Winter Gardening for Kids (of All Ages)

January Gardener’s Notebook
by Joshua Burman Thayer


Got some mopey kids who are fed up with the rain? Bundle them up and get them started on a project that guarantees both delight and valuable insight.

If you have a garden space or raised bed with bare soil, you can take full advantage of growing some winter cover crops throughout our wet-cool Northern California season. The following cool-season crops are sown directly into the ground as seeds, and since kids love planting and observing seeds as they sprout, you have a ready-made daily activity that will keep kids engaged well into spring.

Why cover crops? It’s because they help protect the soil from compaction and erosion through the rainy season. But furthermore, they create organic matter that you will turn into the ground in the spring for garden fertility.

Note: As you cultivate your garden soil to prepare it for seeds, amend with one half bag of fin-ished compost per 8-foot x 4-foot garden plot, worked into the top 2 inches of soil.

Fava beans: Here’s a wondrous source of home-grown protein for people and green compost for your garden. Plant the beans 1 inch deep spaced 1 foot apart and watch them grow sky high!

Snap peas: Kids love the sugary taste of peas. Plant the peas 1 inch deep spaced 3-6 inches apart and watch them climb. Don’t plant peas too close together. Plant short varieties like Sugar Ann, Cascadia and Sugar Daddy.

Chard: You can enjoy monthly harvests through April of these yummy greens if you cut them when they reach 4-6 inches tall and allow them to re-sprout. Get seeds for red or rainbow chard to enjoy their glorious colors in your garden.

Radish: This is one of my favorite winter crops because they sprout and quickly grow. Scratch a line in the dirt ½-inch deep and ½-inch wide, then sprinkle the radish seeds in that line 3-4 inches apart and 1/2 inch deep. Expect a bountiful harvest in only 3 to 6 weeks! If you don’t prefer the spicy flavor of raw radishes, you can boil them as a healthy alternative to potatoes.

Arugula: This favored salad green is easy to grow in the gaps between the other crops men-tioned above. After seeding the others, simply broadcast your arugula seeds in the empty spots of your garden bed. You can cut and re-cut your arugula monthly as described with chard above.

Evergreen Edible Edges
Here are some bonus ideas for your garden planning and planting. Add these plants near your veggies to bolster your garden diversity and provide winter nectar for bees: Mint (Mentha spp.)( beware mint can be very invasive), rosemary (Salvia rosemarinus), and oregano (Origanum vul-gare) all help dissuade rodents and provide blooms in winter! Nopal cactus (Opuntia ficus indica) makes a showy perimeter fence with pads and fruits that are edible.

Happy Gardening!

To Learn more about Food Forests and Permaculture Landscape Design, visit Joshua Burman Thayer at:, 510.332.2809