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Gardening with children.

With less than three percent of the American population living on farms, it's not surprising that most children today associate food with the grocery store rather than the soil.

To help increase children's understanding of where food comes from, many parents and teachers are getting them involved in growing vegetables at home. Home gardening can be an enjoyable learning experience for children, especially if parents make a few adjustments to normal gardening procedures.

For example, children enjoy gardening on a scaled-down size, says Denise Sharp, a horticulture specialist at the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service, Maryland Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. A small plot is more satisfying than a large landscape - two feet by four feet for a preschooler and 10 feet by 15 feet for older children.

The plot should be well prepared, limed and fertilized by an adult or by the child with adult assistance. Soil preparation is heavy work and generally cannot be accomplished successfully by young children.

Lay the beds or rows out with small arms in mind. Children's garden beds, should not be more than two feet wide. Measure your own child's reach for a more accurate guide.

Involve your child in the process of deciding what vegetables to grow, taking into consideration the looks, taste and growth rates of your selections.

Plants that germinate quickly or are especially colorful are popular with young children. Radishes, lettuce, spinach and other greens for example, produce quick results in the spring.

Tomatoes, peppers and melons are slower growers that provide interest later in the season.

You can speed the production of slow growing, long-season vegetables, by starting with transplants rather than seeds. This reduces weeding and the time between planting and harvest.

Try growing some root crops. Children get a kick out of discovering a carrot, a potato or some peanuts under the ground.

After seeding or planting your chosen vegetables, mark the rows well. Young children enjoy using picture tags to indicate what is growing where.

If you have a very small yard, or no yard at all, don't despair. Some vegetables can be grown easily in containers.

To add to your child's educational experience, Sharp suggests constructing a special planter with three wooden sides and one side of plexiglass. This will allow a close-up view of developing plant roots and root crops. Since the plexiglass can heat plant roots and damage them, she recommends covering this side of the planter with Styrofoam or a piece of wood when not "root watching."

Children can continue to enjoy the fruits of their labor after the garden is harvested by helping to prepare and cook the vegetables they've grown for family meals or by giving them as gifts.

Photos, videos or a special garden book of notes, photos, empty seed packets and other gardening mementos will be a source of shared memories for you and your child for years to come.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Starting sweet potatoes the old-fashioned way.
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