Gardening With Kids: 101 Westchester Mom Shares Practical Tips

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Gretchen Menzies, Westchester County mom and founder of EssentialMom.com, encourages parents and children to garden together. It fosters quality time and is an effective way for children to become aware of the environment.

The summer is a great season to start with a flat. Encourage your children to plant the seeds, water them and watch them grow

Gretchen Menzies, local Westchester County mom and founder of EssentialMom.com, encourages parents and children to garden together. It fosters quality time and is an effective way for children to become aware of the environment.

According to the American Horticultural Society website, http://www.ahs.org, gardening helps "children develop social skills… bringing families together, and an awareness of the link between nature and our food, clothing and shelter... Children's gardens replace the free exploration of the natural world that no longer occurs in today's era of TVs, video games and concern over safety."

Menzies suggests keeping the project simple at first. "Start small so the project does not become overwhelming. Gardeners should choose a small area and protect it with fencing, since deer, rabbits, mice and birds can wreak havoc on a garden. Also consider gardening within raised beds. They are very productive and make it easy to manage your soil. By planting intensively and tightly together, you can minimize the chance for weeds to take root. This type of set-up is easy to weed and easy to access," she said.

Menzies recommends that parents teach children how to garden by purchasing seed starting trays. "The summer is a great season to start with a flat. Encourage your children to plant the seeds, water them and watch them grow," she added.

Low-maintenance seeds include sunflower and basil. Lettuces of all varieties, tomatoes and carrots are also easy to grow, and children will find it gratifying to pick their produce and enjoy them in a meal.

Children enjoy climbing pole beans. Planting the beans on a large stick "teepee" keeps the stalks upright and enables children to play under the bean stalks. Since beans grow so easily, they are good for the soil (they fix nitrogen), and they taste great.

Menzies encourages parents to teach their children to harvest. A special basket or environmentally-friendly bag are ideal to hold the produce. Kids can use simple scissors to cut their greens, and the vegetables can then be prepared for a meal or composted.

A small compost heap that includes grass clippings, fruits and vegetables and coffee grinds teaches children about recycling and waste. "Turn it, dig it and have them make new soil. They can look for worms and get their hands dirty," Menzies said.

She added that visiting the garden often with children will enable them to watch the lifecycle of the vegetables and become involved in picking, cutting and preparing for meals. For children, the best part of gardening is cooking and eating their own vegetables. "It becomes a fun project rather than 'Yuck!' vegetables," Menzies added.

For those without sufficient room to plant a garden, or for those who want to start small, Menzies recommends planting a small garden in pots: basil, rosemary, sage, lettuce, Alpine strawberries, and sugar snap peas. All of these foods can be used regularly, and the fresh strawberries and peas are an especially easy sell to the kids because they're sweet.

About EssentialMom.com: EssentialMom.com is where mom's needs finally come first. A Westchester County-based and focused parenting website, EssentialMom.com was designed by mothers for mothers. This one-stop-shop has the answers for all things parenting: resources for classes, groups, schools, birthday party planning, local events, summer camp information, parenting tips, a weekly newsletter and more. For more information, visit http://www.EssentialMom.com or contact Gretchen Menzies at 914.523.1352 or Gretchen @ EssentialMom.com.

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