By Carla Burgess
Helping kids plant fast-maturing veggies like radishes and leaf lettuce is a popular way to pique their interest in gardening. But there are many other ways to encourage the young gardeners in your life.
- Most gourds and pumpkins have a long growing season, but the payoff is worth it. Nothing beats carving a jack-o-lantern you've grown yourself or making a homemade birdhouse from a gourd. Watching the vines grow and mature is fun too, especially once you've spied the beginnings of the first fruits.
- Help kids make teepees out of bamboo or other types of stakes, then plant seeds of vining plants at the base. Good choices include scarlet runner beans and moonflowers. As the plants climb, the foliage will quickly produce a "green tent" for creative playtime.
- Growing plants for competitions, such as at a county fair, can keep children engaged all summer. Give them their own tape measure to use in following the progress of a melon, sunflower or other prize hopeful.
- To instill pride, suggest that children share their harvest with a neighbor or a community charity.
- Help young gardeners develop a conservation ethic. Challenge them to find ways to conserve water or re-use household items in the garden.
- Give older children the opportunity to participate in woodworking projects, such as building window boxes or raised beds.
- Try to identify pest damage or disease before reaching for a pesticide that may do nothing to solve the problem. A wonderful online resource for troubleshooting is the Plant Pest Handbook, which you can view free at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station Web site www.ct.gov/caes/cwp/view.asp?a=2823&q=378182. With its convenient A–Z search feature, you can learn how to diagnose the woes of plants from azaleas to zinnias.
- Liquid laundry detergent bottles make inexpensive and functional watering cans. Using an electric drill with a small bit, carefully drill enough holes in the cap to create the degree of "sprinkle flow" you like. Remember to rinse containers well before the first use.