Strike while the garden fever’s hot

TIME was children did their bit in the family vegetable garden, no argument. And then came another time, when hardly anyone over three or under 20 picked up a spade at all.

But now being green and growing things have become decidedly cool. Parents report children returning home from school and posing awkward questions like, “Why don’t WE have a wormery/

chickens/a compost heap?”

This is the moment to make your move and announce, or propose (depending on your style of parenting) the launch of a family kitchen garden.

ý FIRST STEPS

Catching them really early is best, of course, and if you’re a novice this is also a good way to get going. Make it one step from the sandpit to the veggie patch with a small raised bed or planter box in your toddler’s play area.

Buy a little watering can and a child’s gardening set of tools and get your mite to help you plant it up, in stages.

Day one:with a seedling tray of bright flowers for instant reward – marigolds, petunias or edible violas will do the trick. Day two:a tray or two of red and green loose-leaf lettuces, another of curly parsley. Day three:a row or two of large seeds: “Bright Lights” chard (colourful), radishes (fast) and nasturtiums (also edible) are good choices. With planting and watering imprinted as fun from an early age, it’s a relatively simple step from here to get them to help in the garden itself as they grow.

ý FAMILY PROJECT:

A SEVEN-POINT PLAN

With school-going children, if you’re planning a kitchen garden of any size, aim to involve them from the start and make it a joint project.

Explain why you want to do this – wholesome nutrition, pesticide-free, fresh, convenient, relaxing, and good for the environment.

Chances are they may have absorbed a lot of this already at school and via TV and the internet.

A good way to find out how much they know is to take them shopping (of course) to a farmers’ market or a specialist greengrocer to look at a wide range of vegetables and find out what they would like to grow.

Take them to a garden centre too, to see what’s available in both seeds and seedlings.

1. Ask them, or help them, to do research into the veggies they fancy and how to grow them.

Suggest they also check out soil preparation, companion planting, crop rotation and planting by the moon, which provides a useful monthly calendar of tasks and also places the garden in a much bigger picture.

2. Show them pictures of different styles of vegetable gardens, simple and fancy, and discuss practical options in the light of their research – and yours.

Explain that it’s best to keep it smallish to start with and to begin with easy, quick-growing crops (early successes are important). Get them to help plan what will be planted where.

3. Set aside time to all work together to get the garden prepared and planted.

Depending on age and inclination, everyone in the family will have different strengths, and different contributions to make, even if it’s only watering or hunting snails.

Allot tasks accordingly: watering, weeding and checking for pests can be done on a rotational basis.

Resist the temptation to intervene or take over those tasks, but keep your hand on the controls.

Draw attention to problems and discuss solutions as necessary. Inevitably, enthusiasm will fluctuate so it’s important that you maintain yours.

4. It’s important to ring the changes by trying new crops and varieties.

Avoid gluts (and the resultant boredom), by sowing for succession: ie a row or two every fortnight. Some surplus is good, though, because it can be shared with friends and neighbours.

5. Take photographs along the way and encourage them to document progress.

Keep a record yourself, in a diary or online. Looking back on the growth and change in each plant and the garden will be a source of encouragement and delight.

6. Try not to rush time spent with your kids in the garden. In hectic periods you can do a 10-minute tour together of an evening, enough to spot any problems and to see what’s almost ready to harvest.

7. In small gardens make each picking, especially the first of the season, a celebration.

There will be all kinds of unexpected spin-offs.

A vegetable garden is a wonderful outdoor classroom for children to learn about nature and to use their powers of observation and deduction.

They will also see the rewards of diligence and the consequences of neglect.

They can pick what they’ve grown and help to prepare it. You might find yourselves not only gardening together, but also picking produce, cooking and sitting down to meals together, something that doesn’t seem to happen often enough these days.

ý ENCOURAGING EXTRAS

A wormery is a great motivator and produces excellent fertiliser for crops.

A compost bin of some kind makes it easy to recycle garden waste and kitchen peelings.

A Bokashi unit will “digest” cooked food and leftovers: extremely useful with kids in the house. Visit www.bokashi.co.za

Livingseeds’ vegetable starter kit and manual is a good way to get going. It also includes their “Tater Sack”, which is a easy and compact way to grow potatoes – and to prove that freshly dug spuds boiled in their jackets might almost taste as good as chips. Visit www.livingseeds.co.za © Home Weekly

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