Does your family love all things pasta? Do you need to spend more time together? Well, as Winter slowly crawls towards Spring now is the time to start thinking about your Italian garden. And it’s easy to get the whole family involved! Get outside and enjoy nature all together while growing yummy food for your very own Italian dishes.
Have each family member pick out their favorite ingredient for them to focus on growing start to finish. This makes it fun and a lot more personal. Kids love poking seeds into the dirt, pulling up weeds, and just making dirt their best friend. Adults and older kids can delegate tasks, and check up on the plants. Try keeping a journal or chart and keep track of your plants’ growth! Now, different gardening zones will better support different plants and different start times, so be sure to check your zone!
If you are starting from seeds, it’s good to get a start on growing them now. Gather the family and come up with a list of things that you would normally put in Italian dishes. Plan for a couple of tomato plants, onions, garlic and maybe even peppers. Don’t forget your herbs like basil, oregano, parsley, bay leaves and chives. If you have enough space, time, and money why not go all out and plant an olive tree? Grape vines are also a hardy option for a lot of climates. Even if you don’t get grapes, the leaves can be used for seasoning!
Starter trays are an easy way to get your seeds going. Make sure each is labeled so you know which plant is started in which pod of dirt. Place a few tomato seeds in each pod. As they grow weed out the weakest plant. This goes for peppers as well. Garlic can be started from a single clove of organic garlic. It’s a bit different in that it is frost tolerant. In northern regions, it’s actually best to start garlic in the fall before the first freeze, but warmer regions should go ahead and plant outdoors in February or March.
Keep the clear plastic lid on the seedling tray and leave near a sunny window or under a grow light. Make sure they don’t get too cold and do not over water the seedlings. As the weather turns warmer you can place your seedlings outside for a little bit each day to get them used to the outdoors. Once herbs get growing, they tend to really take off, so they may be ready to move outdoors faster than your veggies. You also have the option of keeping the herbs indoors in a little window garden. That way they are always on hand for your latest recipe.
Once the plants are big enough and have been slowly acclimated to the outdoors, it’s time to plant them out in their garden plots! Study how much sun each plant needs and find the perfect spot for each variety. Different plants like different soil types as well. This may sound daunting but most have fairly similar preferences. Just add or subtract the amount of fertilizer and drainage you have for each area according to preference.
- Tomatoes should be planted 24-36 inches apart in partial sun. They may need tomato cages to reach their full growth potential and love well-drained soil to prevent root rot. It is great to keep mulch around tomato plants.
- Onions can be planted in rows 12-18 inches apart with 4-5 inches between each plant. They love full sun!
- Garlic can be planted 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep. Keep the papery shell on the clove and push down the wider root end and keep the point upward.
- Peppers are much like tomatoes and love well-drained soil, though it is nice to plant two seedlings together. The extra leaves from two plants better protect the peppers from the sun. Plant these 18-24 inches apart and spread mulch around them.
- If starting from seed, herbs can be fully planted when they are 1-3 inches tall. Give 12-18 inches between plants if possible for the best health of the plants. They can all be fitted together a bit tighter into a big pot or window box and do okay. It is certainly nice to keep them all together in one spot.
Once the plants that do flower start to do so, get a small paintbrush like the ones that come in kids’ watercolors and gently brush the center each flower on a plant. This is helping you plants pollinate! The more variety of pollen the plants have, the more fruit they will produce! This is especially great for tomatoes and can yield huge crops. If you have two tomato plants, go back and forth between the plants for a better pollen variety.
Keep it Fun
Gardening can be fun for everyone! Kids can have their very own plant to take care of start to finish. Older kids can help keep track of how things are growing, watering schedules, and fertilizing. Everyone can help make signs to label each plant and decorate the space. The whole point is to have fun and enjoy your own little piece of the outdoors. Create your very own outdoor Italian Garden Villa!
Different plants have different growth rates. Differences in climate, soil, and seed may all determine how long each plant takes to grow.
- Onions actually do fairly well in the colder weather, so may end up being ready first. You’ll know the onions are ready to harvest when the tops start to yellow. Stomp them down carefully, then gently loosen the soil around the onions and turn them up. Let them dry out exposed to the air. Once the tops are brown, they are ready.
- Garlic is ready when the tops start to yellow and fall over, like the onions. Again, loosen the soil around each bulb and cease watering them. Once they have started to dry out and the papery shell is no longer fragile, gently dig them up, brush off the excess soil, and store in a shady area. You can also hang bunches together to air out and cure, so long as there is good air circulation around each bulb.
- Luckily with tomatoes and peppers, you can see when they are ready to harvest. The fruits should pull away from the plant fairly easily and be the appropriate color. It is better to pick a little too early than too late. They can continue to ripen a small amount off the plant, but if they go bad while still on the plant, it can speed up the rot on the other fruits.
- Herbs can get quite big and since you are using the leaves, you can pull off what you need at just about any time. Keep them trimmed enough that they do not flower and you can enjoy your herbs all season, or even longer if they are indoors!
Teach kids patience of waiting to pick the food until the right time. Teach them what to look for and how to test if they are ready! Once they are, you can be sure everyone will be excited to harvest their very own veggies and herbs. Don’t begrudge a stolen tomato or two right from the garden, they are delicious!
Once you have a good harvest from your Italian garden, everything can be combined into your favorite pasta sauce recipe! If kids raised their own plants, have them add what they harvested. Often, you’ll get a whole lot of tomatoes at once, so a sauce is a great way to go with the excess fruit. Blend your fresh herbs in and enjoy their wonderful fragrance. There is nothing better than enjoying a meal that you literally grew from the ground up. Meals always taste better when they are home grown and made!
|Want to stay in the know? I’d really love that! (((HUGS)))|
|Like … on Facebook | Follow … on Pinterest | Follow … on Instagram | Follow … on Twitter|