Teach children well about gardening

Most children are interested in gardens and are curious about how things grow. I think it is a great gift to a child if they have an opportunity to learn about the origin of their food.

Don't worry if you don't have a large garden space for your child or grandchild. You can plant in pots or a small raised bed, or dedicate a small area in your existing garden. The size of the garden isn't important, but the size of your involvement with a child is. It's best to start small, anyway, especially if this is a first venture.

Small applies to garden tools, too. Child-sized tools are wonderful — but make them real. No plastic shovels or rakes — just implements made of metal and wood. Many garden centers carry them, as well as stores such as Target and Fred Meyer.

Choose large seeds, though, such as peas, beans and pumpkins. If you want to plant small seeds like lettuce, carrots or flowers, mix the seed with fine, dry sand, put them in a shaker with large holes, and use the broadcast method. By that, I mean do not plant them in rows, but scatter the seeds evenly over the chosen area. The sand helps you see where you've been. Cover the seed with fine soil, and keep it moist until the seeds sprout.

Many seeds can be started indoors, too. Cucumbers, melons and pumpkins do well this way. Try starting lima beans between layers of wet paper towels just until they sprout. Don't do this too early, because they, as well as the other seeds I just mentioned, need warm soil, not just warm air, to grow. We're talking at least Mother's Day, here.

Consider buying some plants, like tomatoes, as seedlings. Although there is nothing like the thrill of seeing your own seeds come up, tomatoes can be tricky to start and maintain until it's time to set them out into the garden.

For older children, who like forts, playhouses and hiding places, plant pole beans, scarlet runner beans or morning glories in tepee fashion, if you have the space. If it doesn't get used as a playhouse, you can always plant lettuce in there, which will shield it from the sun in the heat of summer.

Plant things that are surprising in size or color — purple carrots or beans, blue potatoes, giant sunflowers, cherry or pear tomatoes, striped beets, lemon cucumbers, colored chard or huge pumpkins.

I think, at a child's birth, if a parent could ask a fairy godmother to endow the infant with the most useful gift, it would be curiosity. This fosters imagination, and gardening is a great way to foster that gift. My philosophy is that when baking, follow a recipe, but when cooking or gardening, use your imagination.

Another plus I discovered with my children — and now with my grandchildren — is that if they grow the vegetables themselves, they somehow taste a lot better and are usually eaten more willingly.

If you'd like more ideas, there are several good books on gardening with children. One of my favorites is "Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots" by Sharon Lovejoy.

Coming up: From 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5, Master Gardener Christy Hope will teach a class on growing dahlias. Topics include varieties, when and how to plant, summer care and winter storage. The cost is $5. The class will be held at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. Call 541-776-7371 for more information.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. E-mail her at diggit1225@gmail.com.

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