The Essential Guide to Gardening With Kids In the East Bay - 510 Families
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The Essential Guide to Gardening With Kids In the East Bay

Affiliate links included below for convenience, along with local recommendations. Hours and processes will change as we emerge from Shelter in Place.
To be honest, my garden has never been so well-tended as it is now with all of us home together. I enjoy planning and planting a vegetable garden every spring. With shelter in place, my family and I have had some extra time to be diligent in picking weeds and carefully planning out our garden.

There are some special challenges this year: some of my favorite nurseries are closed or severely limited and where have all the seeds gone? We’ve opted to plant mostly seedlings this year, which is just as rewarding. Gardening in the afternoon is an activity my whole family is on board with this year.

Gardening Julia Gidwani 510Fam 1959
Inspecting budding tomato flowers | Photo: Julia Gidwani

Tips to start an East Bay garden with kids:

  1. Designate some garden real estate for kids, let them own the space. Try to find the sunniest spot, somewhere that gets 6+ hours of sunlight outdoors, or in a south-facing windowsill. Our yard allowed us to reuse an outgrown sandbox as a new raised planter bed. Maybe you have a wagon or busted wheelbarrow.
  2. Give kid helpers jobs and goals
    • Weeding: We like to have a contest to see who can get the longest weed with seeds in it. Sure a flower might get picked here or there, but we use those as our countertop bouquets.
    • Digging holes and planting: We use starters or seedlings, which are much easier than seeds and just as fun.
    • Reseeding lawns and sprinkling grass seeds.
    • Fertilizing: Using organic fertilizer is important because we can’t over-fertilize and it’s safer for little ones.
    • Watering: If you give your kids the hose, be prepared to be sprayed every now and then.
    • Composting: Kids can collect meal scraps each day for the compost bins.
    • Gathering earthworms: Collect worms for your outdoor garden or compost. Both my daughters love inspecting all the critters we come across.
    • Mulching: Good for any age — and relaxing, too.
  3. Germinate seeds indoors: Our seed germination activities are a functional science experiment to sprout hearty garden seedlings. Pro tip: use cardboard egg cartons for sprouting and transferring seedlings to an outdoor garden (here’s how).
  4. Find non-toxic pest control when little hands will be digging in treated yards and gardens. Check out these home remedies. We crush egg shells (with gloves on) around the base of our young plants to keep slugs at bay. Reflecting ribbons and a scarecrow also help to keep the birds and squirrels from eating our blueberries (for now).
  5. After everything is planted and weeded, I keep my kids engaged by decorating your garden with DIY gnomes and scarecrows (scarecrows are super easy to make with clothes my kids have outgrown and some sticks).
  6. Further reading and resources: Based in Berkeley, the Edible Schoolyard has designed a suite of lessons and activities to teach kids about growing food in the garden.
Weed seeds 510Fam Julia Gidwani
We like to have contests to see who can get the longest weed with seed intact | Photo: Julia Gidwani

Best things to plant in the East Bay during spring

I’ve had the most success with the following in Oakland’s zone 10a (a numeric gardening zone based on the average temperatures across the US). It’s fun to figure out what zone you live in and discover what might grow in your garden.

  • Lettuce: the easiest, edible and most rewarding because it grows quickly
  • Sunflowers: heat and drought tolerant, durable and wonderful to look at
  • Nasturtiums: this vibrant, edible flower can be for beauty or consumption
  • Peppers or chilies: thrive in 510 climate (think jalapeños and bell peppers)
  • Collard greens
  • Mint: can also be a natural deterrent for vermin
  • Basil & parsley: with fewer trips to the grocery store, herbs can add great flavor to meals
  • Rosemary & lavender: thrive in a pot or in the ground
  • Can’t find seeds or plants of what you’re looking for? Oakland mom, Carol, recommends trying a plant or seed exchange with a neighbor. Everyone wins!
Gardening Julia Gidwani 510Fam 1858
Time to transfer chive seedlings to the outdoor garden | Photo: Julia Gidwani

Tools suggestions for gardening with kids

  • Gloves: while tiny gloves are probably cute, I just let my daughter use my adult gloves, she doesn’t mind that they’re a little baggy. Besides they’re only worn 25% the time.
  • Buckets: for collecting weeds, mulching, fertilizing.
  • Shovel: My four year old uses a regular gardening hand-held trowel, my one-year old uses a plastic sand shovel.
  • Kid scissors: used like gardening shears, but safer.
  • Recycled containers for watering: my youngest daughter can stay busy walking water from a large bucket to the plants, with a smaller used yogurt container.
  • Books: though libraries are closed, there are a handful of excellent Bay Area specific gardening books. (I included a list of bookstores further down that have new and used local gardening books for social distancing sale.)
Gardening Julia Gidwani 510Fam 2074
My favorite Bay Area gardening hard copy books can be purchased used at local bookstores listed below | Photo: Julia Gidwani

East Bay Nurseries With Social Distancing Hours And Accommodations

Ultimately it’s going to be up to our local community and customers, to support local nurseries during SIP. Below is a round up of East Bay nurseries with social distancing measures, please list others you know of in the comments, too!

Books (remember those!)

Local bookstores that have new and used Bay Area gardening books. I’ve had success in calling to check inventory at all of the below. Plus the local bookstores could really use the business right now.

  • Walden Pond Books: 3316 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA 94610
  • Spectator Books:
    • Sunset Western Gardening Classic Guide, can special order Golden Gate Gardening
  • Walden Pond Books: used copy of Golden Gate Gardening, California Master Gardeners Handbook, if want store pickup, can order & online bookshop,
  • Half Price Books: 2036 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

Now time to get outside, grab your buckets and get a daily dose of dirt and sunshine!

Gardening Julia Gidwani 510Fam 2046
Our repurposed sandbox with a DIY scarecrow made from outgrown children’s clothes | Photo: Julia Gidwani

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2 thoughts on “The Essential Guide to Gardening With Kids In the East Bay”

  1. Spiral Gardens has weekend hours and they have a ton of vegetable seedlings right now! And they are an amazing nonprofit that everyone should support. 🙂

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