ARTICLE Anja Kussler
There’s simply no better way of getting your kids to develop a love of vegetables than by growing their own. By seeing their seedlings spring to life and the fruits of their labour flourish, they will learn to experience the joy of munching on them too. This simple plan will help kick those little muddy thumbs into action.
If you’re an avid vegetable gardener, you will know how therapeutic it is to grow your own crops – not to mention healthy and rewarding. The joy of vegetable gardening is something that can easily rub off on our kids, especially because veges germinate really quickly, which means they’ll grow fast and furiously so the littlies won’t get bored waiting for Mr Silverbeet or Mrs Lettuce to pop up from Mother Earth.
I still remember the sense of achievement I felt digging around in the dirt with my Mum, and experiencing the pleasure of seeing my first beans and lettuces flourish, and then being able to harvest and eat them. It was a proud moment, all right, except for the part where our pet turtle decided to decimate the lettuce!
By creating their own vege patch, your kiddies will be able to learn how every part of the growing process works – from preparing the soil and choosing the right spot with just the right amount of sun and shade, to selecting vegetables of their choice, planting them, feeding them, seeing them grow and ripen, and then helping prepare them with you in the kitchen. Oh, and of course it’s a great strategy for getting the sprogs to have their five plus a day, too…
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
Choosing vegetables that grow easily are a main priority; otherwise the kids may get itchy feet and give up on the project. Good options include silverbeet, spinach, lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, green beans, pumpkins and herbs like parsley and chives.
Some veges grow better in some seasons than others, so it pays to print off a seasonal chart from the Internet (www.gardengrow.co.nz is a goodie) , and allow the kids to pick which ones they’d like to plant. Encourage them to choose vegetables from different colour groups – that way they’ll have even more fun on the job.
It’s a bright idea to throw some flowering vegetables into the mix. The yellow blooms of zucchinis, for example, aren’t just pretty to look at but they’re edible and taste delicious. In addition, getting your kids to plant some colourful flowers, such as sunflowers, will each them that they attract bees and butterflies, which in turn help pollinate the vege patch.
To start with, involve your little people in selecting the best spot for their planting efforts. Make them aware that veges thrive on lots of sun and water, so they can help pick a suitable area for them in your garden.
Kids can also rule the roost as far as the layout of their vege patch is concerned. While most garden beds are rectangular or square, why not get creative and suggest a circular or oval layout? And if you don’t have much space in your garden or live in apartment, they can always grow their produce in pots or trays. Bear in mind though that it’s best to use a raised bed – cold air tends to settle in low areas, where it may be too chilly for the vegetables to flourish. If you live in a region that’s prone to frost in winter, cover fragile plants like tomatoes using nets or buckets.
Teach the children that the type of soil they choose is important, too. First of all, vege dirt should never be too hard or sandy. Due to the lack of nutrients in our natural soil these days, it’s also best to add liquid organic blood and bone fertiliser once a week. Better still, why not invest in a worm farm and make your own compost from organic kitchen waste to throw into the mix?
Get your offspring into a routine of watering their patch early in the morning or late afternoon so the water doesn’t evaporate in the sunlight. They need to do this daily if the soil is dry, and less when it rains. Don’t over-water the vegetables or they will become moldy and die!
Weed out the weirdos
Weeding is another important aspect of gardening as weeds can kill the crops. Provide the kids with their own set of weeding tools and get them stuck into it. Mulching the garden will also help fight off weeds and feed your crop with essential nutrients. Freshly mown grass, leaves and even old bits of carpet turned upside down in between plants make superb mulching material.
Shoo those bugs away
There is nothing more annoying than bugs like worms, snails or even possums having a field day in your kiddies’ garden, decimating everything they’ve so carefully nurtured. I once had a possum chomp off an entire chilli crop overnight – well, let’s hope his beak burnt like hell!
There’s no need to use commercial weed killers to keep nasty critters at bay – after all, adding harmful toxins kind of defeats the purpose of cultivating your own healthy crop. Mum reckons getting some ducks on board is the best way to keep snails away – in her home country, Germany, you can even rent them for this purpose. There’s a number of ways to control pests organically, including taking them off by hand (that’s sure you keep the kids occupied), spraying them with a solution of environment-friendly dishwashing liquid and water or building a mesh frame and placing it over the garden bed.
For more ideas on controlling pests, see our article How to keep your garden free from aphids.
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