Chapter Eight: Who's Taking Care of This Garden Anyway?
Visit your garden with your children every day to make sure you don't miss its rewards: opening flowers, the first pumpkin, fresh strawberries, buzz of honeybees, whir of hummingbirds....You and your children will naturally tend the garden as you inspect plants for discoveries. Thin a few carrots, explaining that this gives the other carrots room to grow.
As you munch on fresh snap peas, surely you can't help pulling a few weeds around them. If the lettuce is dry and it looks like a hot day ahead, set up the watering system, all the while carrying on a conversation with your little ones about what you're doing. If you discover the Japanese beetles have emerged to chomp your scarlet runner beans, you and your youngsters can plunk them into a jar of soapy water.
The more time you spend together in the garden, the more your kids will feel like the garden is truly theirs and the more they'll take care of it. In Eden this pleasant care would be all that's needed to keep your garden in balance. It never works that way does it? Well, it might if your children's garden is a half-barrel of posies or one square yard in size. Otherwise, as with the family pets, some chores inevitably fall to the adults.
Encourage children to do a share of all the garden chores with you: feeding plants, watering, thinning, staking, weeding, edging, and pest patrol. But don't let chores become a battleground. Children get hot and parched more quickly than you, and time seems to pass at a different rate.
Be mindful of their limits. If, say, a kindergartner gardens for an hour in early morning, you can finish the job while he's off to the neighbor's sandbox for some excavation. Most importantly though, the gardens should not become neglected -- it only sends the wrong message.
Likewise, if you see a plant in your children's garden that is near death's door, see what you can do to save it without taking over. It is important for a small child to have a successful first experience. Some parents intervene just a little; some furtively replace horticultural calamities to ensure that success. It depends on the parents and the age of the child.
Another decision you can make is whether to make gardening a money-making opportunity. Some parents promise, say, a penny a piece for snipping mom's spent daffodils or cash for a can of Colorado potato beetles. A little competition and incentive works, but be careful not to turn gardening into child labor. You'll get the work done, but you won't have a child who loves gardening in the long run.
Everyone loves to harvest. Whether it's picking bouquets or pumpkins, make it a family event. Teach children how to identify ripe vegetables and peak posies. After picking, show them how to take care of the produce. And together, make fresh delicious meals. Together, donate abundance to people who need it.
As the season turns, it's time for lessons about frost and closing the garden. Tidy up the plot, turn and amend the soil, put away the pots, and clean and store the tools for the winter.