- Written by Kerrie McLoughlin; photo: PhotoXpress.com
I’ll never forget the first time I picked a beautiful, ripe, red tomato that I helped grow. I had watered and weeded the plant with love, and I was so proud of that tomato. And, because I wasn’t interested in gardening when I was a kid, this memorable gardening experience happened the summer I turned 40!
This made me determined to share the joy of gardening with my own kids. I’m already learning that gardening alongside your kids provides valuable opportunities for them to learn, to get some exercise and fresh air, and to spend some time connecting with you. Check out these tips and ideas for gardening success, as well as a few reasons why gardening is one cool hobby.
‘Green’ is in right now, and there’s nothing greener than growing your own food. Composting is another fun, green aspect of gardening because kids get to toss ‘trash’ into the garden (eggshells, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable shavings and rinds, etc.). Toss the ‘trash’ from Halloween (leftover pumpkins and gourds) and see what happens next year. You can make the entire garden a compost pile in the off season, and if you like, you can leave a section for composting year-round.
Appropriate tools. Make sure you have kid-size tools available for your budding gardener to keep them interested. For Small Hands (www.forsmallhands.com) offers child-size gardening tools like gloves, shovels, watering cans, kneeling pads, small buckets for weeds, small aprons and totes for tools and more.
Responsibility. Consider planting most of the plot as a Family Garden, but save one entire section for your child’s own garden and make your child responsible for it. If they don’t fall in love with gardening, make the watering of and weed pulling in the entire garden chores they get a small allowance for. And be sure to relax your own standards. For instance, who cares if the rows are not planted perfectly?
Decorate plant markers with the kids. Make stepping stones using a kit. We have lattice screen my husband cut to make a short fence to keep animals out of the garden, and the kids can paint it their own way. These are all ways to help your child make the garden their own.
Education (aka - don’t tell the kids they are learning stuff). How much will it cost to buy enough tomato plants to fill half of our space? How many feet by how many feet is our garden, and how many different things can I plant in it? Could we plant an ABC garden if we have room for 26 small plants?
Nourishment. Have a garden-to-table pizza party where the toppings come from your own garden. Learn how to can your goodies at freshpreserving.com so you can save them for another day, and give some as holiday gifts. Can fruits and vegetables as-is or doctor them up (salsa, pie filling, jam and so much more!). Sometimes you might end up with so much ripe bounty that you need to find people to share with.
Insects. Which bugs are bad (Japanese beetles), and which are beneficial? Which plants attract butterflies (hint: wild plants)? Buy some ladybugs and let them loose and see how long they stay to eat up aphids. Head to www.kidsgardening.org, search ‘insects’ and have fun reading about different insects and the work they do.
No space? Try square foot gardening (www.squarefootgardening.org), which is a great system for beginners that saves time, work, water and money. You can start as small as 1’ X 1’ and grow from there by adding more feet as you are ready. It’s on a raised-bed system, so weeds are kept to a minimum and you can even bring in your small garden if a frost is on the horizon. Or think up by growing pole beans or gourds so you can plant more stuff below. Grow herbs in a pot inside. And if you have no backyard, community gardens are all the rage these days. Visit www.calhort.org/communitygardening to locate one near you or learn how to start one.
Get the kids involved. Take them along to pick out seeds at the garden store or spend an afternoon poring over a seed catalogue before making final decisions on what to plant. Their faces will light up when they get to pick green beans for dinner or grab some mint for their lemonade. Soft lamb’s ear, fragrant lavender and basil make a great addition to a fruit and veggie garden.
‘Fresh from the Garden’ Pizza Sauce
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 cup grated onion
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. minced garlic
3 cups peeled and seeded fresh tomatoes
1/4 tsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Heat butter in medium saucepan until melted, then add oregano, onion and salt. Cook two minutes, then add garlic. Cook one minute, then add tomatoes and sugar and simmer for about 20 minutes until it reduces. If you like a less chunky sauce, run the tomatoes through the blender before adding them to the saucepan. Stir often. When the sauce is thickened, take it off the burner and stir in the basil and olive oil.
Kerrie is the mom of five budding gardeners. Check out their progress at www.thekerrieshow.com.