Lance Ellis

Lance Ellis

We live in an era when youth have many different entertainment and activity options that were not available even 20 years ago. Whether it is playing video games, social networking, or sporting events, they have many electronic or social activity options to choose from, and nowadays one activity that does not make the top of their list is working in the garden. Can you blame them? I really can’t since it’s more interesting to read your digital book than it is to pull weeds in the hot sun. This is where adults have to focus on ways to make gardening interesting and enjoyable.

One good way to have youth become involved in gardening is by making it a group effort. Having a parent or grandparent out with the children spending time together is invaluable and makes it even more invaluable by creating a teaching moment. You can teach about plant life cycles, insect habits, or something specific to your yard or garden. Having a hands-on experience in the garden gives a simplified biology class that comes alive right before their eyes.

A good example is showing how weeds in your garden start as small seeds that blow in with the wind or are tracked into the garden on someone’s shoes, and then grow to be small plants, eventually becoming mature plants that then produce thousands of seeds. This will also help your children see the value in pulling them out of the garden before they go to seed. Another good lesson is teaching the cycle of organic matter with composting and gardening. Start out with a plant you grew that will die in the fall, then show how to compost it, and check on it frequently with your child to see its decomposition progress, until it is completely broken down. Afterward, till it into the garden, plant your next crop, and have your child grow his or her own garden in that spot so they can see how composting successfully works.

Another good way to get them involved is to have them select what plants they want to grow, and choose a spot specifically just for them. Taking ownership of a garden spot is an excellent way for children to understand responsibility, taking pride in one’s work, and seeing a project through to the end. (Of course the parents have to help them along so that it doesn’t fail if they get distracted during the summer.)

Another way to make the garden interesting, is to try a different or unusual growing methodology from the normal way you grow plants. I am not saying that you turn the garden into a Frankenstein laboratory, but rather try growing unusual plant varieties that are uncommon in our area. Good examples would be growing purple or blue-blush tomatoes, purple carrots or apples with bright red flesh rather than white flesh on the inside. These fun colors or other attributes can get youth to be interested in gardening, and it is a good learning experience. Another good experiment is growing cucumbers in a bottle. It’s very simple. You just place a small cucumber fruit inside of a 2 liter bottle, and let it grow to the point where it is too large to come out through the opening. There have been lots of little kids who get baffled about how you got it in there. Another fun example is to grow your squash or melon inside of a preformed mold, and at harvesting you can have some really fun shaped produce that the kids could take to the fair and show off their work. Aside from spending time together, your youth can gain skills that they will pass down to their kids, and will not be something they forget. Gardening can be lots of fun for the family and create many memories of time well spent together

Lance Ellis is the University of Idaho Extension educator for Fremont County. He can be reached at 208-624-3102.

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