Teaching Kids To Garden
My Personal Story
My mother was my gardening teacher from the time I was five years old. She would build my enthusiasm before she took me out to the garden to help dig a hole or help with a little weeding. My mom knew that I was kid with a short attention span, so she would only push me as hard as she knew I would enjoy. She put me in charge—or at least, I thought I was in charge—of amending the soil. I remember she would have soil bags next to the vegetable plot every year. It was my job to help spread the soil and add a little fertilizer. I loved that part and I still do! Maybe that’s why I became Dr. Earth®!
I remember learning in elementary school about the pilgrims and how the Indians taught them to amend the soil with fish and other natural materials. This really stuck in my mind. My father and I would go fishing in the spring and summer just about every Sunday in Santa Monica, Malibu, and Paradise Cove, California. When I was seven, I came up with the clever idea to bring home all the fish by-products I could from the fishing boat my father approved.
With my mother’s guidance, I buried fish bones, fish heads, intestines, and basically all the waste products (fish scraps) that would be thrown back into the ocean, in an area of the garden approximately three feet by three feet. We waited a few weeks to let things decompose a little and then we planted some vegetables. I remember we planted a couple of tomato plants and a few cucumber plants. This was my first success in the garden. It really made a huge impact on me and my love for gardening. My fish fertilized plot outperformed all other plants in the garden, and my mother made sure she relayed that to every family member and friend that visited us. Wow! What great feelings of pride and joy that gave me! My mom told me that I was a great gardener.
I caught the gardening bug young, and I could not wait until our next project began, even if it was to help weed or cultivate the soil. I must admit though, my favorite part of gardening was harvesting summer vegetables, especially tomatoes and cucumbers, and eating them right off the vine before they ever made it inside the house.
My mom was my best teacher. Because of her guidance and support, my very first class elective in junior high school was botany. When most of my friends were taking wood shop, metal shop or printing shop, I chose botany. That was one of the most important decisions of my life. It gave me the fundamental knowledge about plants that I needed to involve myself in more community gardening projects. By the time I was in high school, I was a seasoned gardener with many years of experience behind me. I ultimately went to college, studied plant science and went on to become founder and creator of Dr. Earth Inc., a very successful organic fertilizer, soil, and organic insect spray company that now is nationally renowned. The experiences that my Mom gave me as a child in the garden have helped to shape my entire life. It is amazing what kids will become with a little guidance and enthusiasm. I personally believe the best thing you can ever grow is a gardener.
Passing On The Tradition
To kids, young and old, a garden is a big world filled with possibilities. Even the simplest garden can be a place of mystery and excitement, but gardens can offer so much more. The best ones are filled with special places—sunny spots, trellises dripping with sweet raspberries and crisp sugary peas, pumpkin vines rampaging on fences, clumps of milky corn on the cob to be gathered and nibbled, each small kernel popping creamy sweetness, vast pools of nasturtiums with nectar to be sucked, snapdragons to be snapped, ants to watch for hours, clouds to see strange worlds in, jungles of summer leaves to hide in, teepees of sweet peas to read beneath.
Fortunately, in the Dr. Earth organic world—provided that no poisonous plants are grown—children can play freely. Ponds, however, present a danger even if they are shallow, and should not be accessible until children are old enough.
Children love to imitate what we adults do. Allocate a small area of a good piece of land, one that has been well cultivated and composted. First results with gardening have a way of staying with us. Poor soil in a shady corner is a recipe for early disillusionment with gardening.
Large-seeded plants are easiest for young fingers to manage. Corn is a good choice. Make sure that many seeds are planted. Draw a circle on the soil and encourage your child to plant it evenly with seed. Sunflowers are an easy crop. So too are zucchini, tomatoes, nasturtiums, marigolds, beans, peas and strawberries.
Include children in planning garden plantings for the season. Vegetables become special when you own them or have helped care for them. Make harvesting a privilege and supply a personalized basket to make the job special. Create projects that you can do together, such as planting a flower carpet. Design it together, choosing the pattern and the colors, selecting the right dwarf plants, buying or raising seedlings together, drawing the pattern on the soil and filling it in. The living picture is glowing color in midsummer will be a memory to treasure. Use a simple motif such as a white duck against blue water with a yellow sun, or a pattern of squares.
Creating a thyme lawn, a planter pot filled with strawberries or a hanging basket full of flowers, or constructing a teepee for climbing beans are all simple projects that will bring the magic of gardening into young lives, as well as older ones. Don’t forget the simplest of pleasures, making it a family event. A few fairytales, myths, and magic can complete a perfect summer memory.