Last month for our Gardening at Lunch program, we did a special Gardening for Kids program. This was a program that my Home Horticulture Extension Leadership Group of volunteers planned and executed.
We had an excellent turnout, and the kids enjoyed themselves. I would like to thank the volunteers who gave of their time and talents, Columbia County Community and Leisure Services personnel and local businesses who gave to the program.
The best way to ensure that future generations will be involved with gardening is to teach them while they are young. If gardening is made fun for a child, he or she will tend to stay with it for life. I know when I was a child and into my teen years, my parents or neighbors always had a vegetable garden. We had to work the garden.
It wasn't always fun, but the lessons learned were valuable.
So, how do you make gardening fun for kids?
It depends on the age of the child. The younger the child, typically, the shorter the attention span. Therefore, you need to plant things that are going to produce a flower or fruit in the quickest time.
One of the plants that works great for this is the radish. Radishes will be ready to harvest in about 30 days. The child can see and eat the results in a very short time.
Sunflowers are another plant that interests children. The plant is a fast grower and will produce a big bloom, which makes it a favorite of kids. Also, the way that the plant follows the sun during the day is a great way to teach kids about plants and light.
Some children are interested in insects. I know when I was a boy, we would catch the green june bugs, tie thread to their back legs and fly them around. This was more for entertainment than helping the garden.
One of my first jobs in the garden was picking Mexican bean beetles off of the beans. The beetles would eat all the leaves off the bean plants, and this would reduce the yield.
You can make a game of who can catch the most of whatever kind of insect. The last four weeks, you could have made a great game of who can catch the most Japanese beetles or who can find the caterpillar. This would work great if you have Tomato hornworms, which are well-camouflaged. They hide deep in the foliage of the plant during the day and come out late in the afternoon and evening to feed.
Another way that you can use insects to help make kids gardeners is to "grow" butterflies. Swallowtail butterflies and monarch butterflies are some of the easiest. They have specific host plant requirements for the caterpillar stage. The black swallowtail larva eats parsley, dill and fennel. These plants are easy to grow in the garden. You will need to plant a lot of these plants if you expect large numbers of caterpillars.
The monarch butterfly larva feeds on plants in the milkweed family. The only one that grows around here is the butterfly plant. My family has grown swallowtail butterflies for seven or eight years now. We watch the caterpillars until they get very large, and we then cut off part of the host plant and place it in water. This is then placed in a bug box.
You can find bug boxes in stores. These containers have clear sides and a top with small slots in it. Place sticks in the container. The caterpillars will crawl up the sticks to attach themselves to the top of the container. Sometimes, they will attach themselves to the stick. When the butterflies emerge, you can take them outside and release them.
Another way to encourage children to garden is to have a growing competition to see who can grow the biggest plant or fruit. Georgia 4-H encourages 4-H'ers to garden by holding two contests every year. The first is to see who can grow the biggest pumpkin in the state, and the second is to see who can grow the biggest watermelon.
These contests were started four or five years ago, and the number of participants has increased every year. This is a great way to get kids involved in gardening.
You can get your children or grandchildren involved in gardening. It just takes a little creativity.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The extension's Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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