A Garden Plot Of Their Own

planting-tomatoesGet kids interested in gardening by giving them their own space.

Your friendly, family-oriented Planet Natural blogger has fond memories gardening as a child with dad and mom, grandma and grandpa, and even an uncle or two. That’s when and how we first learned to garden, not just the craft and practice of it, but also how we learned to love it. That love has lasted throughout our life.

We started at a very young age, toddling out to the garden with grandma to pick strawberries — they tasted so good! — or helping grandpa pull weeds. Not everything we pulled at first were weeds, but with patience, and kind words on what was good and what was bad, we soon learned just what should get plucked. Later we helped dad mark rows and plant seeds. We learned about the conditions and the patience required to see those seeds sprout. Come harvest time, we learned the right way to pinch a pea pod from the vine, break an ear of corn from the stalk, or gently twist a tomato from the plant.

This not only made us grow to love gardening, it made us grow to love eating vegetables.

But just as every kid doesn’t love to eat vegetables, even if they are fresh from the garden, not every kids takes to gardening. Some, especially those who are told to do this and do that without concern to the why of doing it, might just see it as work. Some, most often because of their tender years, may not have the attention span required to see things through. Assigned tasks may not reveal to your little charge just how they’re invested in the garden. Here’s a strategy that might help even the most reluctant junior gardener get and stay involved.

Give them their own garden plot. Even children as young as five and six will enjoy having their own space in the garden to plant and grow what they want. They’ll need close supervision at this age, making sure that they don’t plant too deeply, don’t water too much, and especially making sure of their safety when using even the most basic of gardening tools like a simple trowel. Of course as a caring parent you wouldn’t turn your little one loose with any tool. But when they reach the age and point of confidence that you can stand up and watch them scooping dirt with purpose and precision, why it’s time for both of you to be proud.

Your child’s own plot doesn’t have to be large. A two x two foot space is a good place for a very young person to start. Older kids might handle more space and kids who have grown on their own space before might be ready for something larger. As a parent, you’re the best judge of what your child is capable of.

The fun starts with the planning. Drawing garden plans with your child is a great pencil-and-paper activity and a wonderful time to encourage realistic expectations. It’s also a great imaginative exercise. Join them in visualizing what their garden will look like at various stages.

Help them stake out their plot with string so that the boundaries are clear. What lies inside is their very own bit of garden. Let them choose what to plant after giving them choices. And make sure the choices you offer will guarantee success. Radishes are a good place to start. Small lettuce and spinach patches also give good quick results. But don’t be afraid to try something more ambitious. A couple tomato plants in their space will give plenty of opportunity to observe growth and the fruiting process. Squash or pumpkin seeds, planted well after the soil has warmed will give delightful, garden-filling results (make sure you give them enough space if this is the choice).

We’ve always made a row of sunflowers a family endeavor. Everybody gets involved in shared space and growing. And it’s a good way to demonstrate that gardening is a shared activity. Everyone helps everyone else. In other words, don’t limit your child’s gardening to just their own plot. Have them help with yours as you help with theirs.

No matter what your child plants, you as their garden guru — as their parent! — should look for anticipate teachable moments. Do everything you can to reinforce personal responsibility. But make sure they will succeed in the growing. This means waiting well past the last frost and helping them keep an eye out for pests, dry (or too wet) soil conditions, and other conditions that might affect what they’re growing.

Have stories or pictures of children doing their thing in the garden? Tips for how to get the children involved? Share them with us. We love seeing kids getting started with gardening. And we bet you do, too.

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