By Christina VanGinkel
Letting kids design and plant their very own garden is a great way to get them interested in more than just digging in the dirt. A garden can help diminish their reluctance to eat many of the vegetables that they have had no interest in whatsoever. While this will not work for all kids, it will for many. By giving them the opportunity to choose which vegetables to grow, in either their own garden or at least their own space within the family's bigger garden, they gain control over what they will eventually eat. Bargain with them for the opportunity to attempt to grow anything they want. In return for growing it, they have to only agree to at least try whatever it produces. For reluctant eaters of anything that is from the vegetable family at all, this is a great way for them to at the least, try some new foods. Tell them that they can share whatever else they produce with neighbors and friends, or have them call a local senior center or shelter that serves meals and ask if they would accept the extras. This will also teach your kids that a garden can be bountiful, but it never has to go to waste!
Try to make the idea of gardening as attractive as you can if any of your goals include getting kids to garden long term. Set down with them, provide them with a journal, and go over the complete planning process from where to put the garden, to what they will plant in it, to what care beyond the basics may be required. Kids like simple, so keep that in mind. Provide them with a calendar too, showing them an approximate time of when the garden should start to produce. Kids are visual creatures and they like things in a form such as a calendar, which they can refer to when it seems like the garden may be doing nothing at all. Be prepared to get out there with your kids too. If you leave all the work to them, they may become frustrated. If they request that you leave the upkeep to them though, do.
If you live in an area where garden pests such as deer and raccoon can be a problem, get the kids involved in rectifying those problems too. It will add another dimension to this activity called gardening and provide them with other things to focus on besides when the first green sprouts will appear, or the first bud of a real, live vegetable. If a fence is to be erected, even the smallest kids can be involved with digging the holes to place the posts, and stapling chicken wire in place.
If wire fencing is not an option, or something you would rather not tackle, help them look up plants that will naturally help to keep the pests out of the garden, and act as natural deterrents. Then help them plant a perimeter around the garden of several of these natural deterrents. Several species work well for deterring animals, including deer and rabbits, two of a garden's most destructive visitors.
Kids are also easily excited by other pest control options. In addition, their fascination with the garden in general can be increased by letting them build, and erect some of these tried and true pest control techniques, such as the icon commonly thought of as a permanent resident of numerous gardens everywhere, a scarecrow! Get them to nail the frame together, with a parent's help if they are on the young side, and then dress it in some of their very own outgrown clothes. Other interesting ways for kids to accomplish keeping their plantings safe from deer and even smaller subjects such as rabbits, include hanging a perimeter of empty milk jugs, or other items that will blow in the breeze. Shiny strips of plastic work great too.
If they really take to the task of gardening, be sure to provide both inspiration and as much or as little help along the way, as they would like. Like adults, some kids like the solitary aspect of gardening, while others will be looking for the social aspect of a parent next to them as they weed and harvest the fruits of all their labor!