Spring is here and summer is fast approaching, which means it’s the perfect time to get outside and enjoy everything that Mother Nature has to offer. One fun way to do that from the comfort of home is by starting a garden.
Gardening allows parents to let their kids get dirty while teaching them the value of hard work, patience and perseverance — along with skills that can help them rely less on the grocery store later in life.
Sound like something you might want to try with your kids?
We spoke with Elizabeth Duran, a 4-H Youth Program Coordinator in Macomb County who runs the community garden at the Max Thompson Family Resource Center in Warren, to learn more on why gardening with kids can be so beneficial and get some of her top tips to starting a garden in 2021.
The value of gardening
Gardening is an opportunity for kids to learn about different plants and why different bugs (such as bees and worms) are important to their ecosystems, but it can also have an impact on the life skills they’re learning, too.
“There are a lot of life lessons to be learned in gardening (such as) caring for something else, responsibility (and) critical thinking,” Duran explains. “It is immediately gratifying to see the results of your labor, it builds confidence and self-esteem in youth and it builds team work when families work together.”
Aside from these skills, gardening can also teach kids more about where their food comes from and have an impact on how kids see the world — particularly how they view food accessibility and what they put into their bodies.
“It is crucial for youth to understand the bigger picture,” Duran says. “There are two natural resources we cannot reproduce: Our land and water, (and) if we do not take care of our natural environment we will not be able to produce enough healthy food for everyone, (so) everyone should understand where their food comes from and how fun and easy it is to grow it.”
“Gardening can take place all year long,” Duran explains. “It starts in late winter with starter plants — plants that require a longer growing season — and wraps up with fall harvest and seed saving.”
And that means it’s never too late or too early for you and your kids to pick it up.
Duran suggests you start a list of what you’d like to grow. Once you have your list, you can follow that up with a little research.
“I start some plants early, like tomatoes, corn and peppers, melons as they like a longer growing season. Some plants like lettuce and peas have a short cycle and do not mind the cold so you can get in the ground early without fear of frost. Herbs can be grown year round in the home. They look beautiful, smell great and are edible,” she says.
But she cautions families that gardening can be a lot of work. “Start small if you are new, there is always time and room to grow.”
Once you know what you want to grow, you can get creative with what you use in your garden. If you’re gardening indoors, you can repurpose old storage and food containers to keep your plants in and if you’re outside, you can explore planting companion plants to go along with the ones on your list.
For example, melons and tomatoes grow well together because they need room to climb and in Native American culture, corn, squash and beans (aka the Three Sisters) are often grown together because the corn offers shade to the squash and a place for the beans to climb as they grow.
Growing in Macomb
Ready to get started? Macomb County is filled with a wide variety of gardening centers filled with plants, seeds and other supplies.
For those just getting started, Duran highly recommends shopping locally-owned businesses.
“They are usually run by folks who have a passion for gardening and are knowledgeable, not just a paid by the hour employee,” she says. “They also have healthier plants.”
A favorite of Duran’s is Greenwood Plants in Warren, which has donated to the garden at the Thompson Center.
For more information on gardening with kids in Macomb County, visit MSU’s Macomb County extension center website.
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