by Julie Snyder
Growing plants gives kids an excuse to play in the dirt. It also offers great opportunities for exercise, fresh air, and good food. Growing produce can expand a child's choice of foods; after all, if you plant it and tend it, then certainly you should eat it.
Working in a garden plot reconnects a child to the land. Today's time outside might involve digging in the dirt, watching a lizard or brushing the dirt off a carrot and munching it. Kids come to the garden wired. They calm down as they work in the soil.
As you toss around the idea of a vegetable garden, your thoughts might revolve around the economy. Growing your own food can conserve resources like water and fuel. It can lower your food costs. It can improve your health.
Going green, even more than just the color of leaves, could have taken you down the garden path. You wanted to control the types of plant foods and pesticides. Maybe you'd rather use natural plant foods like worm poop, fish emulsion or composted manure. Your priority might be controlling bugs with crop rotation or companion planting Your concern could be GMO seeds. Turning over the soil, planting carefully chosen seeds and tending your plot naturally makes gardening a rewarding endeavor.
No matter how the gardening bug caught you, it's time to pass your passion on.
Bring out the most effective kid bait -- your enthusiasm! Look through books and catalogs. Explore those tiny creatures together. Examine the wonders of plant life. You might wonder how. Don't worry; I have a few tips to lure your child to the garden and keep them coming back.
Start 'em early: Backpacks and slings aren't just for hikes. Bring your baby along as you pull weeds and water. Share the fruits of your labor if your little one has started solids. Who wouldn't love a fresh, juice strawberry right off the plant.
Involve kids from the start: If you start your seeds indoors, let your child play in the dirt, fill the pots and plant some of the larger seeds. If you plan to buy plants, make a trip to the plant nursery. Together, pick out plants for both your gardens.
☸ Kid tip: Save your eggshells. Fill each half full of moist soil. Place two seeds in each eggshell. Finish filling it with soil. Press down gently. Store it in an egg carton. You might need to add water every two or three days. Once your seeds sprout and have two or three leaves, take them to the garden. Dig a hole just a little deeper than your eggshell. Crumple it a tiny bit and plant. The eggshells turn soft and decompose in the soil so your plants roots can grow right through it. At the same time, the eggshell helps provide food for your plant.
Kid-sized tools and gloves: Once your toddler shows an interest in the garden provide a pair of kid-sized gloves and appropriate-sized tools. You mini-gardener can work alongside or in a garden of their own. You'll want to add sun screen, hats and sunglasses on your list.
Plant a strawberry bed: Use everbearing varieties for fruit all season. Kids can spend hours hunting for strawberries, while you can work on some of your more delicate gardening tasks.
Add outdoor toys: A sandbox or small playhouse make the garden a friendly place. Hang an easel from the fence or a kids' table and chairs nearby.
Just get dirty: You had a bath planned this afternoon anyway, so soak down an unplanted part of the garden and build mud pies or
Make gardening a daily activity: Kids thrive on routines and by spending time in the garden each day, your patch will soon be beautiful and bountiful.
You don't need a huge space to get started gardening. A deep pot can be a home for lettuce and herbs.
You might want to take the garden one step further. Plant in a deep window box. Now there's root space and room for carrots, tomatoes and compact vines.