Guess what! Spring is finally rearing her beautiful little face. We have seeds started, we’ve got our gardening gear ready, and we’ve got big plans this year.
Our family uses a variation of Square Foot Gardening. Even though I’m not a fan of measuring and calculating, I like knowing that our raised garden beds are maximizing their space. If you follow me on Instagram then you know that one of my favorite things about gardening is involving my kids. I was pretty stoked when I saw that they have a sequel to the book that’s just for the kiddos: Square Foot Gardening with Kids.
This book = great if your kids are hands on learners.
With permission I was allowed to offer y’all a sneak book into Mel’s new book. Check it out and let me know, what are your favorite ways to include kids in the garden?
By Mel Bartholomew
Making Your own SFG Box
For most kids, building their own SFG box is the point when the garden physically takes shape. They see up close where all their plants will live and grow. And by building their own box, they learn a little something about independence and achievement. Of course, a lot of kids are just going to be excited because they get to work with tools and build something!
Building your SFG box is a great opportunity to teach kids about using power tools [or any other tools] safely.
Start the great big SFG box adventure with the materials the child will use to build the box. And, wow, there are a lot of possibilities. They are all possibilities for learning as well. The SFG box can be built out of just about any material as long as it meets certain restrictions.
First and most important: the material cannot contain anything that might contaminate the soil and get into the plants growing there. That means paint or preservatives used to treat wood, or oil-based paints on metal or bricks are no-nos. Even though you can use many different materials, most people choose wood for good reasons. Wood is a natural, replaceable material, it’s easy to work with, easy to find, inexpensive, and looks good too. But the kids should have some ideas about what they want to use, and it’s a good chance to discuss building materials.
Start with what an SFG box must be. We want our box to be:
- 3 feet x 3 feet.
- 6 inches deep.
- Portable, if we want to move it later.
- Nice to look at.
So with all that in mind, let’s ask a few questions about what might be the best material for our SFG boxes.
- Why is wood a good choice for the SFG box?
- What other materials could we use?
- What about glass? Could you use glass for the box?
Why or why not?
- What about metals? What different types of metals are there? Which would be best for a box and why?
- Where would we find those metals? What would be some of the challenges in using metals?
- What about bricks or concrete blocks? What would be good or bad about using bricks or concrete blocks?
Let them discuss all the pros and cons about what to use to build their boxes, but generally, wood is going to work best. So the instructions that follow are geared to using wood for a child’s box.
- We only work with tools when an adult is there to supervise.
- Children and adults always wear the appropriate safety gear: safety glasses, a dust mask, gloves, and work clothes [including shoes with enclosed toes].
- Only use tools that are in good condition. No splitting or rotting tool handles, drills with frayed cords, or other poorly maintained tools. Always check that your tools are in proper working order before using them.
- No working with people who are tired or cranky! You can always come back and do the project after naptime or tomorrow [that includes parents too!].
Putting the Box Together
Now that your child has gathered the materials he or she will need, it’s time to get organized and get building that SFG box. If you’re like most parents and teachers, you’ve discovered that kids love nothing better than to work with tools, just like a grown up. So this part of the SFG process is especially fun for the little ones. The engineer in me likes it because it shows children how things go together. If you have ever seen an adult mess up the simple instructions for assembling a bookcase or a kitchen table, you know how important this life skill can be! Let’s get started with a few safety rules to make sure this is a happy experience for everyone.
Setting Up a Work Site
Set up your work site as close as possible to where your child’s SFG box will ultimately go. The best place is a flat level surface with lots of room to move around. With children, it’s always a good idea to make an actual staging area. This can be a driveway, a tarp laid out on the grass, or even a large piece of plywood or cardboard. The idea is to keep tools and materials in one place while you work, because sometimes in all the excitement of building something, youngsters can misplace tools. We wouldn’t want Dad losing his favorite screwdriver, would we? Collect all the materials you’ll need for the project and organize them in the staging area.
For the wood box we’ll be building, you’ll need the following:
- 4 boards, 3 feet long x 6 inches wide (should be I or
- 2 inches thick)
- 4 pieces of lath, 3 feet long
- A pencil
- Cordless drill and bits
- 12 deck screws
- I roll of landscape fabric (see if you can buy a piece just 3 feet long at a garden center, or a pre-fab SFG box kit usually comes with the weed fabric and grid)
How to build your own Box
Actually building the box is simple once you’ve collected all the proper tools and materials.
- Have the child stack the four boards, one on top of the other. Now help them hold one board perpendicular, on its edge, at the end of the stack. This board is used to mark the overlap width. Mark the width of the board along the ends of each of the other boards.
- With the boards stacked up and aligned, pull each one out in order and drill three pilot holes for screws, spaced evenly from edge to edge. If you are using 1x wood stock [actual thickness is ¾, draw a reference line 3/8ths” from the end of the board to help align your screw holes. For 2x stock [actual thickness 1 ½ “] draw the center reference lines ¾ ” in from the ends. Drill three or four pilot holes at each corner. For standard deck screws, use a drill bit that’s about 1/16 diameter.
- Hold or clamp the boards together, overlapping each successive corner. Drive deck screws into the predrilled holes until the screw heads are just slightly below the surface of the wood.