By the time they are 2, they quickly learn that plants need soil, plant food, water and sunshine to grow. As early as one year old, they can plant a seed and be thrilled by its growth. We have planted cucumber, squash and zucchini seeds in pots in the hot house and then transplanted them to the garden. I use raised beds and that makes it easier for them to avoid stepping on plants.
Harvesting strawberries is the next step. Learning the definition of “ripe” is a challenge. How do we distinguish the lush red of a ripe strawberry from the lighter color of one that needs more time to ripen? Of course, very few strawberries make it to my kitchen. The same can be said of blueberries which are so easy to pop into a little one’s mouth.
A favorite activity is watering the raised beds. They learn to distinguish “not enough” and “too much” water. They see how a plant will wilt from lack of water and marvel at its resilience when the water refreshes it. A thirsty plant becomes a happy plant in their eyes.
A zucchini plant is a wonderful teaching tool. Although a small child cannot harvest the vegetable easily, he or she can watch it grow day to day and marvel at the sheer size of one that was hidden under a leaf and didn’t get picked. When we are picking vegetables, I always allow the children to put the produce in the basket. They learn not to throw the vegetables, but to place them gently in the basket. Of course, we always count what we are picking!
Then there are the red cherry tomatoes and yellow pear tomatoes waiting to be eaten. Several of my grandchildren love to eat them right there in the garden. Of course, that is only possible if the fruit has not been sprayed with chemicals.
We have also planted and harvested plum tomatoes and made tomato sauce. Peppers and cucumbers are a wonderful, healthy snack. The kids’ involvement in planting and harvesting makes them even more delicious.
We also have flower beds, and the children learn the difference between perennials and annuals. They learn how to use children’s safety scissors to cut the flowers and how to carry those scissors safely.
By the age of 3, they know where on the stem to cut the flower. They put the flower in water immediately. When arranging flowers in vases, they cut off the end so the flower can drink again. We use many small vases so that the children can place their arrangements throughout the house and take some home to mommy.
My 2-year-old grandson loves pulling weeds. He tells them, “We don’t want you in our garden!” as he yanks them from the ground. My 6-year-old granddaughter and I will be planning a new perennial garden over the winter.
A side benefit to gardening is the attraction of butterflies and birds. Imagine the wide eyes of the children when they see a parsley plant full of caterpillars or watch a bird peck at the seeds on a coneflower! The children are sad when the cold weather arrives but know that next spring, the cycle of gardening will begin again.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.