Success by Six: Playing in the dirt

Colette Ernst

Now that it’s June, I have finally been finding the time to garden, as it is often necessary to wait out the frosty days.

As our family headed up to the community garden to get seeds in the ground, Bree was excited as her class also has a garden this year and felt confident that she was an expert at planting seeds.

The Tumbler Ridge Community Garden and Composting Society has teamed up with SD59 Elementary School in Tumbler Ridge to provide a Sprouts program for the next three years thanks to an Imagine Grant through Northern Health. While this program is for school aged children and will be administered by five of our amazing elementary school teachers, planting seeds and gardening is something that can be done with children of all ages.

Children love digging in the dirt and learning to grow and harvest plants from his or her own vegetable garden is a great way to cultivate a love of outdoors and nature. I remember growing up helping my grandfather out on May long weekends. While he tilled his huge garden, our job was to look for rocks. We got to cash the rocks in for small change which we used to run to the corner store for treats.

Later in the summer we returned to visit and assisted with shucking peas, pulling carrots and picking flowers for grandma to decorate with.

By inviting children to become involved in the planning, caring, and harvesting of a garden gives you as a parent or grandparent a unique opportunity to spend time with children as well as developing their understanding of nature. Children also develop a sense of responsibility and pride in themselves, which can ultimately improve self-esteem. Waiting for seeds to sprout and mature into plants bearing fruit teaches children one of life’s important lessons—delayed gratification.

According to “One of the best ways to encourage enthusiasm for gardening is appealing to a child’s senses by adding plants not only for the eyes, but those they can taste, smell and touch. Vegetables are always a good choice for young children. They not only germinate quickly but can be eaten once they have matured.”

Some great ideas for a child’s first garden include carrots, peas, lettuce, beans and cherry tomatoes. This year in our garden my youngest daughter was keen on carrots—so we are trying different strains of seeds to see how they compare in size, colour and, of course, taste!

Don’t have a garden plot or space in your yard? No problem! Create a container garden for each child that can be easily moved to a sunny spot near in the yard. Our family purchased a batch of containers and set up a green space on the deck full of flowers and herbs, though over the last week we had to take them all in during the cold days to live on our dining room table overnight. Bree mentioned she was eating breakfast in the jungle as she found a small open section to eat her cereal before school.

According to Rick at you don’t need any specialty equipment to get started, other than good quality seeds and soil. This year as part of the community kitchen, we decided to invest in non GMO organic seeds to see how they grow, but you can get seeds in most stores as well as online. Kids can plant in empty pop bottles or old broken pots and pans or you can invest in specialty containers.

Containers are great for kids as children can easily reach and access the plants, can be imaginative and help plan their garden, and they can see their progress clearly. Vegetable gardening includes tasks including watering, weeding and harvesting. Make the jobs exciting by providing children with their own child sized tools.  Keep the jobs short and fun.

Consider also companion planting by either adding flowers or planting combinations of vegetables together. First Nations groups have long planted the Three Sisters intercropped: corn, pole beans and squash. The corn supports the pole beans, the squash shades out the weeds and the three crops cooperate rather than compete for light and root space. Intercropping is also traditional in China, where they interplant vegetables with different heights, maturation periods and rooting habits together.

Some examples are garlic and spinach, corn and peppers, onions with leafy vegetables. Another option is to grow two vegetables one after the other during the course of the season, though since our season is short up north this is more difficult. One of the wonderful teaching moments of this type of planting is children see example in nature of sharing and helping as the plant share space and help each other grow stronger.

Flowers and herbs can also be companion plants. For children, flowers add colour and visual interest in your garden as well something children can pick and bring in to decorate the house. Marigolds, Chives, Calendula and Daisies bring beauty to the garden, attract pollinating insects benefiting the vegetables. Chives, Dill and fennel attract lady bugs which in turn eat nasty aphids. Nasturtiums are eatable, beautiful but also lure black flies away from your main crops protecting your harvest. I love herbs as they add their own flowers and smells, and can also be sampled by my kids for new experiences.

However you choose, be it large gardens or pots on the deck, digging and playing in the dirt is something that unifies all ages and cultures and can bring new magical experiences to your family.