Growing Through Gardening
By Richard Romney
Cultivating a garden, whether downtown or in the country, can be a fun learning experience for the whole family.
Ask the Randy and Brenda Ririe family which vegetables they grow, and their first response will be "potatoes." That's because, right now, their 300-acre farm outside Basin City, Wash., includes acres of them, plus lots of other vegetables. But in addition to these fields of crops for market, they also have a 25-by-25-foot vegetable garden just for the family.
Ask the Scott and Laurie England family which vegetables they grow, and they'll take you to the backyard of their suburban home in East Mill Creek, Utah. There, between the lawn and the fence, Laurie will show you a well-organized 20-by-50-foot garden, complete with a drip irrigation system and a compost bin.
A bountiful harvest
Both of these couples have something besides gardens in commonthey have children, too. Their two older children are grown, but the Riries still have a 14-year-old and 9-year-old at home. The Englands have four children from ages 8 to 14.
In both families, the children will tell you that they have learned more than gardening skills by helping with their family's garden.
"We've learned about teamwork," says Stephanie Ririe, 14, "because a couple of us working together can get a lot more done than one person working alone. When there are two of us, we can make it fun."
Whitney England, 13, says she has learned the value of listening to instructions. "My mom really knows about gardening," she says. "So when she tells us what to do, we know we need to do it."
Laurie England says she goes out of her way not to demand too much. "Gardening is what I love," she explains, "so I want it to be fun for the children, not overwhelming." While she and Scott do the heavy work, "we have the children help with the planting, some of the weeding and hoeing, and with the harvestingthings where they can see immediate results."
What's in your garden?
If you were asked which vegetables you were growing and your answer was "none," perhaps you might want to reconsider.
Both the Riries and the Englands have found that growing a garden can be a great family activity. The good news is that there's plenty of help available for would-be family gardeners. And even if you live "in a house or apartment with only a balcony, patio, or roof area for gardening," as the publication Gardening in Containers (Ortho Books, 1997) puts it, "you can develop your horticultural skills and please your palate with an edible garden in containers."
It is impossible to list everything about getting started in gardening in a short article, but here are few tips. (See a list of additional resources in the sidebar.)
Grow at your own speed.
"We've found that some of the most reliable crops are…beets, chard, cucumbers, green beans, leaf lettuce, parsley, peppers, radishes, summer squash, and tomatoes," writes co-author Michael MacCaskey in Gardening for Dummies (Dimensions, 1999).
It's a good strategy to start with plants like those first to learn what you're doing. If you've never had a garden, you and your children may be perfectly happy growing a couple of cucumber vines and two or three tomato plants. Then, when you have confidence, try something new.
Plan for a day in the sun.
Start small; grow tall.
There are many techniques for building raised plant beds. Laurie England likes to leave the pathways in her garden untilled and unwatered, which reduces work and weeding. Some plants will grow on trellises or poles, and with a little help they can be trained to grow vertically.
Avoid too much water.
Think things through.
Weeding and fertilizing, like watering, are best managed with a schedule. Be wise in using insecticidesmany require a waiting period before you can safely eat treated food.
Also remember to accommodate the growing season. Plant too early, and you may lose vegetables to frost. Plant too late, and you may not have time to harvest before winter. Where growing seasons are short, start seedlings indoors or buy them from a nursery. In warmer climates, plan for two or more growing seasons in a year.
Show you careand share.
Plant fun plantslike cherry tomatoes or strawberriesthat they can eat for a healthy after-school snack. Enter what you've grown in the county fair. Make that gigantic zucchini into zucchini bread and take itas a familyto the neighbors. If you have lots of extra vegetables, share them around as well, or take them to a food bank.
If you and your family invest the time and energy, it may soon be the case that no one will have to ask you which vegetables you grow. You will have already told them all about it.
Richard M. Romney writes from Salt Lake City.
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