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Tuesday
Apr032012

{Conscious Harvest} Growing Together: Gardening with Children

by Angela Price 

Children have a natural affinity for fully experiencing the outdoors with all their senses. They seem instinctually drawn to puddles left by the rain. Blades of grass or sticks become musical instruments. Little hands quickly seek out mud or bugs, and little bodies love to roll down grassy hills. Seeing the outdoor world through the eyes of a child is a truly magical experience, and encouraging and teaching children to participate in the garden is enriching for both kids and family. 

Let me share my personal story of gardening as a child. I truly believe that my decision to become a garden designer was inspired by the wonderful memories I have playing in the garden with my dad.  I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles where food came from the market.  Except for oranges.  Everyone had an orange tree or a lemon tree in his or her yard. They were the last vestiges of the acres of citrus farms that once blanketed LA. I was always surprised to be playing in a friend’s backyard and come across a plum tree or a patch of strawberries. The fruit seemed almost too exotic to eat – strawberries usually came in little green plastic baskets covered in cellophane.

When I was 9 years old, my family moved to a new house.  It had a flat backyard with lots of grass and rosebushes and the requisite orange tree. But if you went to the way back of the yard, there it was: the remnants of an old vegetable garden. It was almost like some ancient ruin we had discovered.  Neglected beds were lined with used bricks and filled with a cornucopia of weeds.  However, even among the weeds, edibles struggled to survive, most notably a fig tree and a huge artichoke plant. Talk about exotic! My dad, who was an avid weekend gardener, decided we should put in a proper vegetable garden.  It was a family project.  Between my mom, dad, my younger brother and I, we drew out a garden plan, cleared the weeds, tilled the soil and planted seeds: radishes, squash, onions, corn, beans. Everyday I ran to the back to check on ‘my crops’ to see if anything had sprouted. My brother and I watered and checked, weeded and checked; and the garden grew!  We picked spicy red radishes, ate peas off the vines and let some of the zucchini grow huge (my own kids call these overgrown squash ‘zuchinnizillas’). I remember how amazing it felt to have grown food that my mom would cook.  I still feel that way when I let my kids pick the first of the harvest or collect the eggs from our backyard chickens.  Some veggies, like those peas, still never make it inside, but are eaten sweet and crunchy straight from the vine.

Mike Scott, owner of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms in Eagle Rock, CA, experiments with urban homesteading with his wife and daughter. He also has a lot of experience working with and teaching school children and Scout groups about planting vegetable gardens. What advice would he give parents who want to start a garden with their kids? “I would tell parents to start small. Make sure to start your garden with seed so that a child can see the entire transformation. Get a book on garden insects and make sure to point out the beneficial insects to your child and make sure that they know to protect them. I’ve come across some children that like to capture and sometimes kill bugs such as earthworms, ladybugs, and bees. Make sure to explain to them why they are needed in a garden and that they should protect them. You might want to try new recipes and ways of preparing the fruits of your labor with your child.”

Gardening, raising backyard chickens and even having a compost bin can help families learn and experience together where food comes from. Children learn from growing things. By caring for plants, gardening teaches responsibility. Children come to understand and love the natural world as a giving place. Gardening also teaches children about the life cycle of plants, and it develops self-confidence from achieving the goal of growing one’s own food. Plus, it’s loads of fun and great exercise!

 

Some tips and advice when gardening with children:

 

Keep it simple. 

Give children a small space of their own.  A small raised bed or even a container can make a child’s garden. Even very young children can participate by digging a hole or watering.

 

Keep it fun.

Grow fun flowers like sunflowers and guess how tall they’ll get. Paint the outside of a planter in bright colors. Make a scarecrow. Have children decorate a sign that designates the garden as theirs.

 

Keep it easy.

Plant easy to grow vegetables like radishes, squash, beans and tomatoes.  Nasturtiums are fun flowers to grow from seed, and you can eat the flowers. Look for pint sized garden tools and accessories like gloves. Stores like Target usually carry children’s garden gear or check out the Montessori site For Small Hands, which specializes in real tools for kids (http://www.forsmallhands.com/yard-garden).

 

Keep it green.

Only use organic potting soil and fertilizers. Better yet, consider starting a compost bin. Many cities have compost bin giveaways or you can buy one from a garden center or make one yourself. Have kids help collect and toss veggie/fruit scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, dead leaves lawn clippings and chicken poop (if you or a friend has a backyard flock) into the composter. Follow the instructions for your composter and in a few weeks, you’ll start to have nutrient dense compost with which to feed your plants.  Let It Rot, The Gardener’s Guide to Composting by Stu Campbell is a fun and easy to read resource on how to compost successfully.

 

Keep it Safe.

Always supervise children in the garden, especially young ones. Teach kids that should never eat plants unless you have given approval. Watch young children around watering cans, buckets and water features. Always wear a hat and sunscreen and drink lots of water to stay hydrated even on cloudy days. Consider gardening in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is not so strong it’s better for you and the plants).

 

Gardening is a fun, safe and educational activity for families. Create some memories and skills together that will last a lifetime. It’s spring! Get your family off the couch, put on a hat and some sunscreen, grab a trowel and get growing together! 

Angela Price is a recovering human resources executive, urban farmer, hen keeper and owner of Eden Condensed, small space garden design.  She lives in Valley Village, CA with her (very) tolerant husband, two amazing boys, four cats and 5 chickens.  Angela can be reached at angela@edencondensed.com

 


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