The Environmental Gardener: How to grow a kid’s interest in gardening

Columnist Greg Levine’s nephews learn the joys of gardening.

You have to love August. It is the last really hot month and the kids are headed back to school. While the garden is stable with little for you to do (most of the plants that were going to die have done so), it is still a good place to get your kids connected to nature without even leaving home.

Some kids have a natural affinity for the garden, but others need some enticement. I don’t have kids myself but I have no shortage of nephews and nieces. I have successfully pushed the gaggle to get their hands in the dirt, and they are better for it. It might take some work to get them started, but getting your kids to garden is helping to ensure healthier adults. Here are a few ideas to grow a child’s interest that will also pull them away from the poison of their iPhone.

With fall just around the corner, prepare a small area in the sun and plant some easy-to-grow fall vegetables and herbs. At the age of five, I grew corn in a cup and peanuts in some cotton in a small clear plastic box. I remember watching the nut sprout and the root grow until it filled the box, begging to be planted. The experience comes to mind whenever I think about being a kid. It is imprinted on my brain, and I will always be a gardener.

Creating a raised bed with cedar or stone can be the starter project to get the kids working in August. Then prepare the soil and pick out some plants. Growing plants by seed is exciting for kids. Watering daily, waiting for the plants to sprout, and harvesting make an unforgettable experience. A few of the easiest winter vegetables to grow by seed are arugula, cilantro, carrots, and beets, and they can be eaten from top to bottom. Now kids will try these vegetables if they help grow them, thus developing healthy eating habits.

Playing in the dirt (and even eating it) has its merits, but making compost is the ultimate starter drug for gardening. As a five-year-old, nephew Sam thought it was some kind of magic. In a way, who can argue that it isn’t? Turning your waste into black gold to make all your plants grow faster and healthier? Pure magic.

There are so many ways to start composting. Keep a compost container on your counter or in the fridge to be dumped regularly in a larger bin outdoors. Turn the compost regularly, add some leaves, grass, and presto! Beautiful compost. You can also create a worm bin or just a giant compost pile that your kids can turn monthly.
Exercise, reducing waste, and a little magic make for a healthier body and future.

Plan to plant a tree. Yep, planting is my answer to most everything. Planning ahead builds excitement and can be as fun as the actual planting. Kids know we need more trees to make a healthier planet. They need a way to fight the hopelessness that gives too many people the excuse to do nothing. Kids can actively make a difference by finding a location for a tree, researching for the right species, being resourceful in finding said tree, and finally planting it with the family this winter. As the decades go by, that tree will continue to grow and remind them that they can make the change they want to see in the world. Care, thoughtfulness, and investment help to develop a healthier mind.

Getting your kids out in the garden benefits them in so many ways. To your own benefit, you’ll create unique memories to look fondly upon for decades, just like the trees your kids helped you plant.