Kids + the garden = One fabulous home-grown lesson in horticulture
I’m the first to admit: as a kid, I was not all that helpful in the garden. By not all that helpful, I mean that my Dad and I spent a legendary afternoon (or, perhaps, a legendary 20 minutes, depending on who tells the story) when I “helped” pick beans at the community garden plot he cultivated when I was in middle and high school. My pre-teen attitude ensured I was never invited back to the garden again.
But I wish I’d spent more time, as a kid, learning about the ins and outs of gardening. All those weird bugs? The magic of sticking a dried pea in the ground and getting a whole vine out of it? Those sorts of things bring out my inner kid when I'm gardening, even as an adult. What better way to learn about horticulture and food science than through dirty hands?
There was one aspect of gardening that I locked in on with great facility from a very young age, and that is the miracle of the sun-warmed cherry tomato right off the vine. (This should come as very little surprise to anyone familiar with my tomato obsession.) My grandmother used to grow them alongside her Baltimore house, and before dinner, it was often my job to go pick cherry tomatoes for salad. Of course, if I’d been out playing in the sprinkler in the yard that afternoon, I often harvested the tomatoes, um, early. As snack. It became v. awkward, then, when I had to explain why there would be no tomatoes for salad.
(By the way, “But they tasted so good,” is not an excellent excuse when one is trying to explain one’s rationale for eating all the ripe tomatoes before anyone else could get to them.)
Even though school is less than a month away in some parts of the U.S., there’s still plenty of time to involve your kids in some gardening action. And with fast-growing, cooler weather vegetables like radishes and lettuce, it’s even possible to plant with your kids into the beginning of the school year…or longer, depending on your zone and climate.
Marie Iannotti, a long-time garden blogger at About.com, talks about how gardening can teach kids patience, a lesson I know I could have learned as a kid! She links from that post to her terrific list of ways to help engage kids in gardening.
Brenda Emmett offers a bevy of ideas for helping kids use the garden as a place to play. From ideas for toys that engage the imagination to a list of suggested vegetables, fruits and flowers that are super-kid-friendly, her post includes some great resources.
Speaking of kid-friendly vegetables, Polly of Your Organic Gardening Blog suggests Royal Burgundy beans, a variety that offers kids a color surprise. "This bean is absolutely gorgeous!" she says. "Violet-purple outside and bright
green inside. It is fun for kids to grow and has a great flavor." And Susan Reimer, garden blogger for The Baltimore Sun, has some quick ideas for vegetables and fruits to try with your kids.
This past spring, Kimberly of Rose Red and Lavender taught a group of 20 kids about gardening basics. She outlines her curriculum, which sounds like just the kind of overview I could have used when I started gardening...but definitely didn't get.
Have you involved your kids in gardening? Share your tips and stories in the comments below.