It always sounds like such an old fashioned idea – a veggie patch! And for anyone who’s not even into veggie gardening nor has the time, space or inclination, why do we keep hearing that we should get one – make one – buy one?
If the benefits of veggie gardening are so fantastic so that everyone keeps raving about it then what does this simple pastime brings into our lives and the lives of our children?
Well the answer is better than you can imagine. The act of veggie gardening itself is therapeutic, good exercise, and even has the ability to place us into a gentle meditative state as we connect with life in a purposeful and nurturing way. Apart from feeling fantastic for being out in the fresh air and sunshine, the actual process of handling the soil and plants offers us extra benefits too.
Some recent research has added another missing piece to the puzzle: It’s in the dirt! Or to be a little more specific, a strain of bacterium found naturally in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of seratonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety. On top of that, this little bacterium has also been found to improve cognitive function and possibly may even be used to treat cancer and other diseases. So how about that – getting your hands dirty is definitely a good thing! Suddenly being greeting with dirty children fresh from a visit to the garden is becoming easier to swallow.
Also, have you ever considered the basic areas of learning that can be implemented through gardening? All those things that can have an impact on the long term ingrained thought patterns of young children? Comparing and classifying, patience, socialisation, life cycles, patterns of cause and effect, confidence and responsibility when caring for another living thing, counting, pre-reading, language, seasons, time, tactile awareness, collaboration, and even learning to manage our emotions through loss, successes and failures. Think trial and error life school in the back yard! It is a long term project, so even a herb garden in pots on the window sill can work wonders.
Finally, let’s start thinking on a broader scale. Much of the food we eat has traveled hundreds, even thousands of kilometres to reach us, and the carbon emissions from transport and refrigerated storage are significant contributors to climate change. Creating a food garden at home or in your local community is a simple and effective way to reduce your impact on our environment. It will also give you a great deal of pleasure that comes from growing your own food – there’s nothing like raiding your veggie patch for the evening meal. You will also enjoy the taste of pesticide-free and truly fresh food. Growing your own food is good for you and great for the planet – and it will save you money!
Just to make it easy for you to get started, here are a few tips to help you transform these ideas into reality:
Top 5 plants to get you started:
- Peas – Peas can be started inside using homemade recycled newspaper pots, organic compost and seeds – making for a great spring afternoon activity. As the seeds are poisonous though, be sure to keep them out of your child’s mouth and wash hands thoroughly at the end of the activity. Once transferred to a trellis, peas will grow all summer long.
- Sunflowers – Sunflowers are so much fun to cultivate, sometimes growing up to four and a half metres tall. As long as your veggie garden gets full sunlight, sunflowers are easy to grow, look spectacular and offer a great visual for kids learning about growth.
- Strawberries – Harvesting strawberries is like a little treasure hunt for kids, and your child will love to peek underneath the leaves each day. Home grown strawberries are deliciously sweet and make great additions to desserts and salads, or just snack as you pick!
- Cabbage – Cabbages can grow really large in a very short amount of time, making them lots of fun for kids to grow. Once picked, their soft leaves are easy to chop for even the littlest hands and they are delicious as part of a coleslaw, soup, wrap or stew.
- Mint – Mint is the perfect plant for a beginner gardener, growing easily in the ground or a pot. Mint grows quickly in ideal conditions, can be picked all year round, and most kids love to pick off the leaves and have a nibble as they are checking their other veggies.
A few safety Tips to think about when gardening with children:
- Avoid all toxic chemicals.
- Provide child-sized tools and keep any dangerous tools out of child’s reach or locked away.
- Remember to wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly when using potting mix.
Fun things to do with your produce:
- Share with your neighbours, friends and family.
- Make a carrot cake with all those carrots to take to kindy for the teachers.
- Eat straight from the garden and reap the nutritional benefits of eating fresh real food.
A few extra ideas to extend upon:
- Build up a worm farm and/or a compost heap to naturally recycle your food scraps.
- Create a timetable for watering the garden so all the children can share.
- Start up a food sharing co-op in your local area.
- Ask your local council for permission to use the front foot path grassed area out the front of your unit or house to create a food growing patch.
- Investigate companion planting to look after your soil, plants and yourself all at the same time.
And most important of all… have fun with it!