Andrea Rodriguez found gardening inspiration in an inexpensive greenhouse that covers the ground space of a two-person tent.
Fortunately, her three daughters bought into her idea that they grow edibles together.
Rodriguez is an interior designer who owns MAR Designs PLC with her architect husband. She fondly remembers growing up in the former Czechoslovakia and spending time with her mother in gardens and fields.
Last fall she bought the plastic-covered, four-shelf greenhouse for $50 at Big Lots as a way to create similar memories with her children.
“Mostly it was for my kids to have a different hobby to do,” says Rodriguez, who’s lived in Tucson for 20 years.
She spent $50 on seeds, soil and containers to get started.
Rodriguez and her stepdaughter, Erica, 15, dug out a backyard garden plot and added bricks for a walkway. They then assembled the greenhouse over the plot.
Alexandra, 5, and Angelika, 20 months, joined in to plant seeds.
Today the greenhouse is filled with herb, carrot, lettuce, cucumber, squash, onion and watermelon plants. And the girls still help out.
With a few months of family gardening under her belt, Rodriguez has several suggestions on how to successfully get kids involved.
Give everyone space. Each girl has a shelf on which she could grow plants that she sowed in her own pots and starter trays. The youngest ones can easily reach their pots on the lowest shelves.
Rodriguez claimed the ground, where she rolled out seed mats as well as sowed seeds and planted seedlings.
Let them do what they want. Erica really took to the project. She dug and planted. She labeled pots with the names of the plants they hold and days to harvest. She waters whenever she’s at the family’s central Tucson home.
Alexandra planted vegetable seeds, but her focus is elsewhere. “I planted these flowers,” she says, pointing to the wildflowers that rim the outside of the greenhouse. She loves to water them with her kid-sized frog-face watering can.
Little Angelika used her finger to make holes in the dirt for the seeds. “She was a mess with all the dirt around her hands and face, but it was worth it to see her little effort,” Rodriguez says.
She and husband, Mariano, fill in the girls’ efforts. That includes watering, transplanting, harvesting and building plant stands.
Make it fun. Music wafted outside on planting day. Erica danced. Everyone “hopped around,” Rodriguez recalls. “It wasn’t a chore; it was fun.”
Erica, an eighth-grader at Legacy Traditional School, likes that the project has become a family affair.
“It makes me feel happy (that) we get to work together and bond more,” she says.