Obviously it is colder in Alaska than it is in the lower 48. When trying to start a garden this coolness plainly hinders the planting process. I have read that in some places it’s not safe to plant until today, June 1st. However, I have also read that if the birch tree buds are opening, then you are good to go!
When growing in Alaska, many people, us included start their plants indoors. If you wait to be certain the last freezes have passed before starting your seeds outdoors, then you will start too late. However, if you are starting your plants indoors to later move them outside you must go through the “hardening off” process. Hardening off is a new term to me. It essentially means slowly introducing your plants to the outdoors so as not to shock them when they are being moved from the safety of the indoors to the harsh sunlight and wind of the outdoors. This process takes around a week.
Before I go any further, let me state that I am no expert in gardening, in Alaska or anywhere else. I grew up with a father who loved farming. He was what I would refer to as a “hobby farmer”. I grew up on five acres of land, we also had a few acres in town. Sometimes my dad would plant corn or wheat on this land. In addition, we had about 150 acres out in rural Missouri. My father would also plant there. The most I was ever involved with his planting was the small garden we would have in our backyard that my dad mainly took care of.
Despite the cold climate most of the year, the Mat-Su Valley, less than an hour drive from Anchorage is an amazing place for farmers. Back in the 1930’s, during the Great Depression the United States government relocated over two-hundred families from the lower 48 to the Mat-Su Valley with the purpose to settle and farm the area. With the combination of fertile soil (supplied from all the glaciers) and 19+ hours of daylight during the summer months, the farmers were amazingly successful!
The well-known mammoth Alaskan vegetables are grown in the Mat-Su Valley. I have wittiness them first hand at the Alaska State Fair. Each fall you can find record setting vegetables displayed at the fairgrounds. You might even see a 138-pound cabbage, 18-pound carrot, 63-pound celery, 82-pound rutabaga, or a 39-pound turnip as they have in the past!
I grew up knowing how to plant and plow. We picked pumpkins and watermelons. I ran between corn and got lost in sunflower fields. However, I have never had a green thumb. Yet, I still endeavor to grow a garden each year. I hope that at very least, I will be able to pass my father’s love of the land onto my children. With Jasper, at very least I know I have instilled a love of farms. He is obsessed with them! He also loves dirt. Digging in dirt. Rolling in dirt. Attempting to eat dirt when my back is turned…
In addition, I do feel that there is much to be learned from gardening with your children. Children can be involved with gardening in so many ways! While planting, Jasper helps me to dig, plant the seeds and water them! When the plants are further along Jasper will help me weed and prune them. When the fruits and vegetables are ripe, he will assist me in harvesting them!
Gardening is predisposed to offer many opportunities for children to learn. Children of all ages are able to practice fine motor skills. In addition, gardening offers great sensory stimulation. Not only does the soil offer this, but the water needed for gardening lets children explore further with their hands. These textures and smells offer many opportunities for preschoolers (and children of any age) to absorb the world around them. Then, when the plants are harvested children get to examine them with their sense of taste!
A garden in essentially a giant science experiment. Children can explore with the amounts of water given to the plants. They are able to observe how too much and too little sunlight effect the plants. Children can even experiment with different soil types. In addition, older children can practice literacy skills by reading the names of the plants and following the directions on the seed packets.
Right after we moved into our new house in September we had an incident in which Jasper got into a forgotten open paint can. Within the 15 seconds between Jasper finding the paint can and us finding Jasper, he managed to grab the stirring stick that was resting inside the can and fling paint over a fourth of our newly painted kitchen, part of the hallway and the one side of our fireplace. We scrubbed the floors and fireplace, and we had to repaint parts of the kitchen. I thank my lucky stars that our couch hadn’t been moved upstairs yet. The only real casualties of this accident were the clothes that Jasper was wearing. There is no getting that kind of paint out of cloth. Jasper has since grow out of the shoes he wore that day. However, the sweater and jeans are now used for any projects I deem too messy for normal wear. This is one of those projects.
My husband mixed up the concrete. Then he lined the mold with wax paper before pouring the concrete into it. This wax paper allows you to easily lift the dry stepping stone from the mold. Together he and Jasper decorated the stepping stone. Jasper wanted to push all the stones deep into the concrete. However, by the end he got the hang of just setting them on top. We let the mixture harden for the suggested amount of time, then it hung out in the window over our kitchen sink until it was warm enough outside to actually work on the garden. I would like to think that the two of them would make a new stepping stone each year and we could continue to add them to our garden. We will see!
Gardening obviously isn’t just for fruits and vegetables! In our front yard we planted flowers and pretty shrubs around the house, and filled the flower boxes! Jasper loves to pick flowers and smell them. We are working on him understanding the difference between picking a dandelion and picking a flower someone has planted in their yard or garden. He’s getting there…
Jasper painted all of one plate yellow. Then, with my direction he made dots with his fingers all over the circular middle part of the second plate. We allowed the paint to dry, then I cut the yellow part into pedals and the center into a circle. I finished by gluing them it all together. Jasper is a bit young for scissors and glue. However, older children would enjoy doing this part of the project and could work of their fine motor skills by doing so.
We never do a whole lot for Mother’s or Father’s day. However, I do like to send gifts to the grandparents when we have the chance. This year Jasper had a ton of fun painting flower pots for his grandmothers and myself. Once he was done freestyle painting the pot, we let it dry. Then I helped him put hand prints on the front of each pot. Later I wrote, “Happy Mother’s Day” on the one for me, and “Happy Mother’s Day, Grandma” on the ones meant for Jasper’s Grandmas. When we visited back home (Southern Illinois) in mid-May, Jasper was able to help one of his Grandmother’s plant in her garden! As always, he loved digging in the dirt!
Have I mentioned before that I LOVE sensory bins? Well I do. There is so much you can do with them. Jasper can just go out in the garden to dig in dirt any time he wants and I don’t really want a to bring bunch of dirt into my house on purpose, so I used pinto beans in the place of dirt. Then I added some gardening tools and fake flowers. Jasper enjoyed pouring the beans from pot to pot and scooping them up with the tools!
I also think the dough invitations are a great way to explore different themes. This gardening dough invitation was fun to put together! Jasper and I cut out flowers with cookie cutters. Then we explored patterns with the seeds, leaves and fake flowers!
As always, we have to read some books about gardening. There are lots of great children’s books regarding this subject. However, I really want to LOVE a book before a recommend it. The following three books are children’s book about gardens that Jasper and I LOVE to read!
Category: alaska, Preschool Projects, Uncategorized Tags: alaska, alaska state fair, books, childrens books, cold, cookie cutter, dad, digging, dirt, dough invitation, experiment, exploring, fair, farm, flower, flower pot, fun, garden, gardening, hardening off, hobby farmer, june, learning, mat-su valley, mud, painting, paper plate, paper plate craft, plants, playdough, preschool, Preschool Projects, sensory exploration, sensorybin, state fair, stepping stone, vegetables