Gardening has intrigued mankind throughout the ages. It would be difficult to think of a culture that has not practiced gardening on some scale at some point in its history. From the Garden of Eden to the culinary plots of medieval monasteries to the famous corn rows of the Native Americans, man has always gardened, and probably always will garden. However, in modern-day America, gardening has largely shifted its status from survival skill to popular pastime.
And what a rich pastime for a homeschool family to pursue! Besides the obvious science and life skills involved, gardening can provide a source of inspiration to the young artist, a topic of interest to the aspiring writer, and some first-hand observations of Biblical principles for family discussion. Part of the beauty of gardening is its flexibility. Extensive space is not necessary; the project can be as big or as small as necessary to suit any family’s purpose. Even the apartment-dwelling homeschool family can adopt a few potted plants.
Deciding What to Grow
An ideal way to start is to decide what to grow.
- Would your artistic family like an ornamental herb garden or a rainbow of flowers?
- Is there some historic garden you would like to replicate, or do you want to try to re-create your grandmother’s?
- How about a themed garden—a pizza garden, a salad garden, a butterfly garden?
- Or do you just want to grow the basics?
- If you have very young children, you may want to consider
- plants that grow quickly (radishes, squash),
- have big, easy-to-handle seeds (corn, peas, green beans),
- or are colorful (purple potatoes, anyone?).
Bear in mind that not all plants will thrive in your area. Depending on where you live, you may need to choose varieties that are drought-tolerant, cold-hardy, shade-loving, etc. Before spending money on rare flowers that won’t survive long in your climate, find a zone map and make sure your selections are suitable for your area (you’ll find resources below).
How Much Space Will You Need?
Once you know what to grow, research your selected plants and varieties to determine how much space they need. Sketch out a garden design on graph paper and mark where you will put everything. Be careful not to overwhelm yourself with vegetables, however—preserving large quantities of produce can be a herculean undertaking! It is best to start small. If you decide to keep gardening in future years, you can always expand as you get an idea of how much work is involved and how large of a harvest to expect.
When Do You Plant?
Next find out the planting dates for each of your chosen crops. Some seeds need to be started indoors, safely out of the elements, and then transplanted to the garden at a later date. Others can go directly into the ground. Your seed packets and gardening resources should tell you what to do. You will notice that safe planting dates are usually relative to the date of the last spring frost. This varies across the country, so look at a frost map to find out when it occurs in your area. Then figure out planting dates based on that information and write them down.
Specific instructions on planting, pruning, watering, weeding, harvesting, and other garden tasks vary for each type of plant and are beyond the scope of this article. Seed packets typically provide this information. When in doubt, consult your favorite gardening resources. Consider keeping a garden journal or notebook to write down things you learned, planting schedules that worked well, vegetable varieties that tasted good, and tricks that helped you keep pests out of your garden.
As the season progresses, your options increase. Are you working through a biology or other science text? Liven things up with some hands-on experiments. Are the young ladies of the family ready to learn some cooking skills? There’s no better way to start than with fresh, home-grown vegetables. Did the bugs attack your flowers? Never fear — you may just have embarked on an entomology study. Be creative, and you will come up with a wide range of projects. Your garden will become a unit study—a living one!
If your family decides to continue gardening, pull out the frost map again and decide when to put in a fall crop. Pot a few favorites and bring them indoors for the winter. Plan on growing some perennial plants and look forward to their arrival every year. Draw up an even better garden for next spring. If you start small, you will probably find gardening to be a very satisfying and rewarding project, one your children may continue the rest of their lives.
My First Garden: Show Me the Basics
Aimed at the young, this guide from the University of Illinois shows how to select a garden spot, and discusses soil, water and food basics.
My First Garden: Gardening FUNdamentals
The next section of the above covers planting depth, garden journals, reading a seed package, tools, and planning.
Vegetable Growing Guides
Covering 58 garden vegetables. Includes “detailed description and growing instructions, site and soil requirements, varieties, and solutions for managing pests and diseases.” From Cornell.
Flower Growing Guides
Covering 268 flowers and foilage plants. Includes “detailed description and growing instructions, site and soil requirements, varieties, and special uses.” From Cornell.
Plant Hardiness Zone Map
From the USDA.
Environmental Factors That Affect Plant Growth
Covers light, temperature, water (humidity), and nutrition. For older students.
Winter Gardening Activities for Kids
Ideas for gardening when its cold and snowy outside!
Starting Plants From Seeds
A 2-page how-to download from Cornell.
The Garden Game
A fun board came and family favorite where you find out what it takes to grow a garden. By those fun folks at Ampersand Press.
Homemade Seed Tapes
Winter project that has you ready for spring planting!
Build a Raised Garden Bed
Ideas for building your own from Lowes.
Great idea from Martha Stewart! Perfect for indoor seedlings.
Instructions for Starting a Pizza Garden
Home Vegetable Gardening by F.F. Rockwell
Subtitled “A Complete and Practical Guide to the Planting and Care of All Vegetables, Fruits and Berries Worth Growing for Home Use,” covers everything you need to know about gardening. Though dated, this is still a great gardening guide!
All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
A family favorite, ideal for low-maintenance and small-space gardens. Includes ways to harvest as you go.
The Christian Kids’ Gardening Guide by Rebecca Park Totilo
Another family favorite, this guide for beginners covers gardening basics, taking you from garden plans to harvest all in a fun and engaging way including crafts, recipes, activities, garden designs, and garden-related devotionals.
Unit Studies & Lesson Plans
How Plants Grow
Part of our free Wonderful World nature study.
Garden Lesson Plans By Month
Monthly garden-related lesson ideas from Texas A & M.
Free Indoor Gardening Unit
Indoor gardening projects suitable for students of all ages.
Get Ready to Garden! Project Pack
This is not a free resource, but highly rated and often discounted favorite from Hands of a Child. The 90-page download that includes a research guide, activities and reproducibles that help your child create a garden lapbook. Read our review.
Printables & Notebooking Pages
My First Garden Journal
Daily journal sheet geared toward young children.
My First Garden Checklist
2-page download geared toward young children.
Gardening Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narration, or wrapping up.
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7 Helpful Gardening Resources
Unit studies, how-tos, and other resources.