5 ways to teach kids to garden
It is perhaps not very surprising to find that out of my three children, two are vegan/ vegetarian and the third only eats free range meat. I never intended to limit their food palette in any way - on the contrary I always encouraged them to try new things and have a broad taste for all sorts of food. However, they grew up with me growing our own happy vegetables and spent their childhood in the garden picking fresh peas in the pods straight from the plants. Visiting children too have been fascinated with the kitchen garden, and it is more often than not that I have willing volunteers helping me in my gardening endeavours. It is great fun for the whole family, and while there are many ways to get children started here I have listed some suggestions to help you get started.
1. Begin on a small scale
To start off with, avoid making it too big a project to carry through. In the beginning a couple of square meters is a big enough plot for a kitchen garden because although it is fun to plant seeds or harvest the finished produce, it needs maintenance all summer long. My suggestion would be to build a raised bed that is easily accessible from all sides, which facilitates cultivation and limits the risk of trampling by boisterous children. A friend of mine made a lovely little vegetable area in her garden by filling an old wooden rowing boat with compost and planting it with summer vegetables each year.
2. Start with easy vegetables
One of my favourites for getting kids into gardening is letting them grow peas. Peas are in so many ways the most fantastic beginners vegetable, as the seeds (or dried peas) are big enough for even the smallest hands to handle and the finished produce is edible straight from the garden with no cooking needed. If your kids like craft work, you can begin with planting peas in old toilet paper rolls lined up on a tray next to each other, held together with a string and filled with compost. Just pop one pea in per tube, and when they have grown about five to ten cm out of the tube simply plant it straight into the garden. The roots will grow out the other end, and soon enough they will flower and start producing pods. Other easy plants are potatoes, carrots, tomatoes (yes, do buy them as ready plants!), radishes and lettuce.
3. Make gardening fun
Gardening is not depending on accessories, but most garden centres and low-price warehouses do stock fairly cheap gardening tools for children and letting the kids have their own right sized brightly coloured tool can make it more fun. I know my kids loved watering the veg with their own little watering cans, and I never made a fuss although we had water all over the place but on the plants. Instead I would help them and then while they were busy elsewhere, see to it that the plants got a proper shower. We would also engage in all sorts of garden handicraft, such as making our own scarecrows and letting the kids paint little fences that were put around the vegetable patch.
4. Remember it doesn't need to be perfect
Being patient is perhaps the most important quality in a parent who wishes to teach their children to garden. I know I sometimes got so caught up in my own perfectionism that I found it hard to play along when seeds were spillt or little plants accidentally got pulled up with the weeds, so I have all the sympathy in the world for frustrated gardener parents. However, if you get pulled along by the gardening bug yourself just divide the allotted vegetable patch into a children's and a grown ups area. This way, the children area can be as it is and any control issues are firmly kept in the grown up garden.
5. Include wildlife and teach about insects
Kids are endlessly fascinated (scared maybe, but fascinated) by insects, and giving them a bug jar with a magnifying glass to study creepy crawlies is a great way of teaching them about nature. What better place to use as a classroom than your own vegetable patch? We always grow Marigolds (Calendula officials) with the vegetables as they are great companion plants, attracting both butterflies and beneficial insects. They are beautiful and range in colour from bright orange to pale yellow and best of all, edible. With children in the garden lots of plants end up in their mouths so making sure everything in the kitchen garden is safe is important. (On this note, it is good to remember potatoes flowers are in fact poisonous so please keep little hands away from these.) As my garden is wholly organic, we have had great fun studying critters from buggs to slowworms and baby frogs. Once, when cabbage white butterfly caterpillars invaded the kale my youngest son became extra ecstatic at not only having a 'food garden' as he called it but also his very own butterfly farm! (I was less impressed, but let them stay that year just to make him happy.)