When I learned that my grandsons were coming for a long visit this summer, I had great plans to teach them to garden, among other things. I envisioned them spending hours in the garden with Gamma and readily devouring the fruits of our labors by the end of the visit.
Mind you, these kids live in a bedroom community outside a large city. In their minds, food comes from either the grocery store or a drive-thru window. And for their busy family, cutting the grass is as close to gardening as they are likely to get. I mention this because my first suggestion on gardening with kids is to be realistic. Remember that attention spans usually correlate with age -- the younger the kid, the shorter the span. You want their experience to be fun so they will stay interested. With that in mind, here are a few tips:
n Start simple. Most youngsters enjoy playing in the dirt so have them help turn your garden plot. They could even work in organic matter. Children should not be allowed to handle any chemicals, fertilizers included. Children often put their hands in their mouths, so going organic will be your safest route.
n Size right. Section off a small portion of your garden. If you don't have a garden plot, try containers. They work well on a porch or deck. Although a container may seem like a small space to you, to a young child, it will seem like an acre.
n Provide proper tools. Whether for a child or an adult, every job is easier with the right tools. Rather than expect your tyke to handle tools designed for your hands, buy child-size garden tools.
n Select interesting plants. Select vegetable plants for color, shape and texture, such as red-leaf lettuce, golden beets, Easter-egg colored radishes and round carrots. If your child's garden is a flower or perennial bed, zinnias from seed are easy to grow and come in a variety of colors. The silver color and fuzzy texture of lambs ears are perfect for kids. Silver mound sage is a soft, tactile plant children will love to feel. Tiny pumpkins can be grown in flower beds or garden plots and make great decorations for your home.
Children usually are impatient and have a hard time waiting for seeds to germinate and produce. A strawberry patch might ease the pain of waiting. For my own grandsons, they enjoyed nothing more than picking strawberries. More times than not, they came back to the house with more strawberries in their tummies than in the basket.
I have to admit that my great plans of early summer didn't materialize. But thanks to our strawberry patch, I have taught them that the grocery and the drive-thru aren't the only sources of food.
Louise Poppen is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or: firstname.lastname@example.org