As the summer garden season winds down, it's time to turn our attention to the fall tasks, so everything will be ready for winter. Most of these are less than fun – pulling weeds, cleaning up the garden, deadheading flowers. Even as an adult, if you're anything like me, you procrastinate all these things. It doesn't have to be dreaded, though. Get the kids involved, and it will go quicker and be done faster. Plus, it's good outdoor time for the little ones!
Clean The Garden Tools
If you've ever seen kids with a giant tub of soapy water, you know this is a good one. They can't resist. Put them in their messiest play clothes, fill up the tub, add some bubbles, and start handing them garden tools.
It's essential to clean shovels, rakes, pruners, seed trays, and pots, so diseases don't spread. Pesky little bugs and bacteria like to hang out on garden tools and supplies, waiting for the next season to strike. Always wash everything before planting for the next year.
Some supervision will be needed with this task, especially with sharp tools. It's loads of fun, though, and gets this garden chore completed in a flash.
Collect Flower, Herb, and Vegetable Seeds
As the flowers die off, collect the pods, and save the seeds. Collecting the seed pods is important unless you want all the flowers self-seeding in your garden. They will if you let them sit! The pods are generally easy to simply snap off, or they can be cut with a pair of scissors. If you've got a wee little one, they can be the basket carrier or paper bag carrier while you cut off the flowerheads and fill it up.
Collect the seeds from vegetable plants, too. Fill up separate paper bags for each vegetable variety. Extracting seeds from vegetables is often quite a messy task. Perfect for the kids! Open up the tomatoes, and scrape out the seeds. Cut open the cucumbers, squash, and peppers and let the kids pick out the seeds.
Herb seeds are easy to gather. Cut off the seed heads and collect them in a paper bag or basket. Let them dry, then separate them from the foliage.
This is the perfect time to teach a mini-lesson about how flowers, herbs, and vegetables grow, the importance of seed-collecting, and the natural lifecycles of different plants.
Make Seed Bombs
This goes hand in hand with collecting flower, herb, and vegetable seeds. If you've never made seed bombs, they as much fun for adults as for kids. Seeds are pressed into mud or clay to preserve them. The seed bombs can then be distributed around your property, or along roadways, roundabouts, or whatever space needs a little brightening up. When the growing conditions are appropriate, the seeds will break from the clay and sprout. Seeds can remain dormant for years like this, waiting for the right opportunity. The wonderful thing about making seed bombs from gathered seeds is that even if they don't sprout, there is no money wasted. I highly suggest planting a few close-by the house so the kids can see them “in action.” Children love making seed bombs, and distributing them around the neighborhood.
Start a Fall Garden
Short-season, cool-weather loving vegetables like lettuce, radishes, carrots, and kale will still grow if planted now. Plant them in the ground, under a greenhouse covering, or in pots or a planter. It's best to put them in a wide window planter or some container that can be moved. This way, if an unexpected snowstorm or frost hovers on the horizon, they can easily be brought indoors.
Let the kids pick the seeds and tend the sprouts. It's an incredible educational experience to watch a seed grow up from the soil. Kids get very attached to their little seedling and will take immense pride in providing food for the dinner table. Plus, more fresh veggies for the family is always a good thing!
Document Your Garden
Children love technology, and nothing will be more fun than taking pictures of all your plants and the progress the garden makes. With a watchful eye, let your children use a camera (or your cell phone) to document all the tasks -- the steps they took to plant new seeds, the growth of the seedlings, how to collect and preserve seeds, and the process of making seed bombs. These pictures can be used to create scrapbooks, instructional booklets, or just be a reminder of fun times in the garden.
Collect & Preserve Leaves and Flowers
Promise the kids you'll show them how to preserve their favorite leaf finds AFTER they help to rake and pile up the leaves. Challenge them to find five different colored leaves to keep their attention and focus. Or, find one with an insect hole drilled perfectly through it. Can they find leaves with three lobes, four lobes, and five lobes?
Leaves and flowers can be preserved with wax or pressed and dried, then displayed in a glass wall-hanging.
Of course, this only works if you planted pumpkins. Please don't go gathering pumpkins from random gardens! Pumpkins like to hide under leaves and beneath long vines. Send the kids searching for them like a treasure hunt.
Fill Up The Compost Bin
Make a game of it. Open the top of the bin and throw in garden debris, old veggies, and leaves. See if they can run by and throw it in at the same time. Or, test their accuracy and see how far they can stand from the compost bin and make a hole in one. Give them points, turn it into a competition, and soon the garden will be cleared better ever.
Create A Leaf Maze
More fun with leaves! After they're all raked up, create a meditation path or leaf maze through them. This is especially fun if you've got a lot of leaves! After the kids have walked the maze, employ them in transferring all the leaves to the garden for mulch.
Start Planning For Next YearThe best way to gets kids involved and interested in gardening is to involve them in the planning process. Ask them what they liked growing. What do they want to grow next year? Peruse seed catalogs, and ask them to pick out their favorites.
The dreaded fall garden clean-up doesn't have to be so awful. Get the kids involved and see if you don't all have more fun getting these chores done.