Our Garden Club members are encouraged “to help grow gardeners”.
Children are natural gardeners, are curious, like to learn by doing, and love to play in the dirt. Gardening gives children a chance to learn an important life skill, one that is overlooked in standard school curriculum. A child can experience the satisfaction that comes from caring for something over time, while observing the cycle of life firsthand. It usually sparks children to ask questions like: Why do the plants need sun? How does the plant “drink” water? Why are worms good for the plants? These questions challenge adult mentors to think about their gardening practices, helping children learn gardening principles & environmental awareness by exploring the workings of nature. The concepts learned while gardening, like composting food scraps for fertilizer or using gathered rainwater, can show kids a deep respect and responsibility for taking care of our planet.
Children may be more interested in tasting and trying the foods they grow which will train their taste buds to enjoy the bounty of their garden. The self-esteem a child gets from eating a perfect tomato that he grew himself is priceless.
What to plant
Although there are many crops suitable for the young gardener, here are some suggestions which are relatively easy to grow, have short growing seasons and are fun to harvest.
A must for a child’s garden. Plant just a few, since they take a lot of room. Sunflowers will sprout in 1 week, become a small seedling in 2 weeks, and should be 2′ tall in a month. In 8 weeks, the buds will flower revealing hundreds of seed kernels. Be sure to grow ‘confectionery’ sunflowers, the type grown for food. They will dry naturally in the late summer sun; the seeds, rich in protein and iron, can be roasted for snacks. Save a few for the birds and for next summers’ planting.
A quick and reliable crop to give the child fast results, and also a good way to interest kids in salads. Lettuce likes part shade; keep soil moist especially during the first two weeks. The seeds will germinate in 7-10 days; growing season is 40-50 days. You can grow ‘head’ (space 8″ apart) or ‘leaf’ (space 4″ apart) varieties; the leaf varieties will mature sooner, about 30-35 days.
Quick results for the young gardener. Radishes germinate in 3-10 days, and have a very short growing season of 20-30 days. They can be planted closely, 4-6″ apart. Plant in cool weather for a mild radish, or hot weather for a hotter radish.
A quick-growing early crop, and fun for kids to eat right off the vine. They take about 10 days to germinate and mature in about 60 days. Peas prefer cooler, partially shaded locations in the garden; they should be sown closely, about 1″ apart at most. Snow peas are popular because the pod is edible and if they are a dwarf plant they can be grown without a trellis.
Gotta have ’em! These may be the most fun crop for a child. Plant in full sun and use seedlings rather than planting from seed. Put in a 2′ stake alongside each seedling; they need to be tied loosely to stakes as they get taller. Add lots of compost. Water at ground level, trying to keep leaves dry. Growing season is 50-75 days. Cherry tomatoes can also be grown in containers.
These flowers are easy to grow and yield results quickly, which encourages the young gardener. Nasturtiums bloom about 50 days after the seeds are planted, with orange, yellow and red flowers. They prefer sunny, dry locations and do well in poor soil. Choose the shorter varieties for garden beds. Nasturtiums are also pest resistant, which ensures a successful planting. The flowers are also edible, and can be used to add colour to a fresh garden salad.
Fast, easy, high yield and, because they do not grow tall, they are easy for kids to harvest. Bush beans germinate in 4-8 days, and mature in 40-65 days. It’s best to plant a small patch, then another in a few weeks. This will extend the harvest. When choosing seeds, select the “low bush” varieties because these will be easier for children to harvest. Plant closely spaced, about 4″ apart. Grow in direct sun; water the soil but try to keep the leaves dry. Bush beans don’t need poles or trellises to grow.
Scarlet Runner Beans
Fun, especially if they are grown on a T P support frame and the large colourful seeds need to be planted 2 to 3 inches apart to minimize overcrowding and should be planted in soil that is high in organic matter and in full sun. They will twine around the support and anything close by. The blossoms are especially attractive to pollinator bees and hummingbirds.
Seeds can be sown directly into soil; carrots prefer cooler temperatures. They can be slow to germinate, so be patient. Carrots will mature in about 60 days. The soil should be free of rocks and easy for the carrot to grow ‘down’. Keep well-watered and thin to every 3″ because crowding will produce foliage but no root. Small varieties are recommended for children, as they’re easier to grow and more fun to eat.
A ‘must’ for a child’s garden. Plant seeds in a small hill; poke three holes in the hill and put one seed in each hole. Seeds will sprout in about 1 week; after a few days, vine leaves begin to form and creep along the ground. Once there are 3 pumpkins on the vine, pick off any new blossoms. Pumpkins take 80 – 120 days to harvest: it’s ready when it feels hard on the outside and sounds hollow when tapped. Seeds can be dried to eat, or saved for for the birds, and the pumpkin for carving.
Tips for gardening with children
Give them their own garden beds. Whether you use raised beds, containers or ground plots, be sure to give each child his or her own separate plot. Keep it small, very small for young kids. Put their plots right in the middle of the action, with the best soil and light. Set them up for success.
Give them serious tools. Cheap plastic child’s gardening tools are worse than no tools at all; they break easily and frustrate the user. With some garden tools, like a hoe or spade, you can easily saw the handle shorter.
Engage them through the entire process, from seed to table. Children learn better when they understand the context of their activity. They will learn that gardening can be fun, but far more than idle play; they are contributing to the family well-being. Besides planting and nurturing their garden beds, be sure they alone do the harvesting and preparation of their crop for the table, no matter how modest the offering.
Cheat a little. Depending on the age of the child, you may need to help out a little ‘behind the scene’. Not every garden task is pleasant, and the child may not be ready at all times for all chores. You may need to go out in the evening to pick a few slugs off the lettuce, or be the one to run out and move the sprinkler. They don’t have to know about every little help you offer – the child’s ‘ownership’ of the plot is the main thing.
Show off their work. When giving ‘garden tours’ to friends, be sure to point out the children’s garden beds. Take photos of them in their gardens and of their harvest. Teach gathering and arranging skills.
The attention given to their work is the best motivator for children to stay involved with a project.
So why encourage children to garden ? The rewards are:
An environmentally aware community member… A gardener for the future … A garden club member … and much more.