Want to make gardening a family project?

06/23/2014 12:00 AM

06/19/2014 5:06 PM

STRING BEAN HIDEAWAY

This vine-covered, child-sized hangout is made from garden stakes and twine.

Kids can help grow a leafy hut that even provides its own snacks — string beans!

1. You'll need 4 6-foot bamboo stakes and 15 4-foot stakes. Measure a square in your garden that’s a few inches shy of 4 feet on each side. At each corner, sink a 6-foot stake about a foot into the ground. To form the edges of the cube, attach 7 4-foot stakes horizontally to the 6-foot stakes with cable ties, a few inches from the top and bottom. Don’t place a stake across the bottom of the hideaway opening. Tie the remaining four pairs of 4-foot stakes at the center to make X’s. Attach the X’s with more cable ties to the top and three sides of the cube, as shown.

2. Create a scaffolding with jute twine. At 5-inch intervals, string twine from the bottom of a side, over the top, and down the other side, tying the twine wherever it crosses a stake. At the open side of the hut, tie the ends to the top crosspiece.

3. Purchase seeds for a pole (not bush) variety of bean; we grew Kentucky Wonder pole beans. Plant 2 seeds at the base of each string and at the corner posts; thin to one plant per spot after they sprout. As the vines grow, gently weave them into the scaffolding so that the house is evenly covered.

FAIRY-TALE GARDEN

Stage the Jack and the Beanstalk story in miniature in your own backyard (goose that lays golden eggs not included). To build the giant’s platform, start with a square of scrap wood (ours was an 18-inch square of plywood). Give it a coat of white outdoor acrylic paint, if you like.

Center the square over the end of a 6-foot garden stake and secure it with a screw. Carefully pound the stake into your garden, then sow several climbing bean seeds near the base (for best results, trade your family’s cow for them). As the vines grow, wrap the tendrils around the stake. When the plants reach the platform, place a “giant” on top, such as a large Hulk or Wreck-It Ralph action figure. Tuck a standard-size action figure in the vines to look like Jack climbing up.

A young Obi-Wan plays the role of our hapless Jack.

Or add the figures to the string bean hideaway in a way that tells the story.

VEGGIES ROCK!

Decorate stones to create row markers that look like your crops. First, collect rocks in shapes and sizes to match your crops: oblong ones for carrots, round ones for tomatoes, and so on. Wash and dry the rocks, paint them with outdoor acrylic paint, and let them dry. Add the vegetable names with a white paint marker.

STILL LIFE

Draw attention to extra-special blossoms with a set of mini frames that can be moved and relabeled as new blooms appear.

Start with a small, durable picture frame (ours is about 3 1 / 2 by 4 1 / 2 inches). With a 1 / 4-inch bit, drill a hole (an adult’s job) into the center of the bottom of the frame. Coat the end of a 1 / 4-inch wide, 18-inch long dowel with waterproof wood glue and insert it into the hole. Glue a small metal bookplate (ours is from Staples) onto the frame. Cut a plastic notebook cover into rectangles that fit the bookplate. Write your label with permanent marker, then slide it into place.

CUKE IN A BOTTLE

How’d that cucumber get in there?

Your kids will know the answer: they grew it!

You'll need to plant some cucumbers, preferably a slicing variety. With an awl or a craft knife, make several ventilation holes in a plastic bottle (an adult’s job). When the vines start to set fruit, select a small cucumber and slide the bottle over it. Keep the bottle shaded with leaves so that the cucumber doesn’t overheat. Check the bottle daily, and when your cucumber is nice and big, cut it from the vine.

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