If you dig it, they will come, but will they want to return? As a gardener, growing flowers pleases my eye, but growing vegetables provides a satisfaction from knowing that I am providing food for the table. That feeling is something that I want all children to experience at least once, so they can realize what goes into growing food.
Make It Easy
Make it easy? I know you are thinking that gardening is not always easy. If you want to pull the kids away from the TV, video games or whatever has their attention, you have to take some of the challenge out of growing vegetables. For example, when starting a new garden, the tilling, whether done by machine or with a spade, is tough work. The machine, in particular, is a one-person job and definitely not something for kids to do. Have the soil ready when you introduce the kids to gardening.
|Mature pea pods|
Peas are a good starter crop for children. Run the netting (or wire or whatever you use for vine support) for peas prior to bringing your child to the garden. When you bring your child to the garden plot, ask him what he thinks the netting is for. Your child will no doubt be skeptical about the ability of a tiny pea to reach such heights. NOTE: Rather than pre-stringing, you may choose to encircle your peas with chicken wire to cage them after they start to grow.
As your child watches, drag your hand trowel to create about a 1-inch deep trench the length of the pea planting section. Now it is time to drop in the seeds about 2 inches apart. Show him how he can use his clenched fist to equate the distance between dropped seeds. Give him as many seeds as you think he can hold in one hand. Show him how to drop the seeds into shallow trench that you have created. Follow with patting the dirt over the seeds. Lastly, have ready a partially filled watering pitcher (partially filled is lighter for small children to lift and pour). Show him how to water the seed as he counts one, two, three as the water sprinkles down on the seed to help him learn how much water newly planted seeds will need. Guide him down the row to add water to the whole row.
Make this row of peas his, as in, do not worry if some of the peas are too close together. Each morning, encourage him to check to see if the first sprout has shown. Assist him with periodic watering (unless you are using a different watering system). Keep him encouraged and share in his excitement when the seeds start to grow. In fact, you could show him how to track the plant growth on a calendar that can be saved to view the following planting season.
Build Up to More Challenging Garden Tasks
As your child grows, you can introduce her to more challenging tasks—and we are talking challenging to a child, not an adult. One way to do that is to include her in next year’s garden design. Depending on the child’s age, that might be limited to you having prepared a drawing of where you want to plant most of the vegetables you will be growing, leaving areas for peas and tomatoes in the garden design. Take your child to the garden plot and with your drawing in hand, explain to her what you will be planting and where. Then tell her you have two more vegetables to plant, peas and tomatoes, asking her to point out on the drawing where she thinks those should be planted. Of course, you have limited the selection to appropriate locations whether either vegetable will grow well, so it is a no-fail decision for the child. Still, she will be learning that decisions had to be made on what to grow and where to plant them. In addition, this year, have her plant both peas and tomatoes. Harvesting time should prove to be quite rewarding.
Increasingly challenging tasks to teach a child could include how to thin out plants, pinch back growth, recognize the good and bad garden bugs, or learning about composting. Weeding is something that most children will not come to enjoy; I know that from my own experience. However, you should show them how easy it is to pull the weeds.