story By Pamela A. Keene • Photos by Don Linke
Excitement can be contagious. So much so that children are bringing home ideas from school for their families to do together. Just ask some of the youngsters who have taken part in Hall County Master Gardeners’ Youth Gardening programs in the schools.
“So many of them had no idea where their food came from,” says Mindy Wade, president of the Hall County Master Gardeners. “When we started this program more than 10 years ago, it was a real eye-opener. And when the kids were able to see how a plant grows – from a seed to a radish, for instance – they really started to get it. We’ve heard many stories about how kids talked their parents into starting backyard gardens. Now the families grow some of their own food each summer and are spending more quality time together.”
As a parent, you don’t need a great deal of space to start a family garden. A shopping trip to a local nursery or box retailer can set you on the right track. Pick a sunny spot and build a few raised beds from 2 by 12 pieces of lumber to form a rectangle. Fill the box with garden soil and add some bagged organic matter.
While the weather is still a bit cool to plant summer crops, take some time as a family to plan your garden, where you will put it, what you will plant and who will be responsible for what activities. Popular summer home-gardening food crops that are easy to grow include tomatoes, green beans, squash and cucumbers. “These vegetables typically mature pretty quickly for a fast pay-off. Plus there are a variety of simple recipes parents and kids can prepare together,” Wade says.
You can even go ahead and start some seeds indoors, using cups filled with soil placed on sunny windowsills. Packages include planting instructions for how deep to plant the seeds and how long it will take the seeds to germinate. As they grow, be sure to turn the cups periodically so that the plants, which tend to grow toward the light, will have straighter stems.
“Once the seedlings are several inches tall, they can be transplanted into the garden after April 15, which is the typical date of the last frost in our area,” Wade says. “April 15 is also a good guideline for planting seedlings you may purchase at local nurseries or box retailers. Once they’re planted, then the fun begins.”
Gardening provides a wealth of activities for all ages.
“Let your smaller children help with easy chores, like exploring the dirt for earthworms, digging holes for the plant seedlings and placing them in the ground. “This is a shared activity and it’s a chance for kids—and adults—to learn,” says Kathy Lovett, founder of Gardens on Green. The gardens regularly conduct youth gardening programming for schools. “Younger ones can also help with watering the garden and looking for insects as the crops grow.”
Add some flowers to your garden, selecting colorful annuals that can help brighten up the vegetable garden. “Marigolds, nasturtiums and zinnias are easy to start from seed,” Wade says. “Another benefit is that they attract pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, that will help produce a better vegetable crop.”
Parents and children gardening together can offer a chance for conversation and bonding in a shared experience.
“Gardening is a time for both of you to play outside and get your hands dirty,” Lovett says. “You’ll be surprised how barriers can be broken down as you work together in the garden. And this is about having some fun together, so it’s okay to get dirty.”
Once the crops are ready to be picked, involve children and youth in selecting recipes to prepare. Then let them help with cooking.
“Gardening creates a sense of wonder with children as you garden together,” Lovett says. “As the seeds grow, you’ll be surprised at all the things you can share with your children. Gardening is such a rewarding family hobby. Plus you get to eat the results of your work.”