Childrens Gardening

Katie Hales and her <lop. Huffy, enjoy lazy summer afternoons playing in a teepee covered with vines of scarlet runner beans, peas, and morning glories.

Give a child the gift of working with Mother Nature. It will be the start of a love that will last a lifetime. The miracle of seeds that grow into huge pumpkins, tall sunflowers or tiny carrots and Jack Be Little pumpkins small enough to fit in the hand, will tickle and excite children. A garden is a wonderful thing to share with children—yours, your neighbors', or those of friends.

There are many fun garden activities you can share pleasantly with a child. The patience and attention span of children are short, and with young children it is best to make gardening light-hearted, rather than a drudgery. Let them come and go in the garden as they please, and play around in the dirt or mud (a favorite activity of children through the ages).

Activities with quick or surprising results really capture a child's attention. Bed radishes germinate quickly and can be eaten in about four weeks. Plant a variety of radishes—red. white, long, short, and fat—and you will create a learning experience to delight children with a new shape and color every time they pull a radish from the ground. (See whether they can match the radish to its name— 'Easter Egg', 'Krench Breakfast". "White Icicle', 'Cherry Bomb', and so on.)

Sunflowers also germinate quickly to stand at attention, lowering over kids, in about eight weeks. As the plants grow ever taller, the kids will have to crick their heads back to see the sunflower's face. There are many ways to use sunflower seeds, all of them fun and educational. Seeds can be left for the birds, of course, or harvested, dried, roasted, and eaten.

Starting seeds indoors is a fun activity for a rainy day near the end of winter. Every step is an education: puffing the peat pellet with water, planting the seed, watering and misting, transplanting, and harvesting. But the most fun for children is when they first see the seeillings pop out of the soil.

Encourage children to touch plants (gently, of course), to smell the flowers and (he fruit, and to pick and eat right from the vine. Scarlet runner beans are especially enchanting. Children love to watch the red flowers change and grow into lx*ans. and are thrilled on opening the green

pod to find bright, scarlet-red beans inside.

Scarecrows really don't frighten away birds very well, but they give a garden personality and visitors a chuckle. Children enjoy dressing them, naming them, and even talking to them.

The wildlife in a garden is another source of interest to children, from the "ugh" reserved for slugs to the "oohs" for the butterflies. Hopping after toads (if you're lucky enough to have them—they help control your insect population), chasing la-dybugs, and even picking slow-moving caterpillars and Japanese beetles off leaves and into a glass bottle, are learning activities for children and are to be encouraged. Order friendly, beneficial insects and earthworms through the mail and let your children release them in the garden to help control harmful insects.

The activities for children are countless and as you play with them in the garden they will find new ones on their own. Add them to this list and perhaps share them with us. Here's a start:

  1. Grow different varieties of the same vegetables, for example, red. pink, and yellow tomatoes: giant and tiny pumpkins: speckled, yellow, and pink corn (all good for popping).
  2. Carve a child's name in the outer skin of a pumpkin when it is young and then watch as the name grows in size with the pumpkin.
  3. Grow the crazy and grotesque gourds; children will be intrigued. They can paint faces on them.
  4. Try some of the unusually colored vegetables. They will make an interesting treat for the whole family: golden beets, rainbow corn, purple cabbage. 'Royal Burgundy' beans have purple pods that turn green when cooked (it must be magic).
  5. I^'t one zucchini grow to base-ball-bat size, then use it for soup.
  6. Help your child grow a cucumber inside a narrow-necked glass bottle and surprise friends who won't know how you did it. This is the same effect as model ships in bottles. A baby cucumber can easily be slipped into the bottle: once inside, it can grow to full size. The bottle will act as a greenhouse, holding and intensifying the heat of the sun to such a degree that it will rot the cucumber if the bottle isn't shaded (use cucumber leaves or old newspapers). Cut the cucumber from the vine when it has almost filled the bottle. If you like, you can preserve it by pickling it right in the bottle.
  7. Children love silly names and they are easy to remember. Here is a list of varieties with funny names. Children can make up a story about how the vegetable or flower got its name; they'll probably be right.

'Pickalol Hybrid' cucumber 'French Breakfast' radish 'Green Goliath' broccoli "Little Finger' carrot 'Sweet Dream Hybrid' melon 'Clown Mix' torenia 'Madness' petunia 'Fluffy Ruffles' aster Snapdragons Polka-dot plant 'Naughty Marietta' marigold 'Sweet Banana' peppers 'Turk's Turban" gourd 'Red Sails' loose-leaf lettuce 'Burpless' cucumber

Top: Mammoth sunflowers grow up to 12 feet wry quickly, in less than three months. Above: Making a scarecrow of their own is a fun project for children.

SELECTING SEEDS

Top: Mammoth sunflowers grow up to 12 feet wry quickly, in less than three months. Above: Making a scarecrow of their own is a fun project for children.

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