Saturday, December 17, 2005

Help Your Child Plan a Veggie Garden

Children love to grow things. They also love to play in the dirt. Why not help them to develop a hobby and lifelong joy by working with them to grow their own gardens?

The first step will be to get your child on board. You can explain all of the wonderful qualities of growing a garden. Make it something a child will care about - you can get dirty anytime you are working in the garden. You also should include more adult reasons, too, however. Tell your child about replenishing the earth and that he or she will be helping the family by providing vegetables or will be making something that is beautiful if a flower garden is on the agenda.

Next, you should include your child in all of the decisions. While you are the parent and should make any final decisions, let your child in on them along the way. What does he or she want to plant? Why? If it is something that is possible, go for it. If not, explain why. Also allow your child to pick out her or his basic gardening gear - a small shovel, gloves, and a couple of buckets. It will make the experience more fun to get some new stuff for the hobby.

When you are planning what you will plant, think about the senses. Even vegetable gardens can be appealing to the eyes because of the wide array of colors. Do not leave out smell and touch, though. Think about trying some mint or something with unique leaves. Your child will want to have fun in the garden and by planting a few things that he or she can smell or touch, you will make gardening more rewarding.

Another consideration is to plant something that your child can eat right off the vine. If you are planting veggies, then you can try some tomatoes or other easy off-the-vine foods. If you will be planting herbs, think about some of the mints or others that you can pick and eat. Research edible flowers, too, and you may find something that will grow in your climate zone.

Plan to allow your child to work on the garden alone. While you will, of course, need to supervise, particularly in the beginning of your gardening adventure, you should give your child the opportunity to do most of the work him or herself. You will need to remind your child that the garden needs tending. Remember that while gardening may be fun, you should use the opportunity to teach responsibility as well. You can work with your child on a gardening schedule or let her or him know that walking the garden daily to tend to problems is an excellent way to ensure a good crop.

You can educate your child on a number of subjects while you are gardening. You can talk about math - such as, "if we have three row of tomatoes with four plants per row, how many tomato plants will we have?" You also can use the time to talk about the agricultural past or people who still may not get enough food in today's world. Then, of course, there is the general gardening knowledge your child will need to learn, from harvesting times to weather patterns. A garden is a wonderful educational tool for a child.

Finally, do not pick plants that are prone to die easily. Some plants are simple. You can grow them with little daily attendance and even if you do not give them the right amount of water and other care. Others, though, will not survive. Your child will be devastated is her or his first experience gardening yields more dead plants than live ones. It may just convince her or him that gardening is not such a fun hobby. Be sure to check for the hardiness of any plants you decide to grow.

Be sure that you make the experience a fun one. Do not be overbearing even if you think your child is making a mistake. Carefully explain why he or she should do X or Y, but do not lord over the gardening. Allow your child to have fun, and you could be starting a lifelong love.

By Julia Mercer

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