Growing and Sowing

Getting kids into the garden takes a little digging in the dirt
By: Jane Rounsaville, Special to Home & Garden
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,When it comes to gardening, most kids would rather plant themselves in front of the TV or video games than dig in the backyard. But, with a little patience and some potting soil, parents and grandparents can get kids off the living room couch — and into the sunshine. Kids are also more likely to try new foods if they grow them in their own gardens. Radishes, cherry tomatoes and carrots are popular with young gardeners because they are easy to grow. “I remember when my girls were little,” recalled Peggy Beltramo, president of the Auburn Garden Club. “I could see the cherry tomato bush, and then two pairs of legs underneath it, because they were standing behind it eating the tomatoes.” Even toddlers and pre-schoolers can help in the garden. Beltramo’s grandchildren have been involved in gardening since they were tiny. “My grandson, who is 3, helps his mom water all the time, and he has his own little watering can,” she said. Kevin Marini, University of California Cooperative Extension adviser for the Placer County Master Gardener program, has noticed a recent trend in school gardening, that parents and grandparents can incorporate into their own backyards. “Instead of just having planting beds, you have an area that is maybe a sandbox, and then you have an arbor with a couple of seats under it,” he explained. “(Create) little spaces where they can go and hang out, and explore the area, so they’re not just out there in a teacher-led lesson. They can actually go out there and explore the little garden area or nature area on their own.” Marini recommends starting with a variety of plants that kids can experience with their senses. “Many types of plants are good to group together in kind of a fragrant garden,” he said. “Maybe that is rosemary, certain sages and other herbs like that. Then, maybe a little area that has different textures of plants, like a lambs ear plant — that is really soft, and other plants that have leathery leaves.” He also emphasized the importance of teaching children about composting. “It closes the circle,” he said. “You start with a seed, and you grow this plant. When the plant dies, you can take that plant and compost it. Add the compost back into that same bed, and help grow new plants.” June Stewart, 4-H Youth Development Program representative, says that creating a compost file is easy. Kids can make their own compost with banana peels, grass clippings and vegetable waste that might otherwise be thrown away. They can also re-grow plants from kitchen scraps. Stewart suggests using potatoes that have started to sprout, carrot and pineapple tops and fruit seeds. “You can take an avocado seed and poke toothpicks into it,” she said. “Suspend it so that the bottom touches water, and it will grow a new avocado plant.” “The best thing for little kids to plant is to take a Styrofoam cup, and have them poke holes in the bottom for it to get drainage,” She said. “Have them put in damp potting soil, and something that germinates pretty fast.” Kids love to plant grass seeds, because the grass resembles hair, and they can also feed the clipped grass to their animals, she said. Mini container gardens are fun family projects. Drill a few drainage holes into the bottom of a 4-gallon white bucket, and fill it with potting soil. “You can plant a cherry tomato, or you could plant peppers if they like that,” Stewart said. “You could plant carrots and even radishes and lettuces in a bucket.” Give summertime plants like tomatoes and squash plenty of room, though, because they love to grow in the sunshine, she said. Give kids plenty of room, and they will love to grow in the sunshine, too. Jane Rounsaville can be reached at