Spring has finally arrived bringing with it the promise of a new season for many things — baseball, landscaping, recreation, graduations and moving on to new schools or careers.
It’s also time for gardeners to start planning and planting. Gardening is one of the most rewarding things a family can do together — allowing for quality time spent together outdoors, learning how to cultivate relationships as well as crops and experiencing the satisfaction of consuming food that was grown with your own two hands.
Nash Bruce from Five Hands Farm in Lowell encourages families to garden together and for newbies he suggests tomatoes as a good starting point, growing them from plants rather than seeds. Other items that he recommends for novice gardeners are summer squash/zucchini, green beans (bush varieties), radishes, beets and most herbs.
“The biggest hurdle I find with parents wanting to do a garden with kids is that they are usually amateurs themselves. In which case, I would advise parents to do their research and avoid shortcuts. A quick internet search and some light reading beforehand is half the battle,” he said. Having an understanding of the importance of temperatures, seed depth, recommended watering, transplant timing and plant spacing are essential. “These considerations make all the difference between a garden bursting at the seams in the summer and fall and a lot of wasted time and energy,” Bruce said.
Bruce noted that gardening is much more than planting. If you put your seeds in the ground and then expect that to be the end of your commitment, you won’t be successful. “Check on your garden every day — even if it’s just 10 minutes on the way to or from work. Most garden problems develop rapidly and if you don’t catch them early, you will lose an entire crop,” he said.
Kevin Daugherty, education director for Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom, echoed the sentiment of being willing to put in the time to regularly monitor and maintain your garden. It’s a lesson that carries out in so many other parts of life. “The whole idea is sticking with it and making sure you follow through,” he said.
Keeping in mind, however, that kids have short attention spans, he said that with lettuce you’ll often see it pop up within a few days. If kids are able to see results soon, they’re more likely stay interested.
Daugherty recommends a couple of other ways to help engage kids, one being the website myamericanfarm.org. When they aren’t in the garden, they can be virtual gardeners and do online games and learn about agriculture. His biggest tip is to contact your local master gardeners group to learn more. Volunteer master gardeners are eager to share their knowledge. You may even be able to find a personal gardening mentor who you can go to throughout the season with questions as your garden progresses. For further information on the Purdue Master Gardener Program, visit www.purdue.edu/hla/sites/master-gardener/.
Be sure to look into contests that your child may be able to participate in, which may pique their interest and motivate them to put a good effort into growing. Bonnie Plants has a cabbage-growing contest that you can learn more about on bonniecabbageprogram.com. Some county farm bureaus hold contests of their own, as well, such as the kids’ giant pumpkin growing contest that has been held by the Cook County Farm Bureau.
To ensure better results with your garden, Bush advised that seeds that are purchased from a leading seed company are likely much better quality than some of the inexpensive packets you might get at a grocery store and worth the investment.
Resources for gardening with kids: