If you’re anything like me, and I’m a self-confessed kugel who can kill one of those expensive-yet-hardy succulents from Woolies, you think, ‘Real gardening – the kind that makes food – is for grown-ups.’
Right? Gardening means schmutz, earthworms, hosepipes, and tormented manicures, and all manner of things better dealt with by sensible adults.
But, recently, since we got a garden, I’ve become sort-of-interested in home-grown fruit, veggies and herbs. My manicure has vanished in a puff of fresh air. My lettuce is organic and tasty, but wonky and snail-snaffled. And the kids are growing sort-of-interested alongside me.
(In fairness, the little one wants to eat all of the strawberries, ripe and unripe, and the big one likes the whimsical papery ‘carriages’ that the gooseberries come in, but it’s a start.)
So I’ve been thinking: What’s the up side to letting littlies loose in the garden?
I consulted someone who knows more about this than perhaps anyone else in the city: Caro Tapson, former pro landscaper (specialising in edible gardening), mom, and owner of Seedling Stokvel*.
Here’s what Caro told me:
- Gardening builds children’s brains, because it’s a tool for learning larger concepts. It’s an introduction to science, the weather, and seasons.
- Gardening – at least, the successful kind – requires planning, thinking, and problem solving, which are great skills for people of any age.
- It’s a crucial first step in helping kids to develop eco-savvy, a sense of environmental responsibility, and a commitment to conservation.
- In an indoor digital world, gardening can be a robust physical activity, on a level that’s fun and different. It’s also a valuable way to work in teams, since collaboration or heavy lifting are required.
- Kids are more motivated to eat healthily when they work to grow their own food; there’s a link between what they’re ‘making’ and what they’re eating.
So now what? The basics:
- You don’t need a lot of space! (I put off having a veggie garden til I had ‘enough space’, but it turns out that my tiny apartment balcony would have been perfect way back when.) You can create a ‘garden’ anywhere if there’s sun and access to water. Just install a vertical trellis or use pots.
- Choose cleverly. Herbs are easy and work well for grown-up gardening, but kids aren’t going to get a great thrill out of parsley, because not much happens while it’s growing. And they probably won’t want to eat it. So get them inspired by planting slightly more challenging but much more exciting plants like mini-cucumbers, berries and tomatoes.
- Kids love watering things. Your carpets probably know this already. There’s also raking, composting, hunting for snails and other bugs (and disposing of them humanely), mulching (applying compost, lawn dressing, leaves, grass cuttings, etc., to conserve moisture), and much more.
- Cover up open sores on kiddies’ hands or feet. (Compost can contain bacteria that are usually harmless but not good for wounds.) Watch out for thorny plants, remove anything poisonous, and get kids into the habit of gardening in shoes; bees like to hang out on the ground in summer.
- Create seasonal gardening goals. In spring, prepare beds and plant seeds in homemade or store-bought seedling trays. In summer, water in the evenings, watch the seeds grow and plate out seedlings. In autumn, pull out dead plants, harvest late summer produce and mulch beds. And in winter, rake, make compost, and feed the birds. Winter is also a great time for kids to plan what they want to do in spring. The planning is the fun part!
My variety tray has arrived, so tomorrow afternoon it’s into the garden to place and plant this season’s white and purple aubergines, yellow pear tomatoes, red cherry tomatoes, red onions, globe artichokes, cabbages, celery, snacking cucumbers, butternut, green peppers, habaneros and jalapenos.
Disclaimer: I’ll have our gardener’s help for the heavy lifting and the green thumb, and the kids for assistance and entertainment. All I need to do is help Her 5-Year-Old Majesty pick the right wellies.
* Caro Tapson owns Seedling Stokvel, which enables Joburg gardeners to buy (and have delivered!) 128-plug seasonal seedling trays.