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Planning a colourful, living playground for my kids  RSS feed

 
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Hiya permies!

I live in Edmonton Alberta (zone 3). My family moved into a house with a nice big yard (by city standards) and I'm now waiting out the winter by planning the lovely things we'll grow. We lived in a condo up until this fall and had a little patch in the community garden for a couple years. Watching my daughter explore the plants and critters among them has been lovely, so one of my goals is giving my a colourful, edible, food jungle My kids can explore. My son will be 17-21 months and my daughter will be 3.5ish during the growing season.

Our yard is divided into rough quarters by a path from the house to the garage and a step/flowerbed/Cottoneaster hedge that separates the higher area of the yard from the lower area. One of these quadrants gets lovely south sunlight, is sheltered by the garage on the east, bordered by a white fence on the north, and sheltered by the hedge on the west. We've decided to get rid of the lawn in that whole section, which would allow for 4-5 decent sized beds. Another quadrant houses an apple tree (I'm over the moon excited about this) which I intend to plant a guild around. We also have two tiered 2X3ish metre beds in the front yard with what looks like a creek bed running through them. I haven't had the chance to observe how water interacts with it, but I think it's meant to channel rainwater.

My ideas for the "garden quadrant" beds are as follows:

1) a "friendly forest" of relatively tall vegetables (kale, brussels sprouts, orach, broccoli) and fun, possibly edible flowers (sunflowers, snap dragons, maybe giant alliums) with a path or two leading to
2) a living tipi or wigwam of scarlet runner beans, peas, and nasturtiums that the kids can play in and around
3) a few squash, including pumpkins
4) Cucumbers against the fence 
5) a "toddler's choice" garden in the flower bed that divides the high/low parts of the yard
6) other colourful and fun annual veggies in the space that's left
7) lots of (preferably edible and absolutely non-toxic) flowers dotted here and there to invite pollinators and other friendly insects

I was thinking these beds (save perhaps the cucumbers, which need a good bit of babying in Edmonton) can be moved around from year to year if I make paths between the beds with an appropriate mulch. I think this will be best to give the benefits of the nitrogen fixing plants and prevent disease and nutrient depletion, plus it would allow me to modify as I learn what works best in my yard. I love the idea of a living mulch like clover or thyme, but I'm worried it would spread into the beds or come back the next spring and not allow for modification of bed shapes and placements.

I also have plans for pots of tomatoes and cauliflower, plus salad greens and herbs in the front yard.

Is my plan doable for a first year? Have any suggestions? Which mulch would be best for paths and/or amongst and between plants? Which insect-attracting flowers work best in such a garden?
 
steward
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My son is 4 and my daughter is 15 months--so they're both quite close in age to yours. As to your plan being feasible, I think it depends on a few factors.

  • How much time do you have to spend in the garden? If you're working, you might not have enough time to get the beds made.


  • How much will your kids play by themselves while you work? If they squabble or keep wanting your attention and don't want to help, you'll have less time. Sometimes my son plays great by himself outside and/or likes to help me. Some days, he just doesn't. And, that's okay! It's just something to take into consideration. Your youngest should now be old enough to toddle around and play without needing to be carried and held and fed constantly, and that will free you up a lot more, too. From birth to when they really get walking, is the hardest time to get stuff done in the garden. It gets more fun and easier as they age, at least it did with my son!


  • How much experience do you have gardening? I've been at it for almost 5 seasons now, though all of them I was rather divided in time/energy as I had little ones to care for. But, I still wasn't nearly as successful as I would have liked in growing things. A lot didn't sprout, a lot died, a lot just didn't produce. With me, there appears to be a loooong learning curve, as well as the soil needing time to become fertile (at least, I'd like to think part of my problem is my soil!)


  • I think, if you've got time and nice weather (i.e. not so rainy/muddy/snowy so that you can't put the little one down to play), you should totally be able to get everything accomplished. I tend to get made about 2-4 beds/year. I start building one, finish it, and then start another. It takes time, and you might not have them all done by the beginning of the growing season, but you should have them done by fall.

    I would, personally, start by building one bed. Get that one done and then start the next. If you have access to mulch, you can mulch the whole garden area while you work on the first bed. This will help build nutrients in your next beds' areas, as well as keep weeds at bay. Once you've finished an area, you can move to the next. Either remove the mulch or incorporate it it.  By building one bed at a time, you get a place to plant some foods--the earliest crops like peas and radishes, as well as some of the kids' favorites. This way, even if you don't get the other areas made, you've got a place to do some growing and memory making, as well some food to munch on. And, since everything else is mulched, you don't have to stress about not getting it all done. As for type of mulch, woodchips are great (unless you have slugs problems!) and I would stick to something like that for now, because (1) it's easy (2) living mulches take time to grow, and you can always plant them into your woodchips, and (3) they add nutrients to the ground over the long term. For a living ground cover, if strawberries (either cultivated or woodland) do well for you, they make a yummy groundcover that's easy to pull up if it invades your beds. I don't know if they can survive zone 3, though...

    The bean/pea tipi should also be pretty easy/quick to set up, so you can probably get that made as you do the first garden bed.

    After you get bed one and the tipi, I'd work on the next bed. I'm only really seeing 2 or 3 beds listed (child's garden bed, fun/varried garden bed, and forest garden bed). I'd just get the bed built and plant what needs to get planted at that time of the year in it, so if it's still spring, maybe the brassicas. If it's summer, get those squash in tehre. You can always refine the placements of the annuals the next year!

    Moving the beds themselves year after year might be a pain. I'd set them up so that you can just rotate what grows in them. You might want to leave the children's garden as always the children's garden--that way the kids' have their own place that really feels like their own. My son has his own garden bed that we made last year, which he really loved. He grew all red plants in it. I know I made a thread on here somewhere...but I don't know where.... ah-ha! Here it is!

    I don't know if this helps, but I tried to make a thread about gardening with litte ones: https://permies.com/t/69330/Tips-Tricks-Gardening-Wee. If there's any more tips you have, please  feel free to add them!
     
    pollinator
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    Welcome to permies! Your ideas sound great!  Here are some threads to give you some ideas:

    https://permies.com/t/60598/Plants-kids-gardens-ideas

    https://permies.com/t/69330/Tips-Tricks-Gardening-Wee
     
    Adèle Maisonneuve
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    Thanks for the help! I've had my own garden for a few years and had great success, especially lat year, with my small, more conventions (though still pesticide and fertilizer-free) garden patches. When I was a kid, we had a huge garden where we, under my grandma's watchful eye, grew all our carrots and potatoes for the year and where I fell  head  over heels in love with green beans.

    As for time, in a part time teacher, so I have relatively free afternoons and two whole months in the summer with no major plans. Out in the yard is a great place to spend that time

    Thanks for the advice on mulching the whole area and  building beds as I go. Edmonton offers free wood chips to anyone who can pick them up, so that looks like an easy, cost effective way to simplify things.

    Are you on the west coast? Your garden looks beautiful and reminds me of my husband's aunt's place on Quadra Island.

    Also thanks for the welcome and resources on gardening with kids! This looks like a very knowledgeable  and friendly community
     
    Nicole Alderman
    steward
    Posts: 2377
    Location: Pacific Northwest
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    That's so awesome that you've already got experience under your belt--that should make growing your garden so much easier and more successful!

    And, I agree, outside is the best place to be with the kids. It was finally dry, so I got to take mine out and they had so much fun playing...and I got some gardening done! It was a big win-win. My son even helped move woodchips :D.

    And, yes, I am on the west coast. I'm south of the boarder from BC, but the climate and trees are very similar down here. I love it! (My husband isn't so fond of the rain, as he grew up in the desert, but the rain doesn't bother me a bit :D)

    What age level do you teach? Before I had kids, I worked with 1-5 year olds, and before that I taught elementary. Teaching is a big passion of mine!

     
    steward
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    Location: Anjou ,France
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    French beans can be fun with yellow or purple seed pods
    Purple sprouting broccoli for next spring
    Cherry tomatoes although frankly the chance of them making it as far as the table is remote :-)
    Have you thought of each of the kids having there own tree ? Apple pear etc there are threads some where on that sub ject here abouts

    David
     
    Adèle Maisonneuve
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    I teach mostly grades 3, 5, and 6. I think education might be why in such an early childhood development geek

    I love the tree idea, but unfortunately due to space restrictions and underground utilities, I think  the most we could do is replace one of our ornamental trees with a small cherry or plum, but that isn't in the budget this year. I have done something similar in the past, though. When my niece Rose was born, I bought my sister a rose bush to plant on her acreage and I plan on buying my brother and his fiancee a tree of their choice as a wedding present, since their land used to be a field and is currently treeless. I think a tree or a bush is a beautiful way to celebrate the start of something that you are looking forward to watching grow strong.
     
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