photo credit: Mike the Gardener
|Some of my earliest childhood memories are working with my dad in his vegetable garden. I can remember heading over to my grandparent`s house and always being amazed at what they had growing. Everything growing in their gardens were always so healthy and colorful. The images of the vibrant red tomatoes and the dark green, fresh looking cucumbers are ingrained into my mind for eternity.
If you listened to episode #178 of the Vegetable Gardening Podcast, then you heard my interview with P. Allen Smith. In that episode he and I had a nice chat about gardening at home. Specifically he asked me what was the one memory that I refer back to that translated to me being so passionate about gardening today. Without hesitation my mind immediately raced to my dadís tomatoes.
My father grew all kinds of great things in his garden, but it was his tomatoes that were clearly the best. He had the juiciest, freshest tomatoes that I have ever tasted and quite frankly, havenít tasted since. They were always bright red, and when you sliced into them, the juice would just shoot all over the place.
Besides being an avid gardener, my dadís first passion (and still is to this day) is his love for fishing. He would take all of the remains of the fish that he caught, after he had filleted them, and buried them in his soil. He did not grind them up, he did not do anything fancy with them, he simply dug a hole and dropped the fish waste in there.
When I was a kid I did not understand the science of this routine and quite frankly I am not so sure my dad did either, but it was something my grandfather did, so my father did it and I do the same now. Although I must admit, I did my research as to why this method works as a great way to add nutrients back into your soil.
|Fast forward to today. I am now a dad and among many other responsibilities of being dad, one of them is getting my own kids to learn about gardening. Why is it important to get my kids gardening? Maybe on a subconscious level I want my kids to love gardening as much as I do. Maybe, I want them to have similar memories as mine. The memories of those red juicy tomatoes that my dad grew. However, I believe there is a bigger picture, on a more conscious level, as to why I want my kids to learn gardening.
On a national level, and possibly a global level, there are skills and knowledge that are disappearing everyday from this planet. I was reminded of this by Chris McLaughlin author of the book A Garden to Dye For. In her book she writes about how to dye objects naturally using the color pigments obtained from plants you can grow right at home. This was the way things were dyed way way way back in the day. Here over a century later, Chris is reintroducing this method back to the general public. A skill lost by many, but luckily not forgotten by a few.
You might be thinking, what does this have to do with teaching my own kids gardening, and the answer is everything! Imagine if my grandparents, who had to grow their food for their very survival (they were of the great depression era), never taught my dad how to grow a garden and why it was important to have one.
What would he have been able to teach me? Probably nothing. I might have found gardening on my own and I might not have, but luckily for me I donít have to entertain that scenario, and with my own gardening efforts of getting my kids in the garden, neither will they.
You see, I believe growing your own food at home is one of the best skills you can teach your kids. Letís face it. Without food you arenít surviving long. I read somewhere the big 3ís are air, water and food. You will only survive 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. I did not scientifically verify the information, but it sounds close enough for me.
With food being such an important part of a personís life, you canít live without it, it only made complete sense to teach my kids how to grow their own food, and where food comes from.
|Spending time with my kids in the garden starts well before the ground has thawed and that first tomato has ripened. Gardening with my kids begins in the off season of winter. That time when we are getting many of our seeds started indoors. It is at that point, I teach them all about the soil, why itís important, the different seeds, why some are started in the winter, all about the grow lights and so much more.
Luckily for me they retain this information very well. In my house I donít simply give them the answer, they get ďhands on training.Ē They get a chance to start seeds of their own indoors. I make it fun with adding arts & crafts projects to the mix, which they like, but if they want to start some seeds, dad does not do it for them. They must do the work necessary to start those seeds themselves.
Once gardening season outside gets under way, that is when I will help them transplant those seedlings. They put a lot of work into starting those seeds and it would absolutely be heart breaking to see their young plants wither away. Of course many have told me, ďyou know, that is a real world possibility, and they should experience it.Ē I agree with that sentiment, but for now, being that they are so young, I want them to get excited about the things they are growing. I will focus on overcoming failure in a future season.
This year in our garden, the kids have sunflowers growing, cantaloupe, pumpkins and watermelon. My younger son even took it upon himself to grow a radish and some peas. The radish grew great, the peas, not so much. He didnít seem too concerned about the peas though. They are most excited about the sunflowers. Not because they are the mammoth variety and are going to grow over six feet tall, and not because they are going to produce all of those tasty seeds, no, they are excited because as luck would have it, my kids are competitive.
|You might be asking, what does that mean? Itís simple. They both planted a sunflower seed on the same day. Their seeds germinated and popped through the soil on the same day. We moved their sunflowers outdoors, in the same area of the garden, planted about 2 feet from one another, mixed in with one that I am growing and one that my wife is growing. The competition lies in, which sunflower will grow the tallest and which will produce seeds first.
I am ok with a little competition, but now my younger sonís sunflower is a bit smaller than my older sonís and my older son does not let my younger son forget that tidbit of information every time they are near the sunflowers. Who would have ever thought there would be trash talking at the sunflowers in the garden.
Ok itís not that bad, but if you have experience with sibling rivalries, you know what I am talking about. However, mom reminds everyone whose sunflower is currently the tallest, and itís not my sonís and itís not mine. You can guess from here.
Beyond the teaching of where food comes from and growing fresh fruits, veggies and herbs at home, the untold story of the garden, that my kids love, is learning about all of the cool insects you can see. Of course not all of those ďcoolĒ insects are good for your garden, but I believe it is important that my kids learn which bugs are good, which are bad and what they look like.
To aid with this I picked up a really neat laminated guide called Mac`s Field Guide for the Northeast. There is one for every area of the United States. It costs just a few bucks, and itís worth itís weight in gold. Mac`s Field Guide acts as a quick reference guide if we see a bug that we are not sure about.
My older son is great at snatching up the field guide, heading out to the garden and making some notes as to what he is seeing out there. Our garden has not only been a food producing machine, but it is an entomology class in real time. This is just another benefit of having a garden at home.
So when someone asks me, do your kids help me in the garden?, my answer is an astounding yes. I wouldnít miss the opportunity to spend time with my kids in the garden for anything else in the world.
Please share this article! Let`s get everyone gardening!
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