I know it doesn’t seem like it with all the snow on the ground still, but gardening season approacheth. If you got ’em, start ’em is the motto now.
Although our last frost date isn’t until May 22, which seems months away, planning now will mean come that by the 24th of May weekend, you’ll be ready to pop some plants and seeds in the ground.
Gardening is a great way to occupy kids over the summer months. It teaches them planning skills and encourages them to follow routines and take responsibility for caring for something.
If you’re lucky, it might even encourage them to eat their vegetables.
But for a family that’s never done it before, or for whom it’s been years, it can be a daunting task. There are plenty of resources available to help you out with advice. The website rootcellarsrock.ca is run by the Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador and has plenty of information on gardening, composting, and what to plant when and where.
They also have advice and recipes for using your harvest.
Another resource, as local Corner Brook resident Marilee Pittman reminds us, is your community garden. Whether you decide to rent a plot or just attend information sessions and get advice, having a community of fellow gardeners at hand to answer questions is great.
Gardeners tend to be a friendly lot, in general (unless you’re swiping their hard fought for pumpkins). So another way to discover what to do and how is to just ask other gardeners. A family with kids close in age to your own will have great advice for you on how to plant and what to plant.
Deborah Coombs, an uprooted Newfoundlander currently living in Ontario and blogging at raisingmyboys.net had the following advice to offer:
You need to protect their hands from any nastiness in the soil, and possibly from the chance of touching a bug (depending on the squeamishness of your child). Inexpensive children's sized gardening gloves are readily available in department stores, hardware stores, and nurseries. Be sure to provide children with gardening tools that are sized for their small hands. They will be better able to handle smaller tools and so will be less likely to get frustrated. Look for metal tools rather than plastic. Plastic can be pretty ineffective for digging in dense soil.
To encourage your child’s excitement, try plants that are easy to grow. Leaf lettuce, parsley and radishes are all super easy and pretty much foolproof. Whether or not your child will eat the produce, they will be pretty much guaranteed the chance to harvest their own veggies. Seeds with a short germination time are also a good bet. Beans and peas will sprout quickly and grow fast. Most children aren’t known for their patience, so giving them a quick payback on their planting will make for a happy wee gardener.
If possible, designate a small area of your garden specifically as a child’s garden. Let your kids pick the seeds or plants they want to try. Allow them free reign, but make sure they have some varieties that will guarantee them some success. Not all have to be successful. Figuring out why a particular plant didn’t grow is great learning too.
Robyn Love, a mom of two teenagers in Gillams, agrees. Though her own children are past the plant-trampling stage, she advises that although she usually dislikes things that segregate adults and children, her experience gardening with children has made her a believer in child-maintained plots:
This is mostly for little children (to age 8 or so, depending on the child). I found that it was just too stressful for me and my kids if I was always needing to remind them “don't step there!” or “don’t pull that up — it’s not a weed!” When they have their own space, I found it easier to relax and enjoy the process together, while still allowing me to have a more productive garden that didn't get trampled or gone over by curious fingers. All of that is delightful and natural, but sooner or later, I wanted to actually grow something too!
Giving children their own plot to plan and maintain is handing them a huge responsibility that they can actually handle. It’s easier than caring for a pet, but more complicated than putting their own socks on. And, the skills that they learn from the experience will carry through into many other areas of their life. In addition to learning plant science, planning, and responsibility, you’ll give your children the gift of self-sustainability.
And, who knows, they just might get excited about vegetables.
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