The Joy of Gardening
By Diane Cretin
I love to garden. I love both the times of solitude and the times spent with my 8 year old granddaughter Olivia in the garden. Gardening is so beneficial for children. Free, unstructured outdoor play time, including gardening, is fun and can help relieve stress and anxiety. Another great thing about gardening is that you spend time in the sun and get an influx of vitamin D. Playing in the dirt (assuming you don't spray it with chemicals) can also help build a stronger, more robust immune system.
As a side note, I read years ago that playing with your pets also helps build your immune system. If your dog licks your face, don't automatically feel compelled to grab a disinfecting wipe. Your dog is actually helping you build a better immune system as your body adapts to what it is exposed to. That was reinforced when I recently read that Dr. Jack Gilbert, director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago and co-author of the book Dirt is Good said, "Your kid will benefit from increased microbial exposure from animals and plants more than the infinitesimally small chance they'll get an infection because of that association."
This year I needed to completely redo our garden areas. I skipped planting last year for the first time and my garden got very overgrown, including by berry vines and mint growing under and over the fence from neighbors. It was a real mess, as you can see (being vulnerable here, so don't judge).
Since Olivia likes to garden and we needed to redo her strawberry patch, I decided to clear a path to the back corner and have us start there. We cleaned out all of the weeds and old plant remnants before we started over. You can have a strawberry patch without having any real garden space. Although ours is inside one of our garden spaces, yours could be on top of concrete if needed if you do it in the way I describe next.
To make your strawberry patch, use a baby swimming pool and drill holes in the bottom. If you can, put a layer of rocks at the bottom for better drainage, but that is not critical. Then add a mix of dirt and soil amendment. For a strawberry patch, you can buy dirt in a bag as well as soil amendment from somewhere like King's Nursery. We use their Master Builder Paydirt as our soil amendment and do half regular dirt and half Paydirt. Olivia and I planted her strawberries and Grandpa Lee set up the drip irrigation system. If you don't have that watering option, have your children carry pitchers of water to water their strawberry patch. Also, using the swimming pool as your strawberry patch will keep the runners the plants send out within the boundaries of your patch and you will get more plants over time.
Olivia has been eating strawberries for over a week now. She checks her patch almost every day and picks what is ripe. This is her dedicated area. She may share if she wants, but does not have to. Adults don't pick from her strawberry patch.
We decided that our next most important project was to get our tomato plants in. (Make sure you read to the end for a tomato offer.) Because of some nasty grass that had grown up under the edge and infiltrated the raised beds, I had to dig down to the bottom of the beds in sections until I reached the metal wire on the bottom in order to dig out all of this grass. It was not fun, but it was motivational so that I do not ignore my garden in the future. Although we could plant eight tomato plants in each 4' x 8' raised bed, we choose to plant six, leaving room at the ends for things like basil and flowers, which can help with pest control and attract pollinators. We still need to add our flowers. Some of our favorite flowers to plant by tomatoes are marigolds and nasturtiums. And you can add nasturtium flowers to a salad to make it pretty, then eat them.
If you have ever wondered if you should have metal wire under your raised beds, it is worthwhile if your beds are on dirt. I discovered that a mole that has tunneled under our raised beds. At least the mole cannot get to the plant roots unless the roots grow deep.
Look at how differently our tomatoes are growing.
You could show these two pictures to your kids and ask them why they think there is such a difference. The tomato plants were purchased at the same time and were basically all the same size. The larger ones were planted in the raised bed two weeks before the smaller ones as I tweaked my back before I got the second bed planted. We continued to water the smaller ones on my shaded front porch until I planted them in the second raised bed. The larger ones are more dark green and most have blossoms on them already.
A few nights ago as I was in a different area of the garden cleaning up more beds, Olivia checked each of the larger tomato plants. She counted how many blossoms each one had and told me by variety, such as Sweet 100 or Paul Robeson or Julia Child, how many blossoms each type had. She is excited as she thinks about the tomatoes we will have in the future.
We also plant two 4' x 4' beds in our small garden area. One bed contains cucumbers and the other squash. When they are mature, Olivia will check them frequently and let us know when we need to harvest (although I will look as well just because I enjoy it). We left a space in the back squash bed to include plants we raised from seed that are not quite ready.
It is so exciting to grow plants from seed. We raised our squash inside our house in 4" x 4" plastic containers with Seed Starter mix, putting them under a small grow light. Olivia and I checked them every morning. Olivia would dampen the soil and see what activity had happened overnight - had any plants broken through the soil surface, was one starting to unfurl? We love watching them grow! Some got too "leggy" (so tall they fall over), which can be a problem when you leave them under the grow light too long. As time went on, we started pulling them from under the grow light sooner. I think next year we will take them from under the grow light as soon as they are about an inch tall and see if this helps them not get leggy. And we will see how others germinate without the grow light.
We are currently letting the biggest squash that we raised from seed get a little bigger on our front porch before we plant them. Although we started raising our squash from seed later than we normally would, it seems to be working out. Gardening is not an exact science, so experiment and enjoy the time with your children. And realize that you will be at the mercy of the weather. You can do everything right and it may not be a good tomato year. On the other hand, it could be a blockbuster. Enjoy the journey.
Remember that gardening does not only involve vegetables or fruit.It can be flowers.We have roses that Olivia checks and smells. Our alstroemeria just started blooming.Olivia mentioned last night that we should make a bouquet soon to bring indoors.And she planted petunias for enjoyment. We also repotted some succulents near our front door.
Don't forget that you could do something as simple as raising herbs in pots. Then your children can learn to use them when cooking.
Now back to the raised beds of tomatoes.
Looking at the difference in the two tomato beds reminded me of my life. The bigger tomatoes didn't struggle. They escaped their 4" x 4" pots and had what was to them limitless space to grow. They have been feed with soil amendment/fertilizer and water. In my life, I can choose to take advantage of resources and space to further my walk with God. I can chose to sit quietly and communicate with God, read my Bible, read an uplifting book, take part in a Bible study, discuss a struggle with a good friend, or watch Worship online. I can also follow the steps Pastor Emily has shared involving a tea cup. If I am a child or youth, I can chose to participate in the zoom calls and more that Shawna Rundstrom, Darcy Fluitt, and Cory Myers are offering. Or I can chose to withdraw and stay in my little space by myself (or with my family). I can become the equivalent of being root bound. Then it becomes harder for me to grow spiritually. I can simply focus on my job tasks and homeschooling my granddaughter and decide I am doing OK. During those times I don't take advantage of the "fertilizer" that would enhance my life. And it is at that time that I need to stop and reevaluate what I am doing as I am not doing myself or my family any favors. I am a kinder and gentler person when I spend time with God.
My second bed of tomatoes has still not taken off. Some of the leaves look a little burnt and they are not as green. They certainly aren't dead, but they aren't flourishing. However, they could take off anytime soon - just like we can refocus on our spiritual life more at any time. God never leaves us or forsakes us. He gives us endless chances to grow closer to him.
If you would like to grow something with your child(ren) and don't have a garden going, know that on my front porch in west Santa Rosa I have put 5 tomato plants replanted in 5 gallon containers with soil amendment added. I went to King's Nursery last Friday morning and they had just received a delivery. To my delight, they had Carbon tomatoes, one of my favorites. You are welcome to take one for your family if you don't have a garden. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need my address and or to check if one is still available. I could also spare some bean seeds if any of you need some of those to direct sow, even if you have a garden going.
I hope many of you are able to garden with your children in some way.