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Gardening with Kids

By Larraine Roulston:

Gardening has been described as a “happy endeavor.” Research suggests that breathing in the soil’s bacteria can increase the brain’s serotonin levels. This may indicate that gardening offers therapy that acts as a natural antidepressant for young and old alike.

My mother, a gardener with a truly great green thumb, grew both flowers and vegetables. She even created delightful rock gardens. I had hoped to offer my children the same gleeful experiences of smelling roses and raiding the pea garden; sadly, I never quite managed to match her ability. If, like me, you are not hugely successful or able to devote a lot of time to growing vegetables, it’s still worth the effort to spend quality time outdoors introducing children to the joys and benefits of gardening.

Together, begin growing the plants of interest to them in an egg carton seed starter. The seedlings can be transferred to a plot or placed amongst flowers and bushes that landscape your property. If you have little yard space, obtain a container for your balcony, deck or porch, or one to grace your main entrance.

Check out this Green Mom YouTube video of potato harvest with kids:

Start a compost heap that will enrich your soil with moisture and nutrients. Composting will also teach children about a plant’s life-cycle as well as the importance of insects. To my family’s delight, I have prepared melons and squash that have matured directly from my composter.

For all your good gardening intentions, however, there are some common mistakes that may emerge when dealing with small children. One is to start tilling too large an area. By beginning
with a small space, you will not be overwhelmed and find that your family fun is becoming a chore. If all goes well, you can always expand its boundaries the following year.

As little hands are not as apt to sow seeds in a straight line or be able to judge the required spacing, do not be too quick to say, “No, not that way!’’  With gentle guidance while allowing their own efforts to take root, your tiny tots will become encouraged and interested. In the spring, you still will be rewarded with some veggies that had claimed their share of sunlight.

Children are not in awe of the finest looking vegetables. They delight in seeing anything that sprouts from the soil, and will discover that the smallest crop of deformed carrots will taste so
much better than anything purchased at the supermarket. These magical moments will help the whole family appreciate the sweetness of fresh organic produce.

If you are partial to certain plants or an aesthetic look, direct your youngster to water a different area or to search for worms and other compost critters. Making a game of pulling weeds will hopefully deter your children from purchasing pesticides in the future. When it comes to harvesting, you may find that youngsters are more adept at using scissors rather than pinching off Swiss chard or chives, for example.

To garner interest before the growing season, purchase children’s gardening books or visit your library. Besides vegetables, you can also choose to design a nature garden that attracts butterflies and other pollinators.

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Larraine writes a children’s illustrated book series on composting and pollinating. To view, visit www.castlecompost.com.

About Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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