April 14, 2009

Kids in the Garden

Photo credit: Glenn Fawcett/The Sun

So much competes for the attention of children - iPods, video games, computers and cell phone chatter - that it is hard to get them outdoors, let alone interested in the outdoors.

Charlie Nardozzi, writing for The National Gardening Association Web site, says that kids are instinctively fascinated by nature and you can jump-start their interest by introducing them to plants have really interesting features or textures.

Here are his suggestions:

Sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica)— Also known as the “tickle-me” plant, it has sensitive green, fernlike leaves and produces small “balls” of pink flowers in mid-summer. When touched gently, the leaves automatically fold closed, then eventually reopen.

Lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantine)—In early summer, the low-growing plant produces one-foot-tall spikes covered with small pink flowers. But its foliage is the main draw for kids. The leaves are covered with a soft, white hairy growth that, when stroked, feels like a lamb’s ear.

Ground cherry (Physalis pruinosa)—This easy-to-grow vegetable is in the tomato family, but has fruits that look like small Chinese lanterns.  Once the lanterns turn yellow, kids can pick them, tear open the covering, and discover the edible golden fruits inside.  Ground cherries are annuals and self-sow readily in the garden; grow them once and they’ll sprout up on their own in future years.

Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea)Kids will be amazed to find this common vegetable growing in your garden. It looks a lot like a clover plant. However, it has yellow flowers that produce pegs (stem-like growth) after the flowers pass. The pegs grow into the ground around the peanut plant and a peanut shell forms at the end of each peg. Keep the soil cultivated and watered so the pegs can easily penetrate it. Once the plants start to yellow and die, invite your kids to pull up the whole plant—they’ll find peanuts dangling from the ends of the pegs.

Chocolate Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)—Mint plants are fun and easy to grow in the garden. They come in a range of flavors, including ginger, lemon, orange, and apple. A favorite for kids is chocolate peppermint. The leaves are tinged with dark coloring and if you close your eyes, it’s like eating a peppermint patty! Be careful: this low-growing plant can spread up to 3 feet and become invasive. It’s best to grow all members of the mint family in containers or in an area where you don’t mind it spreading.

How do you get your children interested in the garden? Send me a response and I will choose one of you at random to receive the book, "The Family Kitchen Garden." Remember to include your email address so I can contact you for a home address. Don't worry, I won't share it with anyone else!

Posted by Susan Reimer at 8:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Kids in the garden

March 30, 2009

Kids in the garden

mesclun   grape tomatoes

When Joe and Jessie were little, my Mother's Day gift was the same each year: six tomato plants and the time to plant them.

  Gardening was something I did on my time off from mothering, but it doesn't have to be that way. You can get your kids started early, and you don't need much more than a couple of large pots on a deck or patio.

  Now is the time to plant lettuce or spinach seeds in one of those pots. Even little hands can sprinkle the seeds, with your help. If you are planting lettuces, choose a colorful mesclun variety. They produce a gourmet salad in a pretty short time.

   As greens grow, you and the children can thin the seedlings and then harvest the tender leaves. Leave the plant and its roots in place and it will sprout new leaves for another harvest, something that I bet will amaze the kids.

Strawberries are another kid-friendly crop, and you can plant those now as well. They make nice ground cover if you have a spot for them in one of your beds.

  When Mother's Day rolls around and it is time for those tomatoes, you can use large deck pots again, this time to plant a couple of cherry tomato plants. These tomatoes come in wonderful shapes and colors and are just the right size for little hands to pick and pop in the mouth.

   I have this idea that my children will remember that their mother gardened. How much better for yours if they actually do it with you.

  Let's hear your "kids in the garden stories. To get you talking, we have a contest. A winner will be chosen at random from those who comment to score a copy of Grow It, Cook It: Simple gardening projects and delicious recipes. It is perfect for gardening kids and their gardening parents.

The catch? You've got to enter your e-mail address when you comment so I can contact you afterwards, but rest assured that we will not publish your e-mail address. That's between you and me.

Tomato photo courtesy of Park Seeds.

Posted by Susan Reimer at 8:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Kids in the garden
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About Susan Reimer
Susan Reimer has spent 16 years writing about raising kids - among other topics - in her column for The Baltimore Sun. And every time son Joseph or daughter Jessie passed another milestone - driver's license, college, wedding or a move to a new military duty station - she has planted another garden. Now she will be writing about those gardens - and yours - here on Garden Variety.

Susan isn't an expert gardener, but she wasn't an expert mother, either. Both - the kids and the gardens - seem to be doing well in spite of her.

She lives in Annapolis with her husband, Gary Mihoces, who loves to cut his grass but has noticed that there seems to be less of it every time the kids pass another milestone.

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