Spring is fast approaching, and for many, spring means planting a vegetable garden.
While I grow my vegetables in containers these days, I have fond memories of planting a large family garden. The "family" included my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and, of course, my immediate family.
Our gardens included all the summertime favorites — tomatoes, green beans, squash, okra, peppers, cucumbers, peas, corn, watermelons and cantaloupe. My grandfather loved to grow things and his love of everything agricultural rubbed off on all of us. I’ll never forget those summer days I spent working in the garden with my family.
While not all of us grandkids would eat all the vegetables we grew, we certainly learned a lot in the process of growing them. Fact is, most children are interested in nature and the outside world, and it’s a short step to get them interested in gardening.
One easy way to get kids interested in gardening is to appeal to the child’s sense of curiosity toward wildlife. Start by talking about butterflies, hummingbirds and bees and how important they are to the life cycle of the garden.
Next, think about how you are going to set up your garden. Initially, container gardening may be easier. Also, let your young gardener pick out his or her own container. Try something different: buckets, teapots, football helmets, dump trucks and wagons can call make great containers — just be sure to punch a few drain holes in the bottom.
Children’s gardens can also follow several different themes. From butterfly gardens to vegetable and herb gardens, the possibilities are endless. Letting your child decide which type of garden he or she wants to plant adds a whole new element of excitement.
If growing vegetables, try a wide variety. Beans, broccoli, carrots, eggplant, onions, peppers and tomatoes are all relatively easy to grow. Make choices based on your child’s personal tastes.
If your children love flowers, there are plenty of unique and cool flowering plants kids can grow. General options include impatiens, pansies, petunias, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and snapdragons.
Bulb planting can also be a fun and educational way to teach children how different types of plants are grown. Children are amazed to see flowers on a plant they grew from tiny seeds or a bulb they planted.
An early spring container of bulbs could consist of daffodils, hyacinths and tulips. Summer bulbs include calla lily, short gladiolus and caladium.
Encourage your children to keep a daily or weekly gardening journal. Describing how the plants are growing, what tools they used that day or what kind of wildlife they saw while out in the garden engages children in creative writing. By taking and including photographs, the gardening journal can become a keepsake.
Plants to stay away from while gardening with children include angel’s trumpet, castor bean, climbing lily, foxglove, morning glory and flowering tobacco. The seeds or leaves of these plants are toxic and should not be planted near homes with children.
Gardening will also provide you with a great opportunity to talk with your children about water conservation.
While all plants need water, many of us over-water both our landscape plants as well as our garden vegetables. Children can learn the value of good soil preparation, addition of organic matter and the use of mulch as these practices improve water efficiency.
Take the time this spring and summer to get a child interested in gardening. It will likely be an enjoyable, educational and memorable experience for both of you.
Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County Extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.