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Create projects to get kids excited about gardening

While planning this year’s garden, I’m excited to include some fun learning spaces. Our 4-year-old twin grandsons Decker and Langston are at an excellent age to begin their love of gardening.

Last year, we planted cherry tomatoes in livestock troughs so they can take their containers and pick without trampling our main garden. Last year’s lesson was “pick the red ones.” We’ll see how well they remember that this year.

The number one thing to remember when introducing kids to gardening is to make it fun and include them in seed and plant selection as well as letting them help build any structure.

Start with small areas or projects so they will stay interested and won’t feel overwhelmed. Give them jobs tending their garden that they can accomplish, and in turn this will teach them responsibility and pride in a job well done. Getting them their own kid-sized tools also will make it easy for them to work and learn how to take care of them.

This year, our big project is going to be building a teepee hideout. Set four to six poles in the ground at an angle and bring them together at the top, securing them with heavy twine to form a teepee shape. Run twine around the teepee to form a “ladder” for plants to climb. This is a good place to allow them to run the twine up as far as they can reach.

Prepare the ground around the base of the teepee and let them plant scarlet runner beans, morning glories, moon flowers and bird house gourds. Best to start gourd seeds inside as they have a longer growing season.

As the teepee fills in, it will become a great hideout.

I have cardboard egg cartons to start seeds that can later be cut into individual squares and planted. This makes it easier for little hands to plant without damaging fragile roots. They are so excited waiting for their seeds to sprout, then they can take care of them until planting time. I’ll send some home with them and keep some here just in case their first seed-growing experience doesn’t go according to plan!

I’d like to find a space to plant a few pumpkins so they can scratch their names on one as it starts to grow. They can watch as the pumpkins grow, so do their names.

A vegetable-in-the-bottle is another fun project. Find a glass bottle and let them scratch their name on a tiny newly formed cuke or zucchini, then slip the tiny vegetable through the neck of the bottle into the body of the bottle. They can watch their tiny vegetable grow and fill the whole bottle. Then show everyone and let them guess how the vegetable got into the bottle. They’ll love telling how they made this magic happen.

A few rows of popping corn and sunflowers would be easy for them to care for, and they get to pop their own corn and hang sunflower seed heads to feed the birds. We can pick the birdhouse gourds they grew on their teepee and make birdhouses. Remember, every garden needs a scarecrow.

There are endless projects to enjoy with your little ones; just remember to start out with a few and as their interests and age grow new projects can be added every year.

When you introduce kids to gardening you “cultivate” a lifelong love of gardening they can pass along to their young. To learn more about this, go to http://go.osu.edu/gardentodevelop.

Baytos is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

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