Parenting Resources

Grow Without the Dirt – Gardening Indoors With Kids

With spring on the horizon, most of us start to plan our garden. At least here in my Chicago suburban home, planning our summer garden is one of the ways that our family survives the final push of winter weather. I can make it through any random April (or May!) snowstorm if I know that gardening is just a few weeks away. Gardening indoors with kids is one of the first steps to get them excited about summer!

We’ve started our plants indoors this year, and have watched our seeds grow steadily. Jackson, our preschooler, has always enjoyed helping out with gardening tasks but this year he is into it tenfold. I’ve been looking for ways to harness and expand his enthusiasm, but simply don’t have the living space to add one more seedling to our home. Enter our very own form of hydroponics, or growing living things without dirt.

Besides being a fun science experiment, learning to grow things without dirt has given him more plants to check on each day. He thinks it is awesome that he can grow plants in dirt, in water, and in other mediums entirely. Here are a few ideas to get you and your little gardener started.

Start an Avocado Adventure

While I might be the only person who doesn’t love guacamole, I do love that you can start an avocado tree in your home with just a few toothpicks and a glass of water. The next time that you are at the grocery store with your child, pick out an avocado together. Talk about where he thinks avocados come from – a bush, a tree, etc. Avocados do indeed come from trees and you can start one together.

After you use your avocado, save and rinse the pit. Pierce it with 3 or 4 toothpicks so that it can “hang” in a glass half full of water. Keep the pointy side as the top. Now, you wait. It might take up to eight weeks to see things really start to happen, but if you and your family can have the patience, your avocado pit will start to sprout roots.

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Lettuce, Onions, and Leeks (Oh My!)

This spring and summer, our family is committed to working on reducing our kitchen waste. While we are good at using most of our ingredients up, I’ve already started our compost pile and am still looking for ways to decrease our household trash. Our dirtless plants fascination works great for this.

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The next time you are chopping up green onions or leeks, don’t throw away the bottom part with the roots. Instead, toss them into a bit of water. Within no time at all, you will have new green onions and leeks to use for your next recipe. Be sure to rotate some new starter roots every few times so that you are getting good nutrients, but this is a fun way for your child to see how things grow. You can also use this technique with romaine lettuce and even fennel.

Hit the Pet Store

If you already have a fish tank at home, or a pond in your backyard, you might find your next aquatic plant adventure in your pet store. Our fish Blue now has a lovely aquatic plant in his tank, courtesy of the nice lady at our local pet store. We had fun “planting” it in his tank and I think that Blue is pleased with this recent upgrade.

If you have a pond as a landscape feature, you already have a gateway to water lilies and other aquatic plants. Get your child involved in choosing appropriate plants for the health of your pond, as well as “planting” them. It is a wonderful way of hands on learning.

If you aren’t sure if avocado pits and green onions are the way that you want to test out dirtless plants, or if your child is more advanced and ready to take something else on, you can dive more into hydroponics; or, find clear gel that you can grow root cuttings in. Get your child involved with you by visiting local garden centers or botanical garden locations that are local to you; gardening or nature camps are also a great place to get information.