Kids love gardening, although some come to it reluctantly at first. There's magic in seeds that astounds them when they plant and watch things grow. Gardening is a great way for a child to know where food comes from, while providing tasty rewards at the end. Many parents find that children will try new vegetables or more readily eat the standards, when they have grown them. It teaches children how to make good food choices, instills a love of nature and provides physical activity. It can also teach them about different cultures when they grow ethnic foods.
Since gardening is a multigenerational activity, it is a wonderful way to connect parents, grandparents and youngsters as they share growing what they eat. Time spent with caring adults is a critical component to reducing at-risk behaviors in young people.
To make gardening a happy experience for a child, let the child help design the garden. A garden doesn't necessarily have to be rectangular. Maybe the child wants it to be in the shape of a butterfly or something else as whimsical.
How big should a garden be? For little gardeners with short arms, the bed should match their reach. They should be able to reach the middle of the bed without stepping into it. Foot traffic on soil compresses it and makes it hard for plants to grow. Beds should be only as wide as the smallest gardener's reach. Beds that are 2-feet across provide easy access for preschool children up to second-graders. Three-foot-wide beds work well for older youth. Bed length can vary depending on the size of your yard.
Although watering by hand is one of a child's favorite garden activities, and is a quick solution to watering, it is too variable for good plant growth. It may be difficult to track when and how much water was applied. For consistency and successful plant growth, it is best to use an automatic drip, soaker or sprinkler system run by a timer. When possible, let the child water the plants, as a supplement to an automated system. Watering by hand involves a child in garden care and introduces him to being responsible by teaching how, when and how much to water.
One of my favorite memories is picking beans and tomatoes with my grandma and uncle. Make special memories with your children that last a lifetime. Teach them to garden.
• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-2252.