By Elizabeth Barker
Planting and cultivating a garden with your family can offer a bounty of benefits to you and your kids. Along with fostering your kids' fondness for fresh fruits and veggies, gardening with your children can enhance their eco-consciousness.
"It's so valuable for kids to see the direct effect of their taking care of the earth," says Rose Judd-Murray, education specialist for the National Gardening Association. What's more, working in the garden gives kids hands-on learning about hard-to-grasp concepts, like reducing pesticide use and preventing soil erosion.
Even if you've never picked up a trowel, starting a garden can be a snap! Here, four easy ways to build a kid-friendly plot that thrives:
1. Get Prepped
First, size up the soil quality and sunlight availability in your backyard. Choose a space that sees about six hours or more of sunshine each day. To prepare soil for planting, you can add composted matter (a great way to use the contents of your kitchen compost can, if you have one). Then, loosen the soil to give roots a place to grow, and remove any visible weeds. For more tips on prepping soil, visit Garden.org. Don't be afraid to start small, says Judd-Murray. "You don't need to dig up your entire lawn," she says. "You can just begin with a couple of containers, or go to a garden center and pick up some transplants that pop right out of the plastic and into the ground."
2. Choose Your Crops
When gardening with little ones, keep short attention spans in mind and include a few seeds that won't take too long to sprout -- think carrots and radishes for vegetable gardens, sunflowers and zinnias for flower plots. And while inspiring kids to try new veggies is a great gardening perk, focusing on foods they already love is also essential. "Children might like to plant raspberries to make their own jam, for instance, or grow the ingredients for homemade pizza sauce -- such as tomatoes, peppers, onions, marjoram, garlic and basil," says Elizabeth McCorquodale, author of Kids in the Garden.
3. Add an Eco-element
To teach your kids that plants can flourish naturally, look to eco-options for pest control. "Keeping plants healthy so they can defend themselves is key, so make sure to nourish them with homemade compost and use mulch to seal in moisture," says McCorquodale. Building barriers from ground eggshells can also shield your plants from attack, she notes. And introducing beneficial bugs like ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies can provide natural defense against the bad bugs and stop them from chowing down on your crops.
4. Cultivate Your Kid's Green Thumbs
As your children get gardening, take note of the tasks they most enjoy. "Some kids will love the digging and weeding and organizing, while others will get a thrill from the competition of growing the fattest, sweetest or shiniest plants," says McCorquodale. To keep that enthusiasm from waning, she recommends dividing the more tedious gardening duties into brief blocks of time.
Setting your kids up for gardening success is also a smart move, according to McCorquodale. "Give the children their own sunny corner and fill it with the best weed-free soil," she suggests. "When it comes to nurturing their love for gardening, remember that a little success can go a long way."
Elizabeth Barker is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and executive editor of fashion blog NoGoodForMe.com. Her work has appeared in Body + Soul, Natural Health, Vegetarian Times, Variety and Kiwi.
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