Your Own Victory Garden

Filed under: Expert Advice: Home Base

When it comes to getting things to grow, my thumb's not the greenest one out there. Many plants have died under my oversight. But one summer it happened: I got the hang of gardening, and the zucchini multiplied like rabbits. Relishing my victory, I zealously baked zucchini, stuffed zucchini, steamed zucchini, stir-fried zucchini, and made zucchini bread and muffins. Finally, my family begged me to find another hobby.

In the spirit of moderation, I propose five good reasons why planting a garden this year is a good idea.

1. Gardening is an excellent family project. It provides natural opportunities to spend time together working toward a common goal.

2. You save money by growing your food instead of buying it.

3. Gardening presents all kinds of creative learning opportunities for your children as they pore over seed catalogs, read seed packets, create plant markers, pay for nursery plants, and learn about the growth process. (Who knows, you may have a future botanist the the family.)

4. You can track your progress with the new White House garden.

5. April is National Garden Month, and the National Garden Association has 101 ways to celebrate. No doubt you can find one or two ideas that will take root in your own family.

Here are strategies for your own gardening victory.

Check with your local agriculture extension service for advice specific to your region.

Grow vegetables that you like to eat and are easy to grow: tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, summer squash, lettuce and other leafy greens, for example. To conserve garden space, use a trellis, fence or wire cage to grow plants up instead of out.

Work with your kids to create a simple map of your garden on graph paper. Be sure to allow space between rows so you can water, fertilize, weed and harvest. Consider plant heights and widths, like how much space a tomato plant or watermelon vine will need.

Place taller crops on the north and west sides so they won't shade shorter plants. Early, short-season crops like lettuce can give way to late season crops after harvest, like radishes, onions, peppers and eggplants.

You might begin your garden with some young plants as well as some seeds so kids can learn from the entire growth process. Large seeds like corn, beans or sunflowers are easier for them to handle and plant. Write your child's name on seed packets and staple it to a stake. Colorful pictures help them visualize what will grow.

Let your child help prepare the soil. They can turn over dirt with a small shovel or trowel, break up clumps by hand or stomp on them.

Teach children how to imitate the rain when they water the garden. Water rushing full force from a hose can damage plants. You might purchase an inexpensive sprinkling can and let your child personalize it with paint pens.

Supplement your soil. You'll be eating these vegetables so only use organic materials like leaf mold, aged manure, and household compost for improving drainage and enriching the soil.

Continually harvest. This is the fun part! As the vegetables ripen, gather the fruits of your labor and share your bounty with friends and neighbors. The more you pick, the more the plants will grow and produce, keeping kids occupied and everyone enjoying fresh vegetables all summer long.

Have you experienced any gardening victories or defeats? Please share so we can all learn from your comments.

Kathy Peel's latest book, The Busy Mom's Guide to a Happy, Organized Home, has been named a 2009 NAPPA (National Parenting Publications) Honoree. It also won the Moms Choice Award for Best Family and Parenting Resource for 2009. She is founder and CEO of Family Manager Coaching. www.familymanager.com.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.