Gardening in the winter—especially when the weather takes a spring-like turn, like it has in many parts of The Southern United States today—is a great way to stay active during an otherwise sedentary season. If you have kids, you know that children are especially vulnerable to feeling “walled in” by cold, dreary weather. For them, working in the garden is an opportunity to expend energy, learn new skills, develop an appreciation for healthy food, and kick start their scientific aptitude. Even when there’s snow on the ground, there are still plenty of kid-friendly gardening chores and lessons that can be completed indoors. Here are a few ideas:
Water Glass Projects
You can grow an impressive variety of plants and vegetables out of a simple water glass—no soil or fertilizer required! These projects are easy and the transparency of the water allows kids to see the way roots form and buds sprout in real time. You can grow an avocado by sticking four toothpicks around the edge of a seed and suspending it in a glass of water with the round end of the seed pointed down. Change the water every couple of days until roots start to fill the glass.
You can also grow sweet potato vines in glass of water. Suspend a sweet potato in a jar half-filled with water, so that the water hits the very top of the sweet potato. Refill the water every couple days, and eventually a vine will start to sprout.
Make Bird Feeders
Though not much grows this time of year, plenty of native birds are still around scouring winter landscapes for food. Native birds are an integral part of garden ecosystems—some act as essential pollinators and others eat harmful pests. Kids who are interested in learning more about what birds contribute to gardens can make simple bird feeders and hang them up around their yards. There are a number of designs that work well, but one of the most effective is also one of the simplest: roll a pine cone in peanut butter and bird seed, and then attach the end of the cone to a string and hang from a tree or shrub. Beware: birds love this treat, but so do other animals. These homemade feeders have even been known to attract bears!
Start Spring Gardens Indoors
Many gardeners start working on their spring gardens long before the vernal equinox. Planning a garden in advance can be an important lesson in time management and organization. Start by including your kids in the seed-choosing process. Let them look through seed catalogues and help them plan out which plants should go where. After you’ve bought the seeds, start them off in indoor containers kept under lamps or in a well-lit windowsill. Together, you and your kids can water the seeds and measure growth week by week, until it’s time to replant them in the ground come spring.