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Teach kids how to help in the garden

Fran O’Leary Vegetable garden
HAVING FUN: To encourage your kids to learn about gardening, let them help decide which kinds of vegetables to grow in the garden based on what they like to eat.
Through the Garden Gate: Gardening is a fun family activity everyone can do.

Gardening can be a fun activity for the whole family. Teaching kids to garden also encourages them to respect nature. Most importantly, it teaches them a life skill they can use throughout their lives.

If you’d like your kids to grow up loving gardening and learning how to grow their own food, it’s never too early to get started. Children are explorers who enjoy the simple pleasures of planting seeds, playing in the dirt and searching for earthworms.

Choose vegetables that interest them. To encourage your children to learn about gardening, let them help decide which kinds of vegetables to grow in the garden based on what they like to eat. This is also a good opportunity to introduce some new vegetables that they may not have tried before, such as Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, yellow tomatoes, butternut squash or eggplant.

Age-appropriate jobs

Do the hard work of tilling the garden and mixing in the compost for them. They can learn about that later. For now, give them the joy of planting, watering and waiting for their plants to sprout and grow.

For very small hands, make the job even easier by planting the seeds in cardboard egg cartons. When it is time to transfer the seedlings to the soil, cut out each little egg-holding portion and let your kids plant the whole thing into the ground. The carton will disintegrate, and no seeds or seedlings get lost in the process.

If you have a large plot for a garden or a smaller separate plot, it might be fun for your kids to plant a few pumpkin seeds. Pumpkins take up a lot of space, but they can be used to decorate the front of your house for Halloween. Kids can even dry and save the seeds from a couple of pumpkins to plant in next year’s garden.

Pick age-appropriate jobs for your kids to do. For example, a 4-year-old may be eager to help water the garden, but don’t expect them to water the garden without supervision. A 14-year-old may not need supervision, but you might have to remind him or her to turn off the sprinkler or put away the hose when they are finished.

Get kids started with weeding early on. Many young children will love to help with weeding. This tends to change as they get older, but you can make it fun by adding bounties to weeds, such as 1 cent per weed or $1 for a predetermined size pile of weeds.

Eat the fruits of your labor

Children get firsthand experience of the food cycle when the plants they grow appear on your dinner table. Plant a variety of vegetables they may like to eat, including lettuce, carrots, peas, green beans, cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers, potatoes and beets. Invite them to help pick the vegetables when they are ready to harvest.

If you want to take it one step further, ask older kids if they would like to help can or freeze some of the vegetables. Canning salsa, making raspberry jam, freezing strawberries, or blanching and freezing sweet corn are projects teens may be interested in learning how to do.

Come back next Friday when we will talk about growing plants from seeds to transplant in your garden.

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