Garden Projects for Kids

You can expose children to gardening even if you don’t have much space. Your space doesn’t actually need to be outdoors. A sunny window or corner on the front porch can be just enough sun to light up young eyes to the magic of growing. While plants themselves are pretty great, you can jazz it up a bit with simple recycled or common household items. These garden projects for kids will help YOU help your child learn more about gardening while upcycling some common household materials.

Repurposed Recycling

My own child’s pretty into gardens…. for about 5 minutes. He is mostly concerned with planting seeds in the soil. Beyond that, he likes to harvest veggies and to water everything with the hose. That is all wonderful, but I want him to learn patience and observational skills, both important life lessons easily taught through gardening. Sometimes a cutesy craft is all it takes to pique his interest.

I made this cartoony plant drip tray with an empty (and very clean) milk jug. I used a sharp knife and my “expert carving skills” to surprise him with this around Easter time. This one doesn’t have any drainage; we’re using it as a drip tray. If you want to use it as a planter, go ahead and put a drainage hole in the bottom. These work great some planting small herbs, annual flowers or even lettuces. Just some potting soil, a few seeds, and you have an easy classroom project. I’ve seen people line these up on patios or use them to decorate a raised garden bed with “animal friends”.

Some other great upcycle-able items that make great planters include big yogurt containers, small yogurt containers (for starting seeds), and old rubbermaid type totes. Make sure to add drainage to them. If you’re placing these on a patio, the tote lids make great drip trays for plants or even for compost systems like worm bins or tumblers. (You don’t want to stain your pavers!)

This may be the most functional upcycled project I have ever seen. You can easily start seeds or root cuttings from other plants in here, including herbs, sweet potatoes, and houseplants. Many people put cuttings in a little glass of water to root; that works for some plants but not all of them. Rooting in water also develops “water roots” which aren’t as strong as “soil roots” Your plant will be more likely to survive if you root it in soil. This example uses a 2-liter bottle – it’ll offer the most root space, but not necessary. Any plastic bottle will do just fine.

Peek-at-a-Plant Projects (pictures coming soon!!!)

Help make magic come to life by showing kids the hidden parts of the plant – the ROOTS! This is our favorite part. Get it? Living ROOTS Eco Design.

There are some really simple projects you can do to expose the roots of the plant.

This first one requires no special equipment. Bag-of-Beans just uses a sandwich sized Ziploc bag, a paper towel, a few dried beans from the grocery store, a tiny bit of water, masking tape and a window. Simply open the bag, insert a moistened paper towel folded into a “pocket” and a few bean seeds. Seal it up and tape it to a window. Watch to grow everyday. You could have your child draw and record their observations. Open the bag after several days and use it for hands-on science exploration.

This project could easily be upgrade to a mini-greenhouse. Just use moist potting mix instead of paper towel. You can use bean seeds or any other veggie seed. This is an easy compare and contrast activity. Because these plants were grown in soil, you can transfer them to a pot and see if they mature. You might get lucky if you’re carefully when transplanting them. PRO TIP: Open the bag with scissors on the sides to avoid damaging the roots.

You can also make your own Root Viewer from some recycled items you have at home. You’ll need a 1/2 gallon cardboard milk or juice carton, plastic spring mix (lettuce) box, tacky glue, duct tape and some potting mix. Cut the peaked lid off the carton, then thoroughly wash and dry the inside and outside. Follow the directions below, let the glue dry overnight, then fill with potting mix, water, and plant seeds or small plants!

Personal Gardens

Mine, mine, MINE….! We all know young kids like their own stuff. It gives them a sense of ownership. You can help them channel ownership into responsibility through gardening. If you have an outdoor area, these garden projects for kids might be a hit. A big flower pot full of herbs and child-safe plants offers a fun learning experience. You may even get to use some of the herbs. Maybe. The dinosaurs have eaten them all a few times in our “home jungle” and that’s okay.

If you have the space, a raised garden bed will hold a surprising amount of veggie plants. You can make them out of concrete blocks, wooden boards, or purchase one already made. A raised garden bed is usually open on the bottom. This allow plants to develop deeper roots than plants grown in containers. Learn more about container gardening in our self-paced online course.

This garden bed is a fairly inexpensive planter. It was about $50 and looks good enough for a front yard. It’s 2×3 feet – big enough to grow a few bigger plants like peppers or tomatoes and some herbs and lettuces or kale as well.

We drilled several holes in the bottom and the sides about an inch above the bottom of the kiddie pool. My child chose the plants he wanted to plant from a few seedlings that I had at home and some seeds he picked from the store. Notice the trucks and dinosaurs? They lived in the garden for a while.

We added some pine straw as mulch. This will help hold the moisture in and reduce the need for watering. The holes in the bottom will allow the extra water to drain out. Once the garden was mulched, he took out his toys – it was too difficult to play in there among the deeper mulch.

I will say that I made a mistake. I let HIM choose the plants from things I had purchased or started for my own bigger garden. It was easy at the time but his garden isn’t doing very well. No big deal – he’s proud of it and enjoys nurturing it. But, he’s missing out on the best part – the harvest. (Although his mint has really taken off!)

When we replant his garden for the fall I will:

  • Remove the mulch and set it aside.
  • Move out any salvageable plants that need more sun. (We located this garden in a fairly shady spot so he could play during the summer more comfortably.)
  • Amend the soil with some compost.
  • Pre-select a list of plants for him to choose from that are appropriate for the amount of sun and growing season and have shallow roots. For a fall garden in Florida, I will probably let him pick from little finger carrots, lettuce, radish, kale, and chard, nasturtiums, and herbs. I’ll stay away from tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers because they won’t thrive in this space.

Tori’s Family Food Forest

This banana circle was dug 4 feet across by about 3 feet deep and filled with compost. We recommended this immediately because there wasn’t a compost system in place yet, and it provided a way to dispose of some bushes and weeds that needed to be removed.

One of our favorite consulting jobs was Tori’s family food forest. They had just purchased their first home and dreamed of butterflies frolicking through gardens bursting with fresh food. There were a few mismatched shrubs in the backyard, but it was otherwise a blank canvas.

We started out with a Consultation. The whole family was involved – including their energetic dogs, hungry tortoise, and curious young daughter.

Outdoor time for their child was really important to them. We planned ahead to provide spaces that would inspire her to learn and play in the gardens.

During the Consultation, we noticed one side of the yard was really wet and there was a lot of sun – not ideal for a child’s play space in Florida.

“I felt like most of the information I had easy access to was geared towards someone outside of Florida before I spoke to Living Roots. Sustainable gardening can feel very daunting as well. I love the fact that you not only gave me a pretty darn comprehensive crash course in starting my own sustainable cycle, but that you also provided resources for me to deepen my understanding. You are patient with questions and non judgmental. I think anyone who works with you can see you truly care about imparting knowledge to help families live better.”

They wanted something that would produce a lot of food without too much work, and liked a slightly wild jungle-like appearance rather than a design with clean lines and defined borders, so we recommended a permaculture-inspired food forest with lots of Florida native plants for wildlife support.

When you consider the scope of a whole-yard permaculture project, it can seem daunting. There were safety concerns about “construction zones” with a child and the dogs. Tori was worried she’d get overwhelmed and never finish what she started. There was also the neighborhood association. The backyard could be “planted and permacultured” but the front yard needed to follow HOA guidelines. We helped break it down into small weekend-sized projects with a DIY Plan with clear directions and resource lists, and the reassurance that we were there for all of her questions.

How did we get from blank slate to bountiful food forest in less than two years? We dove in with both feet.

  • Planned the banana circle first so there was a space compost the existing landscape.
  • Private home composting session to teach them how to achieve thermal (hot) composting conditions and make a lot of compost really quickly. How do you think they grew such amazing tomatoes and peppers?
  • Guided shopping trip to a large tree and plant sale where we selected the best dwarf fruit trees for her space and taste preferences. (We were going anyway, and invited several clients to join in the fun!)

Bumps in the Road

We had our consultation and prepared the DIY Plan during the dry season. Once the rainy season rolled around, we discovered that the wet area in the yard was pretty swampy after several days of heavy rain. No surprise there – the area was a wetland before it was a neighborhood. Since we were following this project so closely, we were able to have a brief virtual consultation to find a resolution. To soak up the standing water and aid in its percolation into the ground, we planned a small rain garden complete with a cypress tree and some water-loving native flowering plants. The area is still soggy after rain, but there is no longer standing water. The plants in that space are happy, and there’s more of the original habitat to support local wildlife.

Worth the Money?

At several stages along the way, Tori reached out with questions – when can I plant this…. what’s the best variety of… will this flowering plant grow here…. We’re here to help with those questions.

“Working with Living Roots has certainly saved me money. There are plants I didn’t even know about like katuk that are now part of my daily diet. I understand a lot more about shade to help Florida plants thrive so that keeps more alive as well.”

What to Plant in August

When people tell you “nothing grows in Florida summers” don’t listen! There are so many delicious and easy-to-grow crops that you can enjoy this time of year, and it’s the perfect time to begin planning and planting for your fall Florida garden.

The key to any productive garden is a good foundation. Healthy soil will help your plants start out strong, be more resilient against pests, and handle fluctuations in irrigation better. This is especially important if rely on hand watering like us. It’s easy to skip a day, or go out of town for the weekend if you have healthy soil, rich with organic matter and compost, then topped with mulch. If you’re not composting at home already, we highly recommend you start. It’s easy! We have a self-paced class to get you started.

Beginning gardeners – there are some words that you may not be familiar with. Go down to the bottom of this page for a list of definitions. Check out my recorded class, Starting Your First Florida Garden, for more info about growing seasons and soil.

It’s easy to spend a lot of time and money getting a garden started. If you have tried in the past and it wasn’t very productive or it all died for some reason, you’ve wasted all that time and money. We offer virtual Gardening Coaching Sessions to you get started with your fall Florida garden on the right foot, or solve some problems that you may have encountered.

Keep in mind that these planting guidelines are the traditional cultivars. There are more heat-tolerant varieties of many plants that may survive and thrive during the summer too.

What to Plant Now

Annuals for your Fall Florida Garden

Plant seedlings – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and okra (seeds or seedlings).

Direct sow – heat-tolerant beans, bush beans, okra, scallion onions, summer and winter squash, pumpkins, cow peas

Central and South Florida gardeners – You can begin planting seeds for some of your cool weather crops towards the end of the month. We tend to wait until the beginning of September to plant our brassicas (kale, broccoli, collards) here in Pinellas County.

In North Florida, you can plant seedlings of your cool weather crops like your brassicas – kale, collards, cabbage, and cauliflower, carrots, celery, cucumbers and turnips. It is probably too late to plant pumpkins. But if you want to try it, look for smaller pumpkins that take less time to mature.

If you are growing sweet potatoes for the tasty edible leaves, you can plant them now but they won’t produce tubers of any decent size. Leave them in the ground and they will produce tubers next year.

Perennials

While we love our annual veggies, the perennials are like the trusty stand-bys in the garden. They are there year round, ready to harvest time and time again. In Central and South Florida you can usually plant these year round. In North Florida, you want to plant them during the spring, summer or fall. They will likely need winter protection.

Our favorites are longevity spinach, Okinawa spinach, cassava, chaya, katuk, moringa, tindora, pineapple and Surinam spinach.

Pro-tip: At the beginning of winter, or if you know it’s going to freeze hard, take cuttings of your perennial crops. That way, you will not loose your plants, even if the whole garden is decimated by night after night of hard freezes.

Herbs

Herbs – most herbs can be planted year round in Central Florida. Parsley, dill, cilantro struggle with our Florida heat. Mint can be fussy too. Other than that, most common herbs will grow for a long time.

Our trick to easy year-round herb gardening: If you struggle to keep herbs alive, try a sub-irrigated pot like an Earthbox. We have our kitchen herb garden in full sun from 1pm-sunset all summer in several Earthboxes right outside the back door and the herbs never even wilt. We recommend keeping them off concrete and away from a building or fence to avoid creating a heat-trap and further increasing the temperatures for your plants in the summer.

Garden Lingo

Annuals: Plants that grow for one growing season, or about one year.

Perennials: Plants that grow for more than one growing season, maybe for several years.

Direct Sow: Planting seeds in the ground where they will grow. This is often because plants have a delicate root system.

Planting seedlings or starts: Planting seeds in small containers or flats so you so transplant them to a larger pot or garden bed later. It is usually easier to control the conditions for delicate seeds to have a better chance of surviving.

Cocoplum Jam

Several years ago, I became fascinated with this landscape plant that I bought on a whim, red-tipped cocoplum (Chrysobalanus icaco). I didn’t really know much about it other than that it was a Florida native shrub with pretty leaves that produced fruit I could eat. After a while, it produced so much fruit, that I began researching recipes for cocoplum jam. They were honestly few and far between, with little detail about how to actually make it.

These cocoplums are plump and ready for jam. Pick this Florida native when there is no trace of white remaining.

I didn’t let that stop me, of course. I tried several recipes to make the perfect cocoplum jam, tweaking this or that to get the best texture and flavor. I believe I have perfected the recipe and the technique. The result is a rich dark burgundy jam that spreads thickly on toast. It’s also delicious on pancakes, Brie cheese, meat, or a charcuterie board. It adds a unique flavor, texture and color that will be sure to fascinate your dinner guests.

This is the pulp after it was separated from the seeds.
The pulp should form a thick liquid while it is cooking down.

Directions to Make Cocoplum Jam

  1. To start, you’ll need about 200 cocoplums. This may seem like a lot but it isn’t really. You can refrigerate or freeze them until you have enough if necessary. PRO TIP: If you don’t have enough cocoplums, add a few chopped apples. You’ll still get the cocoplum flavor.
  2. Wash the cocoplums and add them to a large pot. Cover with water and cook on medium with the lid off. I mash them periodically with a potato masher. After about an hour, the cocoplums will be soft. You’ll notice a good amount of the water has evaporated out too.
  3. Remove the cocoplums and set aside to cool. Pour the liquid into a measuring cup for later.
  4. This is the fun part. You’ll want to wash your hands well or even put on some gloves. Once the fruit has cooled, you need to remove the cooked pulp by hand. I just squeeze the pulp off and kind of fling it into a bowl – you’ll understand what I mean once you dig in. At first, I was diligent about getting it off my fingers but realized quickly that it was futile. You will have cocoplum pulp all over your hands. Set the seeds aside to roast.
  5. You should get about 2 cups of pulp from your 200 cocoplums. Return it to the pan, add 1.5 cups of liquid. If you have that much left from cooking, great. If you need more, add some water. Toss in 2 or 3 cinnamon sticks and cook on low for about 30 minutes. If you want to puree it with an immersion blender or food processor, do it at this point.
  6. Towards the end, add 1/4 cup of citrus juice. You can use lemon, sour orange, orange or lime. We used calamondin juice because that’s what we had ripe in the yard. Your house should start to smell like Christmas.
  7. Add 4 cups of sugar and stir it in well. We used organic cane sugar. At some point, fish the cinnamon sticks out. Continue to cook for about 10 minutes on low, then increase the heat to medium and stir frequently.
  8. If you are making syrup or are opposed to using gelatin, stop here, or use your own homemade pectin from apples for jam.
  9. To continue making jam, you’ll add one package Sure-gel (we like the liquid) and follow the directions on the package. Ours said to return to a rolling boil for one minute, remove it from the heat, and immediately jar it.
  10. If you are not going to water bath can it, you can use recycled jars and lids. It will be good in the refrigerator for a few months.
  11. For shelf stable jam or syrup, we followed water bath canning methods for fruit jams, using canning jars and new lids. To learn how to can using the water bath method, check out our online course, The Joy of Preserving Food at Home.
  12. This recipe yielded about 5 cups of cocoplum jam.

Ingredient List

  • 200 cocoplums
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks
  • Water to cover cocoplums
  • Up to 1.5 cups reserved liquid or water
  • 4 cups sugar
  • Sure-gel

Materials Needed

  • Large pot
  • Large measuring cup
  • Ladle
  • Jar funnel
  • Hot sterilized jars if water bath canning
  • Recycled jars if not canning
Your cocoplum jam should be thick and spreadable once it’s set.

To Roast the Seeds

The seeds are about the size of a pistachio and taste like a roasted almond. They are actually high in oil. So high that people used to string them together and light them like candles.

They can be eaten raw, but I think it’s fun to roast them after going through the trouble of removing the pulp. They are also way easier to open once they’ve been roasted.

Roast them at 375*F for about 30 minutes or until your desired level of done-ness. Check them every 5 minutes towards the end so they don’t burn. The resulting “nut” will be crunchy and rich.

You can add these to your jam, chop them to top desserts, or just eat them. Enjoy!!!

Preserving Zucchini

If you have more than one happy zucchini plant, you likely have a lot of fruit. Sharing is caring – but when your friends and neighbors start to back away before you can say “zucc-” you know they’ve had enough. Fortunately, there’s so many ways of preserving zucchini for later. Before long, you’ll have homegrown zucchini goodies to last the winter. Maybe next year, your friends will be the ones begging you for some zucchini instead of the other way around.

If you are interested in learning more about preserving zucchini and other food at home, check out our recorded class, available for purchase at this link The Joy of Preserving Food at Home.

Choose fresh, undamaged zucchini or summer squash to preserve. The small to medium sized are best to preserve. The skin is thinner, flesh firmer and there are fewer seeds. The giant ones are best shredded. You’ll probably want to scoop the mushy area with the seeds out of the bigger ones – it’ll have a smoother texture for baking.

Freezing Zucchini

Freezing is one of the easiest and most versatile ways of preserving zucchini. All you do is wash, slice, blanch, cool and package.

Blanching is the process of partially cooking your vegetables by immersing them in boiling water for a short time (water blanching) or in a hot steam bath (steam blanching), then dunking them into ice water. This cleans your vegetables, brightens their color, and stops enzymes from continuing to age the fruit, preserving the flavor and texture.

We prefer to water blanch our zucchini. It’s easier and better suited for a larger quantity being prepped at one time. The method in most recipe books and directions is typically water blanching unless it’s otherwise listed.

Step 1: Cut Up Your Zucchini

To prep for blanching, wash your squash then cut your zucchini into slices, chunks, thick strips or even halved to make stuffed zucchini boats. You can also spiralize or shred the zucchini. Shredded zucchini is perfect for those giant zucchinis you find hidden under a leaf. Use it in breads, soups, and stir fries.

To make chopped, sliced or halved zucchinis, trim off the ends then cut.

To shred the zucchini, use either a box grater or a food processor with a shredder attachment.

To spiralize the zucchini for “zoodles”, run it through a spiralizer.

Step 2: Blanching

Boil a large pot of water. While the water is boiling, immerse the zucchini in small batches for 3 minutes, then drop them immediately into an ice or cold water bath. Make sure the water stays cold. This will stop the cooking process and help preserve the texture of the zucchini a bit.

If you don’t blanch your shredded or spiralized zucchini, that’s okay. It’s better to skip blanching if you aren’t going to let it fully blanch. use it within 2 months.

Step 3: Freezing

You may want to spread out your blanching and cut zucchini on baking sheets in a single layer, freeze them, then package them in either vacuum sealed pouches, freezer bags, squeezing out all of the air, or freezer paper. We to prefer freeze our vegetables in meal sized servings, then wrap in doubled freezer paper taped shut with masking tape. We put several of these packages into a freezer bag to help organize the freezer a bit.

Don’t forget to label and date each package.

There are choices for packaging shredded or spiralized zucchini. My personal favorite is to use a 1 cup silicone cupcake pan. I fill each cup with the zucchini, cover it with a tiny bit of water so it doesn’t flake apart, then freeze the cups overnight. I just pop them out of the pan and into a freezer bag. They’re already pre-measured for baking and soups. You could also package them in pouches, freezer paper, or bags like the cubes.

If you’re using them for baking, thaw each zucchini cube in cheesecloth or a sifter before using it and press out the excess moisture.

Dehydrating Zucchini

Dehydrated zucchini is surprisingly good. It can be used to make low-carb chips or preserve it by dehydrating to use in cooking later. It’s easily re-hydrated in warm water or broth.

Before dehydrating, you may want to blanch your zucchini and squash. This is for food safety purposes as it kills bacteria. It stops the enzymes which causes a loss of flavor during storage, too. If you are dehydrating in your oven or dehydrator above 140*F, you are actually cooking your food while it dehydrates. You can steam blanch your vegetables if you want to preserve more nutrients. If you skip the blanching step, your vegetables may have a shorter shelf life and take longer to re-hydrate.

Follow steps 1 and 2 under Freezing Zucchini to blanch and prepare. You can also refer to the directions Preserving Food: Drying Fruits and Vegetables.

You can slice, cube or shred your zucchini for dehydrating. When they’re properly dried, they will be stiff and hard, so consider the size of your storage container’s opening when cutting them.

Zucchini Chips

My absolute favorite snack this spring was these zucchini chips. (Spring and fall are summer squash seasons in Florida.) You can mix up the herbs and spices according to your taste. I prefer olive oil, rosemary, and garlic salt.

Slice and blanch your zucchini, squeeze the excess water out and let the surface air dry on the racks. Spray or lightly brush a little oil on the tops of the zucchini -not too much or it’ll make a mess and they’ll be dripping with oil if you’re using it. Dehydrate about halfway, then remove the racks, add freshly chopped herbs and finish dehydrating. Sprinkle the finished chips with salt and any powdered herbs. They are so good!

Dehydrated Zucchini

Dehydrated zucchini can easily be re-hydrated and tossed into soups, stir fries and pasta dishes. We usually slice them then cut each slice into halved or quarters so they’ll easily fit into various jars for storage. It is actually our favorite method of food storage because it’s easier than canning and doesn’t require electricity like frozen food does. It’s lightweight for travelling too.

Follow the directions on your dehydrator for temperature and time. You should expect your dehydrated zucchini to be brittle when it’s done.

Wait until your squash fully cools before putting it in storage containers. If you are adding a desiccant pack (not needed if your storage is air tight in a climate controlled or cool area), be sure it’s food grade. We live in Florida and often use a desiccant pack for our larger containers just in case our power goes out. That humidity rises quickly indoors especially with our summer storms.

You can also shred the zucchini and spread it thinly on the racks. You might want to stir it a few times to prevent the pieces from sticking together during the dehydration process. Once it’s done, it’ll take up less space in jars, and be perfect to add to my favorite dehydrated vegetable soup mix or to re-hydrate for baking. If you are one to “hide” vegetables in your cooking for children, shredded zucchini is awesome!

Zucchini Pickles

If you like cucumber pickles, you will LOVE zucchini pickles. They have a slightly different texture but to be honest, we actually prefer them. You could simply substitute zucchini for cucumbers in your favorite recipe or try this Pickled Bread and Butter Zucchini recipe. We substituted our finely-chopped home-grown turmeric for the ground turmeric. They are so good.

Zucchini Relish

Just like pickles, zucchini and summer squash can take the place of cucumbers in relish. We follow a basic recipe for Summer Squash Relish. Sometimes we follow it exactly and sometimes we use a different spice combination. We like to add a finely diced pepper for a kick.