“Why explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden? ~ Robert Brault
The kids were back to school last week and I happily patted myself on the back for making it through six weeks of summer holidays without having to surgically remove online devices from my kid’s hands when it came time to return to school.
My kids don’t exactly love gardening like I do. It’s something they are quite happy to do for a little amount of time, but they lack the inclination to be in the garden all day long like I could! And besides, some garden jobs (like cleaning the chicken coop or pulling weeds) are indeed, work. Not fun.
When my kids were toddlers, they were quite frankly, a force of destruction in the garden. They picked pumpkin flowers, pulled all the green passionfruit off the vine, watered seedlings with the “jet” setting on the hose and pulled out all the “weeds”, which were actually basil seedlings planted a day earlier.
I had to watch them so closely, it was almost counterproductive to my garden efforts! Now they are all in primary school, and are pretty reliable and mature kids who enjoy having a bit of extra responsibility.
Anyone with kids will likely tell you that a bored kid is just mischief waiting to happen.
So as soon as they get a little restless, I have a stash of really helpful tasks that don’t take long I know they love to do….
Crush eggshells in the Mortar and Pestle.
This would have to be Mr 7’s favorite activity! Eggshells are satisfyingly crunchy and pulverize nicely. We save all our eggshells to use in the garden. Each seedling I plant gets a ring of crushed eggshells around its base to discourage slugs and snails and as a dose of calcium. (Tomatoes especially appreciate the crushed eggshells!) Sure, I could whizz them in the blender and have the job done in less than five seconds.
But, I have a small mortar and pestle that lives in my greenhouse and Mr 7 will happily grind away and chatter non-stop until all the eggshells are done, without complaint. Then, using a piece of paper as a funnel, he refills my recycled plastic container. Thanks mate!
Make paper seedling pots
I have a little paper pot maker that my kids love to use. I precut the paper, and they get busy rolling the pots and placing them in the tray. This task was great for the kids when they were smaller in developing their fine motor skills.
Shred newspaper for the chicken coop
I keep all our community newspapers to use in the chicken coop. The chickens love to have shredded paper in their nesting boxes and it breaks down super-fast in the composter or worm farm. I have a paper shredder in our office and for some reason, the kids love to use it! I always supervise this activity closely, just to make sure they keep their fingers well away, and resist the urge to overfeed the mechanism and jam it entirely. Jinx the cat loves shredded paper, and provides entertainment for them as she tries to make off with a few strips of her own.
Prepare the seed raising mix
My two-ingredient seed raising mix couldn’t be easier to prepare. The boys love to measure the water and reconstitute the coir block. Once that’s done, they stir in the vermiculite with my “stirring mate stick”. I’m always surprised at how thoroughly they mix it! And, if the heavens are aligned I may also convince them to fill the paper seedling pots with the mix. Some days I’m luckier than others.
Make seed tape
Sowing fine little seeds drive me crazy, and I have resorted to making seed tape so I waste as little seed as possible and get my spacing accurate. I make a simple glue by heating cornstarch with water and when it has cooled, the kids will take a length of toilet paper and glue the seeds down the center of the paper.
When they were younger, I would mark the spacings on the toilet paper with a marker, but now they are older, I get them to research the spacing and measure it out themselves. Once they’ve glued the seeds on the paper, they fold the paper over and wait for the glue to dry, before rolling the paper up and putting in a labelled envelope for the seed bank.
This is another popular job, especially when we are collecting seeds from corn or sunflowers. Miss 11 gets a bit “grossed out” because her younger brothers think pulling seed from a sunflower or corn cob is like removing a wobbly tooth and delight in plucking them out. They also like to pop the linseeds from the round husks and sift the chaff from the seeds. Shaking seeds out of loofa is a job the kids actually argue over. They all want to do it!
Then, once they have their pile of seeds, they count them out, bag them in the little plastic bags and pop them in the envelope ready for the seed bank. To be honest, we don’t always make it that far.
make scoops and pots from recycled plastic bottles
I have been making these scoops for years, and now the kids are old enough to manage the task for themselves with some supervision. I have a good strong pair of kitchen scissors, the kind used for cutting through chicken carcasses, and they mark out their scoop and cut carefully along the marking. These little shovels and scoops are so handy.
Assist with propagation.
This is another kind of odd job that the kids love. When I’m propagating cuttings, they enjoy dipping the prepared cutting into the growth hormone powder or gel and poking it into the prepared pots. It’s handy having the extra little pair of hands for this task and I can sell it as “the most important part of the job”. The upside of this task is the kids seem to be extra invested in the new plants they make and are usually more willing to help plant them out.
Fertilize with compost tea.
Frankly, I still don’t trust my boys with a hose. They just can’t seem to resist a sly spray in my direction or an outright ambush as I come around the corner, the cheeky little buggers. But, give them each a watering can and they will drain the compost tea and carefully dispense the fertilizer to each plant that needs it. Then, the best part is refilling the compost tea container…
Picking the harvest.
I’ve saved the best task to last. I have yet to meet a kid who doesn’t like picking the reddest tomato, the ripest strawberry or the tastiest pea pod. Whatever they don’t scoff fresh on the spot, they will usually devour enthusiastically at the dinner table, loudly announcing that it came from the garden and they picked it themselves.
So while It is still up to me to spread manure and mulch, scoop out the compost, do the weeding and the coop cleaning, all those little jobs do make a difference. And I want them to look forward to gardening, enjoy themselves and be curious. The garden jobs aren’t ever dispensed as “punishment” for my kids, although they do sweep up leaves and scrub magpie poop off the deck if a reprimand is required!
What about you? What job do your kids love to do in the garden?