Children and gardens

"Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity…" John Muir Family bonding Global warming and a rampant misuse of toxic chemicals are two challenges facing our children and future generations. Gardening teaches children about plants, the environment, the cycle of life, how to be responsible, the benefits of work and being less dependent on others for food -- to name only a few benefits. It's also good exercise for everybody. Reduce you carbon footprint Growing organic vegetables is the way to go since it addresses the large problem of pesticides and herbicides destroying the environment while harming many species of animals (including our own). Growing food steps away from your kitchen gives you fresher food but also reduces global warming. Most commercially food has a large carbon footprint, grown using considerable energy and chemicals and then transported hundreds or thousands of miles. The secret garden A good way to get children involved is to give them their own little corner of the garden. Let them grow the veggies that they want and to be responsible for maintaining their little plot--including weeding, watering, harvesting and cleaning up the dead plants at the end of the season. Taking care of their own plants will teach them what the plant needs to survive and boost their confidence. With any luck they will be more likely to eat their vegetables after all of the hard work and time that they put into them. Vegetables with results Spring is going to be your busiest time. Vegetables that require several months to mature need to be planted in the spring. Tomatoes and peppers require even more time and should be started indoors a couple of months or more before so they can be transplanted into the garden without the risk of frost. Many types of vegetables, such as beans, can be planted in the spring and well into the summer. Some varieties of garlic are planted in the fall. Radishes are a good choice because they give quick results and can be planted throughout the growing season. It can't all be broccoli Let them grow fun things as well. Children tend to like pumpkins and knowing the size of their future Jack-O-Lanterns depends on how well they tend their pumpkin patch can provide some added incentive. Children's books about vegetables can complement gardening. Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden (ages 4+) by George Levenson contains general information on gardening as well as how pumpkins grow. Numerous photographs and simple text allows children to follow the life cycle of a pumpkin. Cooking with Herb the Vegetarian Dragon: A Cookbook for Kids (ages 4+) by Jules Bass contains lots of nutritious vegetarian recipes that will allow children to put their veggies from the garden to good use. Fall gardening When the planting season is over you can still keep your children involved by getting them to harvest the garden. Let them find the first ripe tomato or pull up the first carrot. You can also get them to help harvest the seeds in the garden. Plant extra and use non-hybrid seeds, so you can collect and store seeds for next year's garden. This is also a good activity to finish off an informal lesson on plants and gardening with your children. You don't need to restrict yourself to just vegetables either. Give your child a seed catalogue or a flower book and let them pick next year's spring flowers. You can help them design next year's garden and then buy the bulbs for a fall planting. Glenn Perrett is a freelance writer with a degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo. He writes for a number of publications including Harrowsmith and Country Life.