“Hey, look at this big tomato!”
“We have a pepper!”
“Can we taste the basil?”
These exclamations were made by members of the 4-H Cloverbud Club, for 5- to 8-year olds, when we checked on our garden last week.
We’re growing a pizza garden at the Cooperative Extension office, and although weeding was on the agenda, we found our plants starting to produce. The garden includes tomatoes, onions, peppers, oregano and basil. After the harvest, we will make pizzas with the ingredients we have grown.
How many children know where their food comes from? How many can identify a tomato plant or pepper plant? Growing a garden is a great learning experience for all of us, and teaching your children or grandchildren can be a fun adventure.
Studies show that when children participate in growing edible plants, they are more motivated to taste, eat, and enjoy fruits and vegetables.
If you already have a garden, get children involved in planting, weeding, harvesting and cooking. If you don’t have a garden, try planting one tomato plant with a child and nurturing it to harvest.
Here are some other fun ideas to do with plants, from an Extension publication called “Go Outside and Get Growing:”
• Edible Flower Ice Cubes – Start with an empty ice cube tray and fill it with your favorite edible petals or flowers (nasturtium, pansies, begonias, calendula, mint or borage). Gently cover with water and place in the freezer. After a few hours, plunk the ice cubes into your glass and enjoy.
• Garden Fashion Show – The garden can be a great source for fashion, from snapdragon earrings or hairclips to dramatic necklaces made from daisies. Be creative and explore the joy that many plants give with simple projects that encourage imaginative play.
• Garden Grazing – Go on a taste-test adventure, sampling edibles, from sweet to spicy herbs, pungent and potent vegetables or sour and strange flowers. Be sure you know what you’re sampling and help children understand what is and isn’t OK to eat.
• Brew a Spot of Tea – There are many herbs that are easy to grow for a tea garden. Try growing chocolate mint, lemon balm, bee balm, chamomile, spearmint and lavender. Harvest a big handful of leaves and put them with water in a Mason jar. Screw on the lid and let it sit in the sun for a few hours. Once the herbs have steeped, pour it over ice cubes and enjoy a refreshing spot of tea.
Heather Gordon is an extension agent for 4-H youth development.