Monday, April 23, 2012

Kids more likely to eat what they grow

As a child I worked in a number of gardens including a rock garden that my Mum and I created together. It was nice because the pebbles and sand kept the weeds at bay. That wasn’t the case with the garden my uncle planted at the edge of a wheat field. It was so big it required a John Deere tractor with a 3-point hitch cultivator to weed the garden, and several children (including me) to water it. 

Red potatoes, carrots, corn, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes — you name it — he grew it along with fresh flowers for cutting. Like most kids, I was never one for vegetables or hoeing on a hot summer day, but when the job was done I always felt good. Seeing the neat and tidy rows of plants without weeds, the black earth between them, and knowing I saved my uncle from doing it himself, gave me great satisfaction. 

Uncle Leonard’s garden was almost an acre. 

However, no one really needs that much land to start their own vegetable garden. A small square of backyard or even a flowerpot on a balcony or sunny windowsill is enough. Well, that along with a little bit of care and lots of water. 

Avid gardener and Wiegand’s Nursery manager Lily Ennes said the most important thing about a garden is not the size, but its location. “In order to grow properly, most plants need a minimum of six hours of sun a day,” said Ennes, who plants a garden annually with her grandchildren. 

Once you pick a sunny spot, clean the area of debris, grass and rocks. Ennes said she does the digging but lets her grandchildren help her shake the weeds from the soil. After clearing the area, she and the kids will add a few bags of fresh topsoil. This is good for the plants and makes it easier to create the mounds needed for planting. 

“Our rows are usually 2 feet by 12 inches deep, compacted,” said Ennes, adding that she lets her grandchildren create the mounds that stretch from one end of the garden to the other. “If they’re crooked, who cares? It’s a kids’ garden.” 

What you plant in your garden is totally up to you. If, however, you let your children choose the plants for the garden, they may be more inclined to eat the crops they/you harvest. One of the steps that Ennes’ grandchildren like to do is start their seedlings indoors. If you plant the seeds in egg cartons filled with topsoil, when the seedlings are ready for transplanting the carton can go directly into the ground. Ennes has used egg shells as mini planters. “Just break off the end. Remove the egg and fill the shell with soil,” Ennes said. “Then gently poke a hole in the soil and add a seed.” 

After you transfer your plants into your backyard garden, Ennes suggests building small trellises out of branches and placing them over plants that have vines — cucumber, squash and pumpkins — to give them a place to climb. 

One thing Ennes highly recommends for a children’s garden is sunflowers. 

If you plant them in a circle, once they start growing you can tie them together to create a flower tepee. “My mom used to do it for me using old T-shirts. I just use twine,” Ennes said. Once the flowers grow to full size, it becomes this amazing flower fort that the kids can play in. “It’s surreal to see them playing inside while the birds are eating the flowers outside.” 

Other flowers to consider for a children’s garden are marigolds and zinnias: Marigolds repel insects and the zinnias’ blooms are magnificent and sweet smelling. 

There are Growums kits, created by a dad who wanted to introduce his kids to gardening, that come with everything a child needs to start a garden. Parents can choose from a variety of themed gardens including herb, pizza, salad, stir-fry, taco and ratatouille. What makes it fun for little ones is the names of the plants: Tomicio Tomato, Frank Cilantro and Ice Berg. The kits are interactive in that each one comes with a code enabling the gardeners to learn more about their plants online through animated videos. 

Bad part about the kits is they’re nearly failproof. 

So crucial lessons such as the importance of watering are not learned as they would be from gardeners like Ennes. 

However, not everyone has a green thumb or a grandmother like Ennes. 

For those in need of a little gardening know-how, Master Gardeners at MSU Macomb Extension will present “School Gardening 101,” a unique workshop that teaches parents, garden coordinators, teachers, food service directors and volunteers more about how to work and play in the dirt with kids. 

To register for the workshops — Macomb County (May 14), Oakland County (May 3) and Wayne County (May 10) — visit MSU Workshop or call 586-469-5180. 

Send your comments or home and garden tips to Gina Joseph, The Macomb Daily, 100 Macomb Daily Drive, Mount Clemens, MI 48043, or email them to gina.joseph@macombdaily.com.

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Macomb Daily Features Facebook, and be eligible to win a Growums “Garden in a Box.” It is a complete gardening system that comes with one self-watering container, one Growums Pizza Garden starter kit, collectible stickers featuring the Growums characters,and Growums magic soil.

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