Were you an ardent gardener? Now that you have children, are you having a hard time squeezing in time to work on your garden? Maybe you are new to gardening, but you think you can’t possibly get started with young children? Perhaps you don’t have children yet and this is just one more place where you think they might interfere with your hobbies and interests?
Consider the Family Garden. This is where you incorporate children into every aspect of your garden. With this mindset your garden might not be as organized as you might like, or you might not put each plant in the perfect location. However, I guarantee that you will be more satisfied and your children will learn more from your garden if you involve them in the entire process.
Some people might think this is obvious “of course I let my children help in the garden” but I have watched many people who tell their children to stay out of the garden, who send them off to play elsewhere and just don’t include them. Often this is because they are afraid that the children “might not do it right”, or they might compact the dirt or step on a plant or heavens-forbid, pull up a tender seedling instead of a weed!
I think it’s important to let go of a little control, accept that your garden might not be exactly perfect, and let them help out.
This year I took my toddler and first-graders out with me when I started to turn over the dirt, pull out the weeds that had started with the first melting snow and started laying out my garden. I encouraged them to help me dig. I turn over the dirt & weeds with my big shovel. Then I use my hands to pull out the weeds by the roots and my toddler and older children gather the rocks that come out and put them in a bucket. Shovel by shovel we are working the ground together, getting it ready for seeds. My toddler has enjoyed it so much that every day, rain or shine I hear “Dirt! Dirt! Outside!” The first thing he does when I let him out back is run for the garden, grab a shovel and start moving things around. Of course right now only a very small amount of the garden is planted, so I have to work up a plan for when I don’t really want him digging everywhere.
Right now my plan for controlling his digging is threefold: 1. I let him dig where he wants now. 2. He helps me plant seeds, and I explain that we can’t dig up the seeds. 3. I will keep a part of the garden (the shadiest part) for him to continue to dig in all summer. If worse comes to worse, there may be a point when I resort to fencing. I usually use some amount of fencing as support for plants like my tomatoes anyhow, so it might just work its way in.
I’m also trying to include my daughter more fully in gardening this year. She’s in first grade and quite smart (if I do say so myself). This year, instead of just talking to Jon about where everything should go in the garden, I decided to discuss it with Ellie. I talked to her about what needs a lot of sun, and what can do with less and then which parts of the garden are the sunniest. Then we talked about how the carrots were easy for little kids to pick last year because they were right near the edge and that was a good location. Next month when it’s time to put in tomatoes I’ll talk to her about the idea that some plants do well next to each other and others need to be further apart – for example, tomatoes and basil do very well together, but it’s good to keep your peppers farther away from the tomatoes. After discussing these things, I let her pick where we should put the lettuce and carrots. I picked where to put the snap peas – I wanted to try a new location, so I explained to her why we planted them where we did (they’re going to grow up a string trellis between two support of our solar awning!)
I realize that letting a first grader decide where we put the various plants might not result in the “perfect” locations, but including her like this really makes her feel a lot more invested in the garden. Who knows, maybe we’ll find a better layout than we’ve had previously.
These are the first things that we’re doing to make our garden a “family garden” this year. How are you including your whole family when you garden?