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Getting kids hooked on gardening.

Kids and gardens are a terrific match! If it's all about discovery and adventure, it is sure to be successful. You can begin planning now for next year's garden. Remember that it's always safe to begin with a sure thing. Start your garden with some instant (well, not really instant) gratification by planting vegetables that grow fast, like radishes. But not just any radishes! Easter Egg radishes in pink, red, purple and white. Lettuces grow quickly, but don't settle for just green when you can grow Red Fire, Firecracker, or Galactic (see Johnny's Selected Seeds) or spicy mesclun mixes.

After they feel like they (and you) have accomplished something, you can start growing filings that take more time. Purple podded green beans (that turn green when you cook them) and multi-colored carrots (red, yellow, white and of course, orange)--there is nothing more exciting for a kid than to pull a carrot out of the ground! Think tall and big--sunflowers and pumpkins fit the bill. If a kid can just pop it in their mouth (maybe after rubbing it off on a shirt) like cherry tomatoes, then that's a big plus. Kids like things that have strong smells and soft textures. Herbs are great for the smells and tastes and gourds have the softest leaves (and you can make birdhouses with them). Digging for potatoes is like digging for buried treasure, and potatoes come in some amazing colors and shapes too.

Kids enjoy melons of all sorts, but they require some extra care (but sooo worth it!). Planting berries is a wonderful activity, but you usually have to wait until the next year for the results of your efforts, which makes it a lesson in patience and persistence. There are many u-pick farms in the area, and going on a berry picking expedition in late summer could provide needed inspiration (and free advice from the farmer!). Think how proud your child would be to make her own jam!

Something very important to keep in mind--the child should do the bulk of the work and not just watch. So they plant all the seeds in a foot that should have planted a whole row?! It's a great lesson when they see it come up and yon can talk about it. It's good to keep a tidy garden, but kids enjoy wild space, too, especially if it gets overgrown with pretty and rambunctious morning glory. And you may have a whole activity planned and your kid gets interested in something else ... forget your agenda and follow the interest! Kids get really excited about worms and bugs, so taking time to explore the insect mid critter activity in the garden is a must.

Kids appreciate garden structures, like a bean teepee, where they can have secret hideaways. There are ideas for structures in books--Making Bentwood Trellises, Arbors, Gates and Fences by Jim Long, Green Wood for the Garden by Alan & Gill Bridgewater, and Sunflower Houses by Sharon Lovejoy to name a few. Plants good for tall garden structures are Scarlet Runner beans, morning glories, moonflowers, hyacinth bean, and trailing nasturtiums. There is a children's book, moonflower, written by the Wild Gardener, Peter Loewer, an Asheville native, that you must read if you plant moonflowers.

We can't forget flowers, as children are such visual creatures. Gardening with your child is a good opportunity to plant edible flowers! Children think it's a scream to eat flowers and there are many choices--calendula, dianthus (sweet William), hyacinth beans, bee balm, nasturtium, scarlet runner beans, stock, violas, and pansies. Zinnias, while not edible, are too gaudy and happy looking to exclude from the garden and they make good cut flowers and are easy to grow.

Gardening can be a wonderful family activity. If you're not exactly sure how to begin, there's probably an older family member or neighbor that would love to show you. Most children today are one generation removed from agriculture and it's a great way to connect children with their elders. They can gain a whole new perspective of grandma or grandpa. Another wonderful children's book, Two Old Potatoes and Me by John Coy, tells the story of a small child that finds a sprouty and yucky old potato and starts to throw it away. Dad thinks they could do something with it but isn't exactly sure what, so they call granddad to find out. The book gives step-by-step instructions (in story language) on how to plant and care for potato plants. Coy even includes a recipe for mashed potatoes at the end. There are MANY good children's books that speak to the wonder of gardens--Scarecrow by Cynthia Rylant, How Groundhog's Garden Grew by Lynne Cherry, And the Good Brown Earth by Kathy Henderson, and Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert. There are many more to discover and a good list can be found at Enjoy, have fun, be patient and many wonderful discoveries await you and your child!

Rules and tips for gardening with children

* Children should always hold tools below the waist.

* Use flour to mark the rows or spaces where you want children to plant.

* Encourage your child to taste the fruits and vegetables.

* Let the child be in charge of a certain plant or patch.

* Mark everything you plant when you plant it (and let your child to it!)

* Look at colorful seed catalogs together when planning your garden.

* Use your imagination.

* Limit the weeding time so it's not all work.

* Allow the garden to be a trouble-free space: no mistakes, only opportunities!

Emily Jackson, Growing Minds Project Director for the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. She can be contacted at 236-1282 or
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Title Annotation:garden magic
Author:Jackson, Emily
Publication:New Life Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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