Photo by Rachael Brugger
Patience is a virtue that my children do not possess. With many of our seeds safely tucked beneath the cool rich soil of the garden, the question of “when” has become a form of tot-sized interrogation.
“But when will my carrots grow?”
“But when can I help you pick the veggies?”
“But when…? But when…? But when…?”
This constant bombardment of “when” questions are enough to make anyone insane! To a 4-year-old, the phases of plant growth is a little skewed. When your only concept of time comes in the form of a 22-minute SpongeBob episode, a day is a week, a week is a month and a month is forever!
So what do you do to ease this period of perpetual waiting while still maintaining children’s in gardening? The answer: Whatever you have to do! Here are some suggestions that have worked for me.
1. Busy Work
Making signs for the garden can easily buy at least one when-free week. Stencil the outlines of the various seed names onto boards, and let your little artists fill them in. By the time the paint dries and the signs have been hung, a tiny sea of green will be close to emerging from the soil.
2. Succession Planting
Like many other gardeners, we strive to produce as much food as possible during the season, but we also have to account for harvest time. In order to avoid dawn-to-dark picking frenzies, we plant many of the same vegetables several weeks apart. This also eases our current “when” waiting game.
Keeping the kids in a near constant supply of seeds and seedlings goes a long way toward maintaining gardening appeal to youngsters, as well as draws attention away from the eternal anticipation of future carrots! (Just a hint, if you make new signs for the younger seeds, you can buy another week or so! Just make sure to date or number the signs so the little helpers don’t try to harvest them too soon!)
3. Make a Garden Calendar
One of my favorite ploys to avoid a case of the whens is to hang a garden calendar (pictured above). While my older children can look at my calendar and know seven weeks from now we’ll start harvesting “x,” it is more difficult for the smaller ones. When I print out my master calendar, I made one for them, too, with a few changes.
I replace all the harvest times with pictures. It’s amazing how something so minimal can make such a big difference. Obviously the youngest can’t read, so pictures were a necessity for him, but even the older kids seem to be more excited about the gardens potential when they see a picture of a carrot versus reading “carrot harvest” on the planner! However, I did push the harvest times back a bit on their calendar. Because harvest time for many veggies can range by as much as several weeks, I put many of the pictures toward the middle to end of the range. If, by chance, carrots are actually ready on day 60, the kids will be pleasantly surprised; but in the event the carrots take a full 70 to 75 days to mature, they should still be safe from an early plucking!
After replacing all the words with pictures, I print out the pages, stick them in clear page protectors, and hang them on the fridge with a dry erase marker. Now, every evening Jack-Jack can mark off the days until he can go out to the garden and pick his bounty.
When it’s all said and done, it’s important to me to encourage my kids to be lovers of the land; to raise boys that would rather be outside getting their hands dirty than inside staring at television; and to instill a sense of accomplishment, pride and ownership on our homestead. Patience is a virtue my children do not possess, but because their mother spent the day outside in the rain weeding because she desperately needed to play in the dirt, I’d say they probably never had a fighting chance to learn!