My garden as my teacher

June 10, 2014 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

The seed starter kit at the everything-under-$5 store caught my son’s eye.

“Mom, we could grow watermelons,” he said excitedly as he grabbed a kit from the shelf. I thought about the sandy soil around our house.

“Maybe tomatoes,” I said. We had some success last year with grape tomatoes planted in containers on the deck.

“Nah,” he said, continuing to look at the available options. “Cucumbers! We can make pickles!”

Cucumbers might work in deck containers, I thought. I wasn’t sure, but I knew a cucumber had a better chance in a container garden than a watermelon. He was ecstatic.

He insisted on planting the seeds when we got home, following the directions outlined in pinhead-size type on the kit’s cardboard container. “Do I put all the seeds in?” he asked, staring at the seven dots on his hand. I supposed he should since it was unlikely all would take.

At last, we sealed the biodegradable pot in the provided plastic bag and placed it near a window.

Several days later, little green bits started to poke through the dirt. Three green bits, to be exact. Several more days later, I asked if he thought we should open the plastic bag.

“We have to wait until it gets 2 feet tall,” he said.

“Two feet?” I asked, eyeing the plastic bag that was no way even a foot tall. We looked at the directions with the minuscule type. “I think that’s two lines – as in inches.” The type was really small.

“Oh,” he said, nodding. “It is 2 inches.”

We opened the bag to give the plants room to breathe. Then it rained a lot, so we didn’t plant the first weekend, worried the plants would drown in the torrent of rain.

At last, we planted the seedlings in a large deck container. Then, we waited… (We’re actually still in the “waiting” phase.)

We’ve been talking about seeds and dirt and the life cycle of a plant. We discussed how he’ll need to take care of the plants. We haven’t looked up any pickle recipes yet, but there’s plenty of time for that.

Our spur-of-the-moment purchase made me realize how many life lessons can come from a creating a garden – even one as small as a few containers on a deck.

First, responsibility: You plant, water and weed. Eventually, you harvest. You have to water, too. Sure, plenty of plants grow on their own in nature, but a garden requires care and attention so plants grow healthy and strong. It’s a process that requires commitment and follow-through.

Second, nature: The science lessons that come from planting a garden are nearly endless. What insects live in a garden? What kinds of plants attract butterflies? How do plants use sunlight? How important is water to life? There are plenty of environmental lessons too – such as how water is a limited resource. If you plant bean seeds between layers of cotton, your young gardener can see the roots and leaves develop from the seed.

Finally, gardening provides a chance to connect as a family and talk about the day’s events or whatever else is on your mind. What better way to spend time together than tending the earth, growing something you can eat?

Thinking about starting a garden with your child? Gardeners suggest starting small, so that it’s not overwhelming. A container garden is a good bet. Choose something that grows easily. Green beans, cherry tomatoes and snap peas are all good bets for children. Or, consider edible flowers, such as nasturtiums.


Growing Minds: Farm to School has a number of lessons geared to various age groups. features plenty of garden resources, including worksheets, references and activities to help teach children about soil, fruits, vegetables and gardening. The Great Plant Escape shares the mysteries of plant life, available in English and Spanish.

Karen Nerney has been a communications specialist with Capital Region BOCES since 2011. In addition to her 9-year-old novice gardener, she is mom to two daughters, ages 18 and 16 (neither of whom are likely to be wanting to make pickles).

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