Healthy Beginnings

5 Tips for Kid-Friendly Gardening: Encourage a Love for the Outdoors, Appreciation for Healthy Food

By Rail City Garden Center

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Gardening is a great hobby for all ages, and the younger kids start gardening, the better the chance they will develop a lifelong love of outdoor activities and fresh, healthy food. Pawl Hollis, owner of Rail City Garden Center in Sparks, Nev., offers a few tips for kid- friendly gardening this summer.

Gardening teaches kids a lot more than just how to plant seeds or pull weeds. Every step of gardening can be a fun, hands-on lesson, with topics such as:
• How plants grow and what they need to be healthy
• What bugs are beneficial and how they help gardens

• Nutrition of different fruits and vegetables
• What organic material can be turned into useful compost
• How nature changes with every season
• How backyard wildlife, such as birds and butterflies, use gardens

• How food can be harvested, canned, dried and preserved

In addition to these lessons, children can learn many useful qualities from gardening, such as patience, hard work, perseverance and responsibility. To enjoy gardening with kids:

Choose Kid-Friendly Plants: Flowers, fruits and vegetables with shorter maturation times are best for kids, so they don’t have to wait so long to see the results of their efforts. Durable, forgiving plants are also ideal for novices, and plants that have a useful result – something to eat or flowers to pick – will interest kids more. Top kid-friendly plants include sunflowers, carrots, peas, pumpkins, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, radishes, lima beans, leaf lettuces and spinach. These kid-friendly plants are low maintenance, easy to transplant and require little water – great for working parents and busy lifestyles.

Get Dirty: Kids love to dig in the garden, and it is important that they are allowed – and expected – to do all the necessary gardening chores. This includes preparing the soil, planting, weeding, thinning sprouts, training vines, harvesting produce and removing dead plants. However, it’s important to note that most people – especially children – do not enjoy pulling weeds. Container gardening makes it easier for you to control the soil, light, water and fertilizer (and, of course, offers significantly less weed-pulling duties). And, containers can come in all shapes and sizes. Use containers that can accommodate the roots of the vegetables you want to grow, as vegetables vary in sizes and rooting depths. The containers also need to have proper drainage, and should not contain chemicals that are toxic to plants and people. Also, remember to use a natural or organic soil – plants under organic production have stronger root systems, and are more efficient at accessing nutrients, minerals and enzymes. Synthetic, high-nitrogen fertilizers are a significant source of pollution and environmental destruction.

Use Kid-Sized Gear: Regular garden tools can be too heavy, long and unwieldy for little hands to use effectively. Opt for child-sized tools so kids can learn to use the proper equipment in the garden. When child-sized options are not available, assist kids as necessary and always supervise their efforts for safety. Not sure what tools you need to start your project? Start out with a small watering can and/or a soaking hose, gloves, hand weeder, hoe or rake, basket for moving around mulch or soil, and a bug net.

Teach Techniques Gently: While it is important to teach children proper gardening techniques, don’t expect them to emulate your experienced hands exactly. Guide their gardening, but don’t dictate every step of the way. They will learn through trial and experience just as you did, and while you can share your expertise, let them take ownership of their gardening efforts. If you’re not an expert gardener, not to worry. There are many resources to help you mentor and grow with your child.

Follow Through: After the garden matures, help children enjoy the rewards of their labor just as much as the actual tasks of gardening. Use their fresh fruits and vegetables in recipes, give produce or flowers as gifts and praise their results. That positive reinforcement will help them enjoy gardening and be eager to plant anew next spring.

“The follow through is the reward – just wash and eat,” said Pawl.

Rail City Garden Center has been locally owned and operated since 1996. If you’re looking to begin a garden with your child but need additional guidance and knowledge, visit Rail City Garden Center to purchase a copy of author Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening with Kids” – a simple how-to gardening book that provides information on gardening basics, water conservation, healthy eating and more. For more information, call Rail City Garden Center at 775-355-1551 or visit www.RailCityGardenCenter.com.