Posted by: Yvette Henson, CSU Extension, San Miguel Basin
Most people with grandchildren will tell you how much joy their grandkids bring into their lives and how much fun it is to experience life anew with their littles. I have realized over the last few years the positive impact grandparents can make in the lives of their grandchildren. I can’t count the times I have heard someone attribute their love of gardening or nature or whatever to a grandparent. And yes, I garden with my grandkids. I have 4! Adelle is almost 12 now! Maddox is almost 5! Coen and Micah, fraternal twin brothers to Maddox, are 19 months old!
I understand that not everyone is a grandparent and not all grandparents garden or are completely positive influences. However, what I am writing about today applies to anyone who loves to garden and loves children. A little later in this article, I will give you some tips, resources and opportunities for gardening with children, but first I want to tell you about some of my experiences gardening with my grandkids and how I have been blessed by it even more than them!
Adelle was my first grandchild and I was fortunate to get to spend a lot of time with her. She would help me in my personal gardens and go with me to care for CSU Extension Gardens that I oversee. She would eat anything right out a garden, as long as I washed it first. Because of that she loves fresh vegetables and fruit more than any other foods. Together, we experienced fava beans for the first time—we planted them, cared for them, harvested them and cooked them. Together, we discovered with delight the soft, fuzzy interior of a fava bean shell and that when you cook the fava bean that grew nestled inside that blanket, it splits open to reveal a bright green, delicious bean! When the seeds of the particular variety that we grow and save seed from, ‘Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto’ (early purple), mature they are a beautiful dark purple. I sometimes carry one in my pocket. Each year when I ask Adelle what we should plant in the garden she says ‘fava beans!’
This past year, Maddox and his twin brothers and parents all lived with us! We had, at times, 8 people living in our house! We planted a ‘big’ garden-- as big as we could grow in the space we have.
Maddox was the most consistent help I had. He helped me plant every seed. He helped me water but at times I would have to relieve him of watering duty, since like most children, he has a tendency to ‘water’ other things than just the garden. (Sheesh! We are in a drought after all! And my own grandmother who grew up in western Colorado had taught me to NEVER waste water.)
Maddox got to harvest some of the veggies we planted together before they moved to California last month. This boy who won’t eat salad at dinner, would eat the perpetual spinach we grew right out of the garden, saying “Mmmm… I love this stuff!” Once, when his dad went with him to harvest some of it for dinner, his dad harvested some beet leaves too. Maddox said, "Daddy, don't do that because the beets need their leaves to grow big"!
Coen and Micah helped plant beans, plucked leaves to munch and pulled carrots and beets. Their favorite garden duty was pulling the legs off grasshoppers. I would then finish them off-- out of their sight of course!
I could tell you so many more stories of funny experiences and things we've learned together in the garden but I promised to give you some tips. I’ve picked just a few.
- I recommend that, as much as possible ,you garden from start to finish with the kids you are blessed to garden with. Doing the work together is the most effective way to teach and to learn. Explain the how and the why as you go; Experience the wonder and beauty all along the way! Plan, look at seed catalogs, prep the soil, plant, water, feed, do organic pest control, harvest, clean, cook and eat! Don’t forget to allow some plants to go to seed for next year!
- Let kids plant the big bean seeds AND let them plant tiny carrot seeds and kale seeds too. There is so much variety!
- Mistakes teach the best lessons—like when Madds spilled a bunch of carrot seeds he was trying to put back into the package. When they sprouted in a clump, he could see right where he spilled them (and this excited him for some reason). He could see how they grew too close and learned they had to be thinned and that a lot of seeds were ‘lost’.
- If you can, let them play in the water—just a little. And then, lay back and enjoy the fruits of your labor together with them!
If you love to garden and you love kids, whether you have grandkids or not, there are many books and YouTube videos to inspire you and give you some fun ideas for activities in the garden. A few of our personal favorite books are: Sunflower Houses: Inspiration From the Garden--A Book for Children and Their Grown-Ups by Sharon Lovejoy, Miss Maple's Seeds by Eliza Wheeler and A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston. A VLOG I really enjoy is Roots and Refuge Farm. Jess’s videos often show footage of her 4 sons helping her on their homestead and in the garden.
Your local CSU Extension Office most likely has volunteer opportunities for you to garden with children, such as Junior Master Gardener and/or becoming a leader of a 4-H gardening club!