Rural Missouri - April 2018 - 26
Gardening offers a bumper crop of beneﬁts for kids
by Pamela A. Keene | firstname.lastname@example.org
ou don't have to be an expert to engage your kids in backyard gardening. It's a great way for families to spend quality time outdoors - and
see and eat the results of their work.
No matter your goal - to grow ﬂowers, herbs and vegetables; have
an activity to share together; learn about nature and the environment or just
break away from the pull of technology - gardening's many short- and longterm beneﬁts can pay off with a bumper crop of fun and life lessons.
"Gardening can be a wonderful bonding opportunity for parents and their
children," says Jane Taylor, nationally recognized youth gardening advocate.
"It's a good family activity that has tangible results."
Gardening also introduces children to science, math, the environment,
weather practicalities, nature and the responsibility of caring for and nurturing
Whether you have a place for a backyard garden or need to start with containers on a deck or patio, gardening is a constantly unfolding hobby. Colorful
catalogs and websites can provide the impetus for researching types of plants
to grow and how to put the garden together.
"It's exciting to create a sense of wonder with children as you plant seeds
together," says Kathy Lovett, who in 2016 received the American Horticultural
Society's Jane L. Taylor Award with her husband for their work with children
and youth gardening. "You can share the magic and a true scientiﬁc understanding of what happens to seeds that grow into plants and produce more
In colder weather, start seeds indoors in cups on sunny windowsills. The seed
packaging describes the planting depth, light and water requirements. Remember to turn the cups periodically so the plants will grow straight stems.
Stake out a sunny garden spot because most vegetables and many ﬂowers
require at least six hours of sunlight daily. Start with a small plot to keep it
manageable, and select three or fewer crops for the ﬁrst year. For container
gardens, purchase larger pots with drainage holes and use good-quality potting
soil. Place your plants in a sunny place on your deck or patio.
"Gardening is a time to play outside and get your hands dirty," Kathy says.
"Wear older clothes that can be thrown in the washer when you're ﬁnished. This
is about having fun together, so don't worry about getting a little muddy."
You'll need gardening tools such as trowels, shovels and rakes. Be sure to
look for smaller tools that will ﬁt kids' hands, purchasing real tools rather than
ineffective plastic ones that could easily break.
Select fast-growing vegetables such as radishes, baby carrots, bush beans or
cucumbers, and plant them according to the package instructions.
"Flowers like marigolds, nasturtiums and zinnias can offer quick color,"
Kathy says. "And brightly colored blooms attract pollinators to further ensure
the success of your vegetable crops."
Be sure to let your kids help with easy chores like exploring the dirt for earthworms, digging holes for the plant seedlings and placing them in the ground.
"This is a shared activity, and it's a chance for kids - and adults - to
learn," Kathy says. "Younger ones also can help with watering the garden and
looking for insects as the crops grow."
It may sound too technical, but take time to explain to your kids what's happening in the garden. Visit a local library and check out age-appropriate books
to help simplify the science.
Planting an herb garden is another way to involve the whole family. "As the
gateway to gardening, herbs can be harvested right away, and, with the proper
care and requirements, they'll keep on producing all season long," says Joan
Casanova with Bonnie Plants.
Joan suggests growing the basics like basil, parsley and rosemary but also
branching out with novelty herbs such as Thai basil, cinnamon basil or lemon
thyme. "Add to your growing experience by picking out simple recipes that use
these herbs," she says.
Consider introducing your kids to gardening on a larger scale at nearby
farms by scheduling a trip for a visit or a "you-pick" outing. Agritourism is a
rapidly growing tourism sector and provides opportunities to visit petting zoos,
dairies and fruit and vegetable farms.
Many farms offer you-pick activities so that your family can harvest your
own fruits and vegetables. Find a simple recipe that you and your kids can
prepare together such as fresh salads.
"Getting kids engaged in gardening can have lifelong beneﬁts," Joan says.
"Not only are you helping children learn about nature and health, you're starting them off on a hobby they can enjoy for a lifetime."
Journalist Pamela A. Keene writes for more than a dozen publications across
the country, specializing in travel, lifestyle, features and gardening. Based in
Atlanta, she is a photographer and an avid lifelong gardener.
Children develop lifelong beneﬁts by learning to garden at home with their parents, especially when they can see and eat the results of their hard work.