Sunday, March 8, 2009

Gardening With Kids

When I'm out in the garden I often get so involved in a particular project that I forget to take note of the kids, a fact which does not escape them. "You forgot about us, didn't you?" Dominic said accusingly to me the other day, as I trudged in from a few hours breaking up clods in the vegetable patch. "How could I forget that charmingly grouchy look on your charmingly grouchy face?" I wanted to reply, but something (some random snippet of maturity?) prevented me. Instead I smiled, and said "Why don't you start gardening too?" And then immediately panicked at the thought of having to find garden space for all three kids, because if there's one thing I can be sure of, it's that one of my kids won't ever get away with doing certain things while the other two are still sentient and within a 5 mile radius of the house. Some of those things include:

a) eating the last chocolate mint Girl Guide cookie
b) eating a cookie period
c) drinking anything carbonated
d) eating pepperoni
e) watching television
f) fiddling around on the computer
g) consuming anything from the bottom drawer in the kitchen, the one that contains all the baking ingredients

Hmm, there is a theme here, isn't there? The consumption of junk. These things just don't happen often enough around here for my kids' liking. Ah well, I tell them, blame it on me and my Puritan childhood. My mother was one of those Early Yoga slash Health Food slash Oddballs in the 60's and 70's. Along with her penchant for Dippety Do, she had a passion for Rye Vita, 'natural' yogurt, brisk walking, and celery. And she visited these leanings on her kids. I grew up dreaming of the day when I would be Grown Up, and have unlimited access to things like Pop Tarts and all the Godfather movies I could stomach. And now, somewhat disconcertingly, I'm just as parochial in my junk leanings with my own kids. They do have junk in their lives, let me hasten to assure you all, in case you think them deprived. They just don't have a lot of it.

Hmm, where was I?

Oh yes, promising Dominic a room garden of his own.

Anyhow, as soon as the words exited my mouth, and as soon as I could see excitement kindle in his eyes, I could feel the ears of the other two prick up, sensing that Something Critical was happening without them being present. Even though they were in completely different parts of the house, I knew they knew. They're like something from a sci-fi movie, this lot.

Before I could turn around, they were all in the yard with me.

"Did you say Dominic could have a garden of his own?" FDPG asked me, forgetting that I had already told her ages ago she could have a section of the garden, but she had shrugged it off at the time, seeing her Webkinz garden, which produces miraculous quantities of pumpkins, strawberries, and corn at the merest click of a mouse, as vastly superior to the real thing. Less work, too.

"Dominic has a garden?" Max echoed, "Where?"

I sighed. "You can all have one if you want one," I said, mentally adding "you bat-eared children, you."

And so it was that one fine day, a week or so back, we were all outside sieving soil and emptying compost bins. And mentally calculating whose garden was going to be the biggest.

Here is Max, assisting me in removing the roots of an unidentifiable and (to me) irritatingly invasive weed from the perennial bed. This was before he had to empty the contents of the compost bin on his garden plot. He wasn't too thrilled about packing great heavy wheelbarrow loads of compost up and down that hill of ours, so I refrained from getting too giddy with the camera. I may be an identifiable and sometimes irritatingly invasive presence in the life of my kids, but at least I know when not to take a picture. Yeah, right, who am I kidding?

Here are the twins, ensuring that no worm's tender body will be squished by the soil screen. A great deal of gentle shrieking accompanied this venture. And so it is with a clear conscience that I can assure you that no worms were harmed during the taking of this picture.

And here are their gardens, once we'd finished terracing, emptying compost bins, and raking nicely sieved soil all around.

Can you tell if one is bigger than the others? I hope not.
They go in this order: FDPG's garden, Max's garden, and Dominic's garden.

Then, once we'd ascertained that we all had a spot on the plot, we gave some thought to what we all wanted to grow. I had a catalogue from this place, with lots of helpful pictures and growing charts, and sat with the kids beforehand with the idea of making a vague list of things they wanted to grow. FDPG wanted pumpkins and watermelons, Dominic wanted carrots, broccoli, and lettuce, and Max wanted onions and garlic. My wants were more modest: I wanted to keep a firm grip on how much garden I'd be left with.

I drew a chart to show them how long some of these things would take to grow.
"A hundred and fifty days for a PUMPKIN?" said FDPG. "Yep," I said. "And it's too early still to seed half this stuff."

That put a bit of a damper on things, but once we got to the seed store they perked right up again. We bought seeds for pole beans (Fortex Filet), lettuce (Looseleaf Salad Bowl), tomatoes (Yellow Pear), and scallions (Pacific 22). We bought seeds for pumpkins (Rouge Vif D'Etampes), watermelons (Sweet Dakota Rose), and Butterfly Weed (for Max's Butterfly Garden Project). And then, in a twist of goofy fortune, Max found a 'Maximilian' Sunflower and things began to get fun. We found red carrots (Atomic Red), yellow beets (Touchstone Gold), some super green tomatillos and three kinds of potatoes (Yukon Gold, Desiree, and Russian Banana). "Why is it called a banana when it's a potato?" FDPG demanded of the not-quite-ready-for-us store clerk. They didn't have everything we wanted: the Pink Popcorn popping corn wasn't in yet, nor were the teeny tiny Ronde de Nice zucchini seeds that FDPG coveted. And the Lumina white pumpkin she had circled in the catalogue wasn't in either. So we made a note of the seeds we wanted and departed, still with quite a haul.

The kids were giddy at this point, even though I brought the chart out again once we'd arrived home, and pointed out when we could start seeding things and when we could start expecting a harvest. The idea of red carrots and yellow beets and white pumpkins superceded any intrusions by such mundane things as calendars and space requirements.

Instead we started Garden Guides of our own: I gave each kid a soft cover binder and some nice paper (some pages I printed with Dover clipart adorning the corners) and we began sketching sunflowers and pumpkins and tomatoes on the paper, along with the names of each variety they bought. The theory here is that we detail our growing seasons, sort of how we detailed our One Small Square experiment.

All in all, it was a good days' work. And I didn't forget about them for a minute.


Heather said...

Oh, what fun! I want to come to your house and have a garden spot and garden journal. ;-) I love the drawing of the veg that you did,such a great idea. It sounds like you are all going to have such wonderful things growing this summer. Isn't it fun when your children share your love of gardening? Have you seen the Moon and Stars watermelon? My son was desperate for it last year and he was thrilled with watching them grow.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful drawing! We had more snow and sub-zero temps today so no gardening happening here.

sheila said...

Heather, You posted a picture of that melon last year, didn't you? I remember seeing it on your blog, I think. The store didn't have many of their seeds in, and we thought about waiting for it, but then the clerk pointed out the Sweet Dakota Rose, which is really useful for places with a short growing season. And that's us.

sheila said...

Nicola, we had snow too! Ack. Yesterday it was sunny and about 16ºC and I worked out in the garden all afternoon. Today it was SNOWING ALL MORNING. What's with that? I am so not in the mood for snow.

shaun said...

Well now I know why your yard looks so much better than mine (other than the obvious climate differences) -- you have a visual sensibility, and I have none! Your picture of how long things grow looks like a book illustration!

I really must learn not to compare myself to others.

sheila said...

Ah Shaun, you're too kind. I like to think I have a visual sensibility, but the number of times I've taken apart the front garden (in the 2 years we've lived here) makes me think that I only THINK I have a visual sensibility. The rest is pure delusion.