We’re currently going through what we call “winter” here in Central Florida. The temperature actually dropped below freezing for a few hours the other night! I know, don’t hate. So, what’s the natural response to freezing temperatures in January? Planning to start a homeschool vegetable garden of course!
A Little History
First and foremost, understand that neither Nancy nor I are gardeners. At all. Not even close. If you’re a landscape plant and you see either of us walking towards you at the garden center, give up all hope. With everything else on our plates, the yard gets just enough attention to keep it alive and to make the neighbors happy enough to keep the peace. So, naturally, starting a vegetable garden is the logical next step, right?
To be fair, I was raised by gardeners so I’m not completely a novice. Every year that I can remember Mom would have a wonderful back garden growing full of vegetables. A tradition handed down to her by her father. Later my own father joined in, more so on the landscaping side, but weekends were spent working their property into a beautiful blend of rural farm and suburban oasis. So, this effort starts not so much from a position of ignorance as much as a lack of recent experience.
A quick walk into our neglected backyard revealed a spot that seemed natural to designate as our future homeschool vegetable garden:
One of the major challenges we’ll face with our garden is sunlight. Even though we live in the so-called Sunshine State, we also live on land with huge pine trees along its southern edge. Shade and invasive roots will be issues.
Major challenge number two will be our local critter population. As charming as it is to have our families of deer, raccoons, rabbits, and even the occasional bobcat calling our neighborhood home, we’ll need to be realistic about how much of the garden will be turned into their own personal salad bar.
And, of course, time is always an issue. I would love to be able to spend hours tending the garden, mowing the lawn, manicuring landscape plantings, and making our home the suburban oasis of my dreams. It simply isn’t going to happen. We’re a busy family and this garden will only be able to get a limited amount of our precious time so it needs to be simple.
It’s Really about Education
Ultimately, this homeschool vegetable garden really is an excuse to get some fresh air and to create an educational opportunity for our homeschooled daughter. Bridget and I have experimented a bit with growing things from seed as part of her science curriculum. Bridget was keen to grow sunflowers a few years ago but they kept getting munched on by the deer. She was a good sport about it. She enjoys the deer stopping by as much as anyone. We did manage to grow a few herbs that made it into a bowl of pasta last year, so we’re learning and that’s what counts!
Getting Bridget involved in the process early and often will be key. She may even eat some of the carrots if we can manage to grow a few. A solid curriculum about the growth cycle, parts of a plant, cells, the water cycle, even some study of the bugs and other living things that will make our homeschool vegetable garden their home should make for a rich semester or two of instruction.
So, where to start?
The idea is to keep things simple. I plan to open up a base area of just 50 square feet, mix in some organic matter, plant some of nature’s most bullet-proof crops, and see what we can get. Advice from Mom is to go with some tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, onions, peppers, and some greens. It all sounds good, but it also sounds like exactly what those critters I talked about will love too so we’ll see.
I’ve got some seed catalogs ordered and we still have at least a month before we are frost free around these parts so there’s still some time to think and plan our homeschool vegetable garden. If you’re a gardener I’d certainly love to hear from you! What would you suggest we do given our space and skill limitations? Any favorite beginner plants and varieties you can suggest? Tips for keeping our critters away from the garden? We can use all of the advice we can get!
I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated with more posts as we go. Wish us luck!