crushed red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.
This is a root vegetable that provides a large amount of Vitamin A, potassium and fiber. They taste slightly sweet and make a nice addition to soups or casseroles.
How to Store: Store them loosely in a bag in your refrigerator for up to three weeks. Wash, dry, cut off the ends and peel (if desired, you can also leave the peel on)
just prior to using.
Recipe: Looking for a new version of sweet potato fries? Try using carrots instead! Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Slice them in the shape of traditional potato French fries. In a bowl, combine the carrots, olive oil (to coat), one tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley, one large minced garlic clove and kosher salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast for 10 minutes, then turn and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes.
Planting these red jewels will yield plenty of fruit for a wide variety of dishes. I have vivid memories of watching my mom eat tomatoes right off the vine growing up – I swear she could make a meal out of freshly picked raw tomatoes (and a salt shaker of course).
How to Store: Store in a cool (but not cold) location. The kitchen counter (away from the stove/oven) is a great spot! They bruise easily, so it’s best to place them in a single layer – not on top of each other.
Recipe: Black bean, corn and tomato salad makes an easy and delicious side dish. In a bowl, combine the following ingredients and then refrigerate to eat within three days.
• 1 can of black beans (rinsed and drained)
• 2 tomatoes roughly chopped
• ½ cup frozen corn
• ½ cup chopped avocado
• 1 minced garlic clove
• 1 Tbs. olive oil
• Juice of 1 lime
• 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
• ½ tsp. kosher salt
About the Author:
Cassie I. Story, RDN, is a dietitian who has been working with surgical and non-surgical weight-loss patients for the past 12 years. She is the Clinical Science Liaison for Bariatric Advantage where she helps educate other healthcare professionals around the unique nutrition needs of weight-loss surgery patients. She has her own food blog, www.WLSDailyPlate.com, which provides recipe inspiration for all members of the family – including those who have had