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The following article was published in Summer 2011 issue of "De-Stress 4 Life Magazine"

Gardening with your Children

Gardening tips with Candi Wingate
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Gardening with kids can be a fun, educational opportunity. Through vegetable gardening, your kids can learn about our environment, soil science and minerals, foods, nutrition, and chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, etc.). Additionally, gardening is just fun: after all, kids get to play in the mud! Further, your kids can enjoy the "fruits" of their labor.

First, you wil select the space for your vegetable garden and what vegetables you would like to grow. The size of the space available to you will, to some degree, affect what vegetables you will grow. For example, if you want to grow corn, you will need a larger garden (unless you want to grow only a very small amount of corn). Your soil will also affect what vegetables you will grow. Sandy soil is good for growing melons. Dark brown soil is good for growing beans, tomatoes, and carrots. (TIP: if you are new to gardening, choose vegetable plants that are hearty. For example, chives are hard-to-kill plants that can survive and thrive with little tending from humans. Early successes with hearty plants give kids a sense of success and encouragement in their gardening skills.)

Next, you will need to prepare your soil for planting. Preparing your soil includes tilling the soil, weeding it, mixing in organic matter, and moistening the soil. (TIP: enjoy the opportunity to play in soil. This is one of the most fun parts of gardening for kids.)

Then, you will be ready to plant your seeds or starter plants. Make sure to follow the instructions provided with the plant or seed. (TIP: have a ruler or tape measure handy. Let your kids measure distance between plantings and praise them generously for their precision.)

Some plants require daily watering. All plants should be weeded at least weekly. As your vegetables develop and ripen, you will need to remove ripe vegetables promptly. Vegetables that rot on or near the plant can discourage further vegetable production. (TIP: as you remove your first ripened vegetables, wash and eat them promptly. Let your kids experience the wonderful tastes that they have created with their own hands. Vegetables that ripen thereafter can be prepared for meals or canned: these experiences provide further fun, learning opportunities for your kids.)

Some vegetables can have subsequent plantings. For example, you can plant carrots and radishes every two to three weeks.

When your growing season is done, remove any unripened fruit (some may still ripen inside your windowsill). Some vegetable plants will need to be removed; some others will need to be trimmed back to near soil level. The information that came with your plants or seeds will tell you what to do. (TIP: here again, your kids will have the opportunity to play in soil. Make an afternoon of it and have a ball.)

Then, you can start planning your garden for next summer. Some vegetable plants are perennials (i.e., they come back year after year with no need to replant them). For example, chives are perennials. Some vegetable plants are annuals (i.e., they die out at the end of the growing season and will need to be replanted each spring or summer). For example, carrots are annuals. When planting annuals, plan for plant rotation. Each plant takes specific nutrients from the soil; rotation prevents a decrease in soil fertility. (TIP: include your kids in planning so that they can feel more invested in the garden).