This Weekend: Digging holes and planting with spazzy children

Posted by Anne Fletcher on

Child smiling in the garden

About 15 minutes before I took the photo above, my daughter was head butting the washing machine as if bouncing it on a trampoline, saying, "Mommy, it's boingy!"  If you're a parent right now, suddenly finding yourself full-time parenting while working from home (while your childless co-workers write things like "I bet we're all getting some great heads down focus time working from home!") you're like, "I saw worse before breakfast."  So did I, but as this is a blog about gardening and not about parenting, I'm sharing it with you because the next thing we did was take the spazzing outside. 

Yesterday I talked with my sisters, both of whom have 2 small children suddenly home all day, neither of whom were getting much "heads down focus time" to put it mildly.  In a very non-scientific study, sample size two relatives, I asked them if they had any gardening while stuck at home questions.  Here's what they wanted: Something easy for kids to do that doesn't require much planning or effort on the part of parents, but gets them outside.  Here's my answer:  Dig a hole.

Seriously, the amount of fun kids can have with a hole in the ground is shocking, especially if there is a pile of loose dirt leftover from digging, and not too many rules about staying clean.  (Though at our house anyway, strict rules about not hurting anyone with dirt clods or shovels.)

Child digging in the garden

If you, the parent, are also looking to blow off some steam, digging holes is hard physical work, like Cross Fit, but free, and not closed right now.  And you get a bigger hole faster, which will keep kids busy longer.

If you'd like to dig holes for a purpose, note that digging and loosening the soil is the standard first step in preparing a new bed to plant veggies or flowers.  Now might be a good time to dig up a neglected patch of earth in your yard.  Spend a few days digging holes and breaking up the soil and pretty soon you'll find yourself with a lovely bed ready to plant.

One of my sisters asked which flowers might be nice and easy for kids to plant, with fairly quick rewards.  I've had good luck with bachelor buttons, calendula, and scabiosa, all of which grow easily from seed, directly planted into nicely dug soil and don't mind some shade.  In full sun, you could also plant sweet peas for the flowers, or regular peas to eat, as long as you give them something to climb up.

If, like many of us, you're feeling the urge to plant a proper vegetable bed, digging and breaking up the soil is the first step, but you'll need a bit more too:  Vegetables need full sun and lots of water.  Choose a spot that's in the sun all day and has access to a hose / sprinkler / irrigation system before you get digging.  The other thing is that most vegetables need quite rich soil.  The reason they're good for us is that they're taking up lots of goodness from the soil and concentrating it in the parts we eat. 

Because most of us aren't going out to the garden center right now, getting your hands on a bag of chicken manure or worm castings to enrich your soil is tough.  Try growing some of the easier going veggies for now like mizuna, arugula, and peas while you build your own compost heap.  With any luck, you'll have your own homemade compost ready to enrich your veggie beds sometime this summer.  Though hopefully we'll all be able to go to the garden center well before then!

Here's a small veggie plot I just planted outside our backdoor on day 1 of the quarantine while a spazzy kid kept me company.  There were a few perennials, cordyline burgandy and an anemic bouganvillia suffering in this square planter that I've been meaning to replant anyway.  (They hadn't grown in the 3 years since we moved in.)  But instead of new ornamental planting, I was feeling fresh greens all of a sudden. 

Cordyline burgandy

veggies planted outside the back door

veggies in square planter

While the little one ran around "helping," digging, and playing with the rocks that had filled the bed, I dug out the old plants and replanted them in the front yard where they might be happier.  I used the last of my worm castings to enrich the soil and planted a few seedlings plus a few seeds.  Digging, mixing dirt, and of course watering were great whole family fun.  And by that I mean, less bickering and scolding, and more feeling like something got accomplished.

Child digging in garden

II won't claim that digging holes is the cure for spazziness and stir-crazy-ness, and it's also not the only thing that will create a garden.  But it did help us blow off steam for about 90 minutes.  Once I got the hole started, she was off and running throwing dirt clods at the fence and making up stories about snowballs and diggers.  I didn't exactly get peace and quiet, and certainly not focused work time (I'm writing this now, after bedtime), but I made some progress on a garden project while she bopped and buzzed around and we all went in for dinner just a tiny bit calmer.

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