Gardening with children
When you think about it, children are natural gardeners. Kids are curious. Kids like to handle insects. Kids are natural explorers. Kids are full of energy and most of them love to get dirty.
Directing these natural tendencies towards growing plants develops the satisfaction of caring for something over time and promotes self esteem as their gardening efforts yield good results. Exploring the workings of nature teaches environmental awareness and provides first hand observation of the circle of life. And there’s nothing like gardening to teach patience and delayed gratification. Memories of gardening with the family stay with children all of their lives.
To get your child started, use plants that are easy to grow, have a short growing season and are fun to harvest. Plant a few seeds in an area dedicated for a children’s garden. When you eat some of the harvest, make it a special dinner. Recognition of efforts goes a long way in promoting interest and self esteem. And be sure to show the garden off to visitors!
So, what to plant then? Try some of our recommendations, bearing in mind that some plants prefer hot summer conditions and others require cool winter and early spring weather.
Hot summer conditions
Sunflowers: Every child’s garden should have sunflowers and now is the time to plant them. Most sunflowers take a lot of room and a very sunny location. Sunflowers will sprout in a week, become a small seedling in two weeks, and be two feet tall in a month. Birds will be attracted to the seeds in the middle of the large blossom. There are some newer dwarf varieties along with those fifteen-foot-tall county fair winners so read the information on the seed package to find out what to expect.
Beans: When you grow pole beans, you will realize that and grows faster or is more exciting for kids to grow. There are magical varieties available with various colored blossoms followed by purple, red, striped, spotted and yes, green pods. You will need to provide a fence or other strong structure for pole beans. Bush beans sprout and grow just as quickly and don’t need a support. They just don’t get so amazingly tall.
Pumpkins: are a must for a children’s garden! The seeds will sprout in about a week. If you have room, plant seeds in a small hill; poke three holes in the hill and put one seed in each hole. Once there are three pumpkins on the vine, pick any new blossoms so that the plant will focus its energy on those pumpkins instead of producing many small ones. There are many varieties of pumpkins, so read the information on the seed package.
Tomatoes: If you don’t already have tomato seedlings started, buy plants now. Cherry tomatoes are a natural for kids since they produce early and in plentiful amounts. Provide some support and plant in a sunny location. If tomatoes are in a pot near an entry to the house, kids can eat them as they come and go and grownups will be lucky to get any at all!
Strawberries: Choose ever- bearing plants and plant in full sun. Birds, raccoons and other critters enjoy strawberries too, so plant them in a container where it’s easier to protect them with netting so there will be some for your family to eat.
Cool winter & early spring conditions
Lettuce: It’s best to grow lettuce in cooler weather since it goes to seed and becomes bitter in the heat. There are a few varieties that are a bit more heat tolerant. Seeds may be planted in the late summer for a fall and winter crop or in early spring for a spring to early summer crop. Lettuce seeds are quick to sprout and grow and it is one of the few vegetables that like a little shade. Harvest individual leaves from the base of the plant so that it will continue to produce for you.
There are many varieties in beautiful color ranges. Children will find it hard to resist red, chartreuse or spotted lettuce in their salads!
Peas: Prefer cool, slightly shady spots. It works well to start seeds September-October or February-March. Peas germinate in about ten days and may be ready to harvest in about two months. Climbing peas will need trellising; dwarf plants will be fine without support. Some peas have edible pods, others are meant to be shelled … both are fun for kids to pick and eat out of hand.
Do take the time to introduce your child to gardening. Few things are more satisfying for the whole family than planting, picking and eating. Learning that plants grow when you water them and die when you don’t, will be a lesson well learned.
n For children ages four to eight, with responsible adult.
n Today, 10:00 a.m. to noon.
n Master Gardeners Demo Garden, 1036 W. Main, NID grounds in Grass Valley.
n Bring sack lunches, if you like.
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