With summer school holidays fast approaching, it is time to put a plan in place for keeping little hands free from technological gadgets in favour of the great outdoors.
Vegetable gardening is definitely a productive proposal as not only does it tear children away from tv screens but it also allows families to exercise, absorb vitamin D and grow their own food together.
To assist and encourage families to get out and grow, GIY Ireland is running an inspiring initiative called Operation GIY Nation. Its aim is simply to get as many families as possible to start growing together this year and their strapline says it all: “6 projects, 6 months, 1 Happy, Healthy Family”.
Taking part is free and once families sign up on the Operation GIY Nation website www.giyireland.com/giynation, they will be emailed a monthly growing project, from now until September. The projects are simple and easy to understand and accessible to all, regardless of growing experience and space available. They start at a very basic level, (growing cress), and each month will build up experience level. All six projects can be done with the minimum of fuss and investment and are designed to be easily managed by families, to involve everyone, to be productive and most of all, to be fun. There is also an online forum ensuring support is to hand and photos, videos and blogs of other families taking part can be viewed for inspiration.
Depending on the size and age range of a family, the practicalities of growing together differ as toddlers, primary schoolers and older children will have different expectations and learning experiences. Safety with equipment, tools, fences, gates and paths are clearly vital and younger children will require careful supervision during activities, whereas older children are more physically capable of handling a variety of activities including lifting, carrying and mulching. Always encourage children to wear suitable clothing and sunscreen if necessary and be extra careful with buckets of water around very young children and toddlers.
Children love to help and this really needs to be encouraged by allocating appropriate practical, useful tasks. My early gardening memories include topping and tailing gooseberries, raking up lawn mowings, holding seed packets and picking potatoes while incessantly chattering into my father’s ears. The trick with children is to keep the jobs varied and if you have the space, give them their own little plot or pot for sowing seeds. Invest in some kiddies’ tools such as a hand fork, trowel and watering can and work with quick growing crops such as radishes or fun crops such as pumpkins and sunflowers. Consider using plants with sensory and textural qualities including scented herbs like lavender or jerusalem sage with it’s soft, downy leaves. There are plenty of projects that both your garden and children will benefit from such as planting flowers that attract butterflies, ladybirds and other interesting insects or making a scarecrow or bug hotel. With a little imagination, it is very possible for plant-adoring adults and exuberant children to successfully co-exist in a garden and produce food without every flower head being prematurely pulled or seedbed trampled on.
In her latest book and inspiring informative collection of vegetable growing memoirs Just Vegetating, Joy Larkcom includes a very practical and humorous chapter entitled ‘Tips to Tame Toddlers’, an article first published in 1974. Joy, being both a passionate gardener and mother describes the frustrations that can go with children and gardening and offers some very practical solutions and insightful tips such as dressing children in bright clothes to ensure they are easy to keep an eye on and digging up self-seeding flowers such as nasturtiums and calendulas for children to include in their own patch. Joy’s recount of her first gardening memory exemplifies a delightful diversionary garden strategy based on encouraging children to perform small, useful tasks such as bringing small clumps of weeds to the compost bin or feeding unwanted garden predators to the hens. By the time eager beaver helpers have returned, a row of seeds might just have been sown or thinned. For more of Joy’s timeless articles, musings and insightful information on vegetable growing over the last 40 years, Just Vegetating is a must for everybody with an interest in growing and eating food.
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