Even though it’s barely March and still fairly cold outside, flowers are poking their heads out, spring birds are showing up, and I, for one, am ready to get outside! Since it’s too early to garden outdoors yet, I have a cure for combating spring fever. Following are a few suggestions to bring a little springtime indoors and if you have young ones in your life, it’s a great way to help kids learn about growing things at the same time:
Hydroponics means growing without soil. All you need is water and a sunny window. Have your child put three toothpicks spaced evenly around the center of a sweet potato and suspend it over a jar. Fill the jar with water, with half the potato submerged, wait a week and you’ll have a leafy sweet potato plant! Watch how fast it grows. Try it with an avocado seed, using toothpicks to suspend it above a jar, pointed tip up, with half the seed submerged in water. An avocado seed may take up to a month to sprout, so be patient.
Cut a sponge into an interesting or fun shape. Have your child dampen the sponge and sprinkle evenly with alfalfa or cress seeds. Place the seed sponge on a small plate and keep moist until the sprouts begin to grow. In only a few days you can harvest the sprouts and mix into some cream cheese or deviled eggs for a delicious snack.
Propagation is sprouting a plant from a cutting off another plant. Have your child put an inch of pea-size pebbles in a shallow dish and cover the rocks with water. Have your child carefully slice off the tops of several carrots, leaving about an inch of orange and a half inch of green tops. (Depending on the age of your child, you may have to do the slicing). Set carrot tops on the rocks so that half the orange part is submerged in water. Wait a few days and you will have a mini forest. Try the same experiment with the top of a beet, turnip, radish or onion. Different vegetables have different sprouting times. A turnip may take 3 to 6 weeks to sprout, so don’t give up, just keep the water fresh by changing it weekly. Soon you will have an abundance of leafy plants. Try some of the beet leafs in a salad!
If you have an unused ant farm or an empty liter pop bottle (cut the top off where it starts to curve in), you can plant a viewing garden. Have your child place an inch of pebbles in the bottom, fill with potting mix to within an inch from the top, moisten the soil and poke some bean seeds about a half inch into the soil. These should sprout within a day or two, and can grow 6 or 8 inches in a week. These containers allow you to watch the roots develop. What happens if you plant cloves of garlic?
Grow a salad. Provide your child with a pot filled with potting soil. Have them plant some lettuce and radish seeds and a scallion bulb in moist soil. It is important not to let the seeds dry out so they will need to mist daily with a spray bottle. Keep the pot in a bright, sunny window. After seeds have sprouted, be sure and water only when the soil feels dry to the touch, too much water can suffocate the roots. Harvest when ready, add a little salad dressing, and enjoy.
Nasturtiums and marigolds are easy to grow in a sunny window. Have your child plant four or five seeds in a pot of soil. Mist with water just enough to keep the soil moist, do not let it dry out. Soon the seeds will sprout and in about eight weeks you should have bright blossoms. Pick blooms to keep more coming. Nasturtiums are edible and are delicious in salad.
Spring bulbs will bloom indoors. Have your child fill a shallow dish with pea-size pebbles. Add water to the top of the rocks and push pre-chilled bulbs such as hyacinth or narcissus bulbs into the rocks until they stand by themselves. Place in a sunny window, keep the water level just to the bottom of the bulbs, and you’ll be surprised how soon you have flowers.
Forcing branches to bloom indoors is my favorite way to brighten a room. Prune a few branches from a flowering bush or tree in your yard. After bringing the branches inside, fill a sink with very warm water—as hot as you can stand it without scalding your hands. Very warm water is important because it contains the least amount of oxygen. If oxygen gets into the stems it can block water from being taken up, thus preventing hydration. Hold the stems underwater and recut them at a severe angle an inch or two above the original cut. The stems will quickly absorb the water. Start out by keeping the branches in low light but once the buds start opening, move them to bright sunlight. By providing warmth and changing the water weekly, the beautiful show of flowers will bring spring indoors within a week to a month. Some good choices are early-season bloomers such as quince, shad and witch hazel. Fruit trees such as apple, pear, cherry and crabapple will slowly bloom in colors from cream to deep rose. Huckleberry, forsythia and spicebush bear small flowers making wonderful, fragrant arrangements. Other good choices are dogwood, camellia, magnolia, pussywillow, wisteria, and lilac.
Note: Rooting may occur on the branches during the forcing period. If you would like to plant rooted branches, remove them from the water when roots are 1/4 to 3/8 inches long, then pot individually in regular potting soil, and keep moist until permanent roots are formed. When warm weather arrives, the new plant can be planted outdoors.
Almost all of my favorite memories from childhood relate to experiences with the natural world. I’ll bet if you stop to think about it, you might say the same thing. I’d love to hear about your own magical journey of exploration and adventure with your child! Leave a comment or send me a picture with details and I’ll post it here.