Teaching youngsters to garden is education in nature, history

When children plant seeds, water them, fertilize them, weed them and watch them grow, they also lear

While picking raspberries in my garden the other day, I started wondering. I wondered how many kids today get to pick raspberries from their own berry patch or even at commercial berry patch.

One thought led to another as I carefully picked my way through the briars searching for ripe berries. They have protective thorns, you know. Or do you? And that was one of my thoughts. How many kids know that raspberries grow on canes, much like blackberries? How many kids know that blackberries grow on canes? How many have ever picked wild blackberries?

Picking wild blackberries is a special challenge — and a special treat, when you finish. Wild blackberry briars are taller and thicker than the domestic raspberry briars in my little garden, and their thorns are bigger and meaner. Long sleeves are a must for any serious blackberry picker. And you will still come home with scratches on the back of your hands if you go for the bigger berries in the middle of the patch.

Picking blackberries on a hot summer day may not be your idea of fun, but the wonderful taste of those moist berries on vanilla ice cream later that day is impossible to describe. You just have to experience it.

Being raised in rural middle America, Southwest Missouri to be exact, I grew up picking wild blackberries, wild raspberries and, yes, wild strawberries when I could find them in the spring. In fact, I grew up picking a lot of my food: apples, cherries, peas, green beans and tomatoes, to name a few.

Educators always wonder what kids have learned or need to learn. My berry-picking thoughts eventually led me to wonder if kids today know that peas come from pods, that eggs come from chickens, that tomatoes grow on vines, or that zucchini grow and produce like crazy.

Picking apples from a tree is one level of pleasure. Picking a tomato from the vine, wiping it off on your trouser leg and eating it right there is a different level of pleasure. You haven’t really enjoyed baby peas until you have stripped them from the tender pod right into your mouth.

You don’t have to live in rural America to enjoy the taste of fresh produce. Farm stands can provide that. Nor do you have to live on a farm to have a small garden and enjoy growing your own produce.

We have, I fear, lost some of that contact with the earth that prevailed in earlier generations; a time when nearly every family had a garden patch in the backyard for growing peas, lettuce, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, squash and maybe a couple of rows of sweet corn.

I am not interested in walking down memory lane, but I am interested in alerting you to the opportunity to complete your children’s education — one they will not get in school — by introducing them to the world of gardening.

We introduce our kids to various sports because we want to involve them in healthy activity, to learn teamwork, responsibility and sportsmanship. We let them have a pet partly with the excuse that they will learn responsibility for taking care of it. When they plant seeds, water them, fertilize them, weed them and watch them grow, they also learn responsibility. Further, they get to taste (literally) the fruits of their labor. They learn in one brief season the thrill of raising their own vegetables and sharing them with the entire family.

If a garden in the back yard is not practical, try having the kids grow vegetables in tubs or containers on the back porch. Any garden shop will be glad to help you (or them) choose the right containers.

Charles Cummins, Ed.D., is a retired school administrator. Send questions to him at: [email protected]

Categories: Life and Arts

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