Planting Overwinter onions, garlic or shallots is a perfect activity for toddlers and preschoolers. We are just planting garlic this year. The cloves are chunky and easy for kids to hold and generally speaking they can survive most mishapscaused by tiny gardeners! Any bulbs you put down in Autumn will be ready in June or July.
Prepare Your Beds
Garlic, onions and shallots all like free-draining soil. As the bulbs will be in the soil until at least June you must take steps to prevent them becoming waterlogged. The kids helped me to drill drainage holes in the base of our planters.
Tip for kids: garlic isn’t all that exciting for children compared to food they can eat straight out of the patch. If you plant them in a vegetable bed be prepared to lose it for most of year…or at least until you can fill it with kale and brocolli! With this in mind, we planted ours into containers. Now our main beds are free for exciting (and immediately edible) snacks like peas and baby carrots!
Split the Bulbs
The next thing to do is to split the bulb into cloves. Garlic planting provides the perfect opportunity for sensory play. While Montessori and sensory bins often seem to go hand in hand the truth is, that sensory experiences should be grounded in real-life context rather than divorced from it and exaggerated.
Sense of touch: Children will enjoy peeling off the thin, crunchy paper and feeling the silky smooth skin underneath.
Sense of smell: garlic bulbs don’t smell unpleasant, just unusual!
Sense of taste: every child gives the garlic a little lick the first time they plant the bulbs!
Sense of hearing: children will automatically quieter down as they concentrate on the tricky task of peeling their bulbs. As they do their ears will prick up to the sound of the skin crinkling and there cloves snapping off the base. Being out the garden adds extra sensory input.
Fine-Motor: when preparing the bulbs the children will need to use delicacy and precision to remove the skins and split the cloves making this work perfect for activating their proprioception sense.
When they’re all separated have the kids check them for bruises or soft spots and discard any that don’t look right or which are too small.
Plant the Bulbs
And now you’re ready to plant them out! It’s very hard to get this wrong, just stick them in the ground with the pointy end up and poking out of the soil slightly. Keep them roughly 4-6 inches apart.
That’s almost it. While it’s not quite as simple as ignoring them until June it’s not much more complicated! Cover them with a fleece during the worst of the frost (or now if you’re likely to forget!) and keep an eye on the soil for signs of waterlogging.
Tip for kids: I try to keep photo evidence of what our plants looked like when we planted them to make it easier for the kids to remember.