Earth Day is Thursday, and what better time for kids of all ages to get their hands dirty by planting a garden. Growing our own food sustains a healthy lifestyle, makes us more aware of using food wisely and eliminates waste.
On top of that, garden-fresh produce just tastes better. You’re never too young to start a garden!
Some passionate organic farmers gave us tips for helping children learn about gardening. And we have some easy recipes to stash away while you wait to harvest your labor of love.
“Every day is a day to celebrate the Earth,” said Ruthie Markwardt, a farmer at Flying Pig Farm, a chemical-free farm in Manitou Springs that offers gardening and nutritional education to middle and high school students and also rents space for community gardens. They have summer gardening camps too.
Markwardt recommends starting a vegetable garden by planting peas and sunflowers.
“They are easy for little ones to start and watch grow,” she said. “(They) can be measured with a ruler each day as they grow, and when they get 1 foot tall, they are ready to be transplanted outside.”
The seedlings can be planted in biodegradable plastic cups with holes poked in the bottom for drainage.
While herbs would work well in a beginner’s garden, those seeds are tiny and take a long time to grow, which could be discouraging to those eager to see progress.
It’s too late to start tomatoes and peppers from seeds, but you can get plant starts at garden stores such as Good Earth, Rick’s or Desert Canyon. Markwardt suggests using these plants, along with basil plants, to create a themed garden like a pizza or salsa garden.
For older kids, she recommends doing a food-waste audit, where you measure how much food goes to waste at your home in one week.
“Start a compost bin in their garden, or build a cold frame and see how fast it fills up,” she said. “This is a teaching moment to see how to use food scraps to grow more food from the resulting compost.”
Susan Gordon, who was the farmer at the Venetucci Farm, is semiretired but still farms with her daughter, Sarah Hamilton. Hamilton started a garden at Colorado Springs School when she was a high school student there. It became a teaching garden for the teachers and students. Gordon, like Markwardt, tells parents to start gardens with radish, pea, and lettuce seeds, which grow quickly, so kids can see some immediate results.
“These can be direct-seeded now outside,” Gordon said. “Carrots are fun but are harder to germinate, so kids might get discouraged.”
If you decide to try starting tomato plants inside, Gordon recommends a cherry variety like Sungold because they require a shorter season and are easier to grow in Colorado. Find a place in the house where there is enough light and warmth for them to sprout.
When it comes to learning about the circle of life and reducing waste, she suggests a compost pile or a worm bin.
“The latter is pretty simple, with a small plastic shoe box type container, a small amount of dirt, damp strips of newspaper and some worms,” she said. “The kids can add food scraps and watch them turn into worm casting, which they can then use to feed their plants in the garden.”
So go ahead and get a jump-start on a veggie garden in honor of Earth Day and get ready to harvest early spring goodies. At the end of summer, you’ll get one final crack at enjoying your harvest: For instance, if you grew sunflowers, you can toast the seeds and enjoy them for snacks.
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