Gardening with children

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Most parents can remember planting a seed in the dirt, waiting and watching, and then how exciting it was when the tiny shoot finally broke the surface. How can such a simple act sprout such an array of knowledge and emotions in children?

Now is the season for families to dedicate some time to gardening. Be it your farm, backyard, patio, or kitchen, there's a crop that will suit your kid's interests, patience and taste.

Fragrant flowers

Flowers probably are best suited for youngsters, because bulbs are easy to handle. Try some fragrant Paperwhite Narcissus and share the story of its vain Greek hero namesake. No dirt needed - simply get a vase, put in some rocks so the bulbs aren't under water (just the roots) and place in a sunny window. Now you can watch the bulbs grow in both directions.

Edible vegetables

With more than 4,000 heirloom tomato varieties, everybody can select their favorite shape, size, color and taste. My family grew a summer's worth of beefsteak tomatoes on our apartment patio with an ingenious upside-down hanging garden. Up top, we grew complementary herbs.

If you have the room, try a Three Sisters Garden of corn, squash and beans. Teach your children about northeast American Indian tribes who plant the three vegetables as companions that helped each other by maximizing growing conditions for one another.

Selecting specialties

Older kids might want to test their green thumbs on plants that require more attention than just water and light. African violets are popular, but may require some chemical knowledge of fertilizers and pH to get them to bloom. Recycle a two-liter plastic soda bottle into an unbreakable terrarium. A lidded aquarium could accommodate plants as well as small amphibians.

Community gardens and pick-your-own

If you're not into tilling the soil at your own home, check out a local community garden or farm. Most require a work commitment in exchange for a portion of the harvest. Or if you want to get out in the fields for only an afternoon, find a local pick-your-own farm. Kids can get a real taste of what it takes to put food on their table.

Eat local

For those who aren't interested in playing in the dirt at all, spend a morning shopping at a municipal or farmers' market. And if you're looking for a real lesson in gastronomics, walk around any international market. It can open up a dialogue about why we eat what we eat.

My advice? Grow something with your family this spring. Kids and plants are a lot alike; with proper care, nourishment, and love, they'll grow strong and bear fruit.