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" IT'S OUR GARDEN " By Elizabeth and Crow Miller

Sow And Grow Starting A Child's Garden

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A successful child's garden requires adult supervision and occasional direct assistance. Don't make the too-common mistake of just providing tools, seeds and a spot in the yard. Youthful gardening fever can fade quickly if the actual job becomes overwhelming. Moral support through your physical presence, with a little technical advice and an occasional assist with the spade or hoe, goes a long way in maintaining interest.

Before you dig in, give some thought to the size of the garden. It should conform to the age, capability and interest of the child. Until about the kindergarten age, children would benefit most by being helpers in your garden. After 9 or 10, they usually can handle a garden of their own. A good garden size for such young children would be about 3 by 5 feet. It may be small, but so is the child. And since young children have short attention spans, you don't want to bore them with gardening chores. Keep the work time short and it will remain sweet. Remember, your garden, or your child's, gardening is fun, not a chore.

Pick the site for the garden with care. While you may be able to over -come soil, water or light problems, a child cannot. The best site for a child's garden would be in full sun, with adequate drainage, easy-to-work soil, near a source of water. Once past this hurdle, they can handle the other tasks with just your guidance.

Straight rows, properly spaced, make for an attractive garden, but young children do not have the physical and visual coordination to carry that out to perfection. It is better to broadcast the small seeds such as radish and lettuce in bands or blocks. After seeding one crop, move the markers to define the next planting area. Onion sets are large enough to be handled individually, and can be planted about 2-inches deep

Quick maturing crops used in a small child's garden will usually grow fast enough to be ready for harvest before weeds become a problem. Planting the seeds in blocks also helps to crowd out the weeds. But, if weeds begin to crowd the crop plants, they will have to be removed. That can become an undesirable chore for small children, but can be made fun if you do it together and name the weeds as you pull them. Many weeds are good to eat; dandelions, purslane, lamb's Quarters and chickweed are a few that may be eat

Let the child begin to harvest as soon as the crops are large enough. As the harvest continues, be sure to let the little green-thumer know that they contributing to improve the families nutrition and health.

Children measure their success in a garden in basically two ways: How fast they can grow something to eat, and how close they can come to meeting your expectations of them. The first isn't hard to handle. the second depends on how you involve yourself in the venture. Be realistic. Don't set unattainable goals for the child. Insure success by guiding and occasionally helping with the work and frequently pass out compliments. Don't do their garden for them.

You, on the other hand, should measure your child's gardening success, not by what crops were grown, but by how much he or she has grown. It's true, Children do grow in your garden.

Nurturing plants from seed to harvest inevitably leads to increased feelings of confidence, self-esteem and pride. One only see the beaming face of a child who has harvested their first carrot to appreciate the value of this experience. The child becomes empowered and motivated by the realizatio that hard work and patience produce concrete, satisfying results.

Above all, gardening if Fun and is a skill that, once acquired, can be a lifelong companion. It is not a skill that must be mastered to be enjoyed, and it is extremely adaptable to diverse needs and abilities.

For some children gardening may offer merely the excitement of watching seeds grow and harvesting the bounty. For others it offers the opportunity to develop skills they would build on as adults, Leading possibly to a rewarding hobby or career.

Copyright · 1996 / Crow Miller, Syndication / Garden Philosophy / #54 /