Getting Kids Into Gardening, Part II: Create a Pizza Garden
Pizza making with home grown produce
Gardening can be an invaluable tool for helping children explore all kinds of things — from chemistry to botany, healthy eating to interactions within a natural system. It also promotes a connection with the earth and an understanding of where food comes from and what is involved in producing it.
Kids love to eat what they have grown, so why not combine that with another kid’s favourite — pizza! Let your children try growing all of their favourite veggie pizza toppings.
Step 1 — decisions, decisions
The first thing they need to decide is what they want to grow. Have them brainstorm all of the veggies they think they might like on a pizza.
Some of the veggies they might like to consider are: tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, onions, garlic, capsicum, chili peppers, mushrooms (these are a little different to grow, so do some research — you can also buy mushroom growing kits), spring onion, basil and oregano.
Delicious pizza veggies!
Once you have an assortment of suggestions, whittle it down to what you think you can realistically grow. What do you have the time and energy for? What will grow well in your location — think about climate and soil type and pH. (See step three if you want to find out about your soil.)
Step 2 — location, location, location!
Planning your pizza garden in detail comes next.
Where will you plant your garden? Talk with your children about what might affect this decision, such as:
- Where does the sun and shade fall throughout the day — and the year?
- Which areas are subject to wind and where is there more shelter?
- What other plants are already in situ, which may have different water or soil type needs than your veggies, or have other effects on them?
- Is there easy access to water, such as a tap or an irrigation system?
- Does your garden have any other features such as walls, fences, trellises, etc., that might be useful for your garden?
- What veggies should you plant near each other and which should be separated? Do a bit of research into companion planting for some ideas.
A rather fun way to lay out your pizza garden is in the shape of a pizza, with each wedge containing a different plant.
Step 3 — soil testing and preparation
This step adds a bit of hands-on exploration for the kids — and yourself — but could be skipped if you wish, although carrying it out gives you a better idea of what you are dealing with.
Two soil tests I suggest you carry out are a simple soil composition test and a pH test.
Simple Soil Composition Test
Get a large glass jar and half fill with water.
Dig soil from the top 15cms of your soil and place into the jar.
Shake the contents well and then place the jar somewhere it won’t be moved, and let it settle for several hours, or overnight.
Because different types of material will settle at different levels, once the contents have settled you will be able to see how much of the material is organic matter, fine particles (clay and silt), larger particles (sand), small stones, etc. Plants thrive on organic matter, so if there is not a substantial amount, it’s time to get some compost into it! You can also add other organic nutrients and soil microbes if you are concerned there’s not much life in your soil, but a good dose of compost will do wonders for correcting these issues.
[Editor’s note: you can use the chart on this page to determine your soil type after doing the shake test described above. Also, a couple of drops of detergent added to the water prior to shaking can help separate the respective soil particles.]
Simple soil composition test
Soil pH Test
For this, you will need to either buy a pH test kit, or have some fun experimenting with creating your own pH indicator liquid from red cabbage. There are lots of recipes on the internet for making this.
Once you have your indicator, dig down to about a depth of 15cm, where a lot of the root feeding takes place. Scoop some soil out from that depth. Add some indicator liquid to the soil and observe what happens. With a test kit, you will also get a little colour chart that tells you what the results mean. With a red cabbage indicator, acid will turn red and alkaline will turn yellowish green. The degree of the colour indicates the strength of either acidity or alkalinity.
If you discover your soil pH is unsuited to growing your veggies, you do have options. The pH can be corrected, if it isn’t too severe, by adding compost and sulphur to lower alkalinity, and compost and lime to lower acidity. So, you can see that compost is basically a miracle ingredient for your garden, in lots of ways! In fact, I would say, regardless of what your tests show… add compost! And add more compost!
Another great thing about compost is that it breaks down slowly, so its effect is extended, while lime and sulphur will need replenishing more frequently.
If your soil pH is extreme in the opposite direction of what you need, then it is advisable to either grow your veggies in pots with the right kind of soil, or to create raised garden beds with lined bases to prevent leaching. Just adding a layer of different soil to your garden will only work for a short time, as natural leaching will occur, and you will be back to square one.
Step 4 — planting
Now comes the hands-in-the-earth fun! Buy your seeds or seedlings and plant them according to your plan. Teach your children how to plant them for best results, referring to the instructions on the pack/punnet.
Herbs do great in pots, so you could try some in both the ground and pots, which you could keep near your back door for easy access at any time.
Herb pot near the kitchen wall
If the veggies you are planting require significantly different growing times before they will be ready for harvest, space out the planting to allow for this so that you will have your pizza ingredients ready to harvest at much the same time.
Discuss the care of your new garden with your children, and who will be responsible for what. Impress on them the importance of carrying out their part, or the garden could die, and all of their work will be for nothing.
Step 5 — it’s pizza party time!
Once your veggies are ready to harvest, why not invite some friends over to celebrate the abundance of your pizza garden. Let your friends help carefully harvest enough veggies for the pizzas and then let them make their own pizzas, with toppings of their choice. Enjoy!
Don’t forget, as you go through each of these steps with your children, talk to them about the important elements of what they are doing, such as the value and importance of learning to grow our own food, the compost process, beneficial creatures, companion planting, what permaculture gardening means, and the pure joy and beauty a garden can bring.
Instill in them an understanding, and a love of, nature and all its connections and interactions. It is by truly immersing themselves in the amazing elements of the natural world that a generation of planetary caretakers, rather than global plunderers, will evolve… and the garden is a great place to start!