Growing Young Gardeners

By Charlotte Vorstermans, Master Gardener, SCMG

How do you get children to enjoy working in the garden? Whether it is your own backyard veggie plot, a community garden or even kids growing up on a farm? When children are small, they love to dig in the dirt and are really impressed when they can see their own bean plant sprout and produce beans.  I never grew vegetables as a child but I sure loved flowers and had my own plot from a young age.  How do you keep that enthusiasm going as they get older?  In our digital age, it is more fun to play with electronic devices. You can even grow make-believe gardens and build farms on the computer!  There is no mess involved, you don’t get dirty, you can change your mind instantly if something doesn’t work and you don’t have to worry about the weather as you can make your own.  There is no easy way other than actually taking them outside and showing them what growing food is all about.  It is not always fun, weeds need to be pulled and insects need to be addressed.   At this stage who cares if the rows are crooked!  Mine usually are no matter how hard I try.  I figure by the time everything grows it won’t be as noticeable, anyway.

What are the benefits? First and foremost, less screen time gives kids that much-needed time to go outside and see what nature is all about. It is good exercise for all of you. Did you know that an hour of gardening burns 250 to 500 calories?  You get a good dose of vitamin D, no pills involved, not to mention lots of fresh air and so much sensory stimulation.  Sensory stimulation is smelling, feeling, eating, hearing and seeing what nature is doing.  Did you know that walking even for 20 minutes in a wooded area provides a feeling of peace? Try it sometime.  Just walking in a lovely garden can provide the same feeling. I believe that is one of the best benefits of walking tours not matter where you are.  Spending time with your family is so important.  When I reminiscence about growing up, I think about the time we spent together as a family playing games, walking in parks or just talking.  Turn off that computer, all cell phones and go and play!  Lastly, planning a garden requires reasoning, planning and organization. Let kids choose plants and help them calculate how lunch comes about from planting to sprouting and then to harvesting. Have them keep a journal and best of all, eat what they have grown.  What could be better?  Good starter crops are lettuce, radishes carrots, potatoes, zucchini and beans and pumpkins of course!  Intermingle with marigolds to keep the insects at bay, at least for a time.   Don’t forget the flowers, especially the edible ones like violets, nasturtiums and borage flowers.

So, how to convince them? First, you need to convince yourself and the time commitment and patience needed.  Seeds require time and care.  So, think about this: gardening is a great way to let kids know where food comes from and it is also a science lesson.  Don’t make it too complicated, but do make it exciting.  Kids love to see worms and are fascinated by other critters that live in the soil and they want to touch, even if you don’t.  Let them eat dirt!  Microbiologists say early exposure to healthy microbes from gardening, weather big or small, kick-starts the immune system and can help prevent disease. “Let them Eat Dirt” by Marie-Claire Arrieta and Brett Finlay is a good, entertaining read.  Start the journey, educate yourself and your children and above all, enjoy the process.