I remember the spring when my childhood neighbor, Mr. DeGeest rolled into our yard with his old red tractor sputtering under him, and a moldboard plow behind him. I watched curiously as the smooth Kentucky bluegrass carpet of our yard was turned upside down, leaving rich soil wedges that looked like gigantic chunks of chocolate cake. After the farmer had turned the soil over, he used a disk to break up the large dirt clods, and then my Dad brought out his tiller and reeled through the chunks of soil until you could sift it through your fingers. Upturned earthworms scurried to find their way back into the safety of the dark underground, while American Robins fluttered to the freshly churned earth to take advantage of a free meal.
After making neat rows with the corner of a hoe, Mom showed me how to drop seeds into the shallow furrows, with different spacing for each type of plant. Spring harvest included tender lettuces, radishes, beets, turnips, carrots, and green onions. Summertime was marked by snapping green beans, shucking bushels of sweet corn, and the sound of hulled sweet peas plopping into large enamel-coated pans. We had enough to eat from the garden all through the growing season, and plenty for Mom to can or freeze to feed us all winter.
Way of Life
Gardening was a way of life in Iowa, so when we moved to Oklahoma, we anticipated continuing the tradition. But we weren’t in Iowa anymore, and there was no soil that looked like chocolate cake. Instead, there was hard, red clay that seemed parched and incapable of growing anything but rocks. I saw my first bags of potting soil and top soil, we discovered gypsum, and ultimately we learned that gardening in Oklahoma involved much more than turning over the dirt and tossing in some seeds.
Knowledge Worth Passing On
I didn’t give up easily. When I had my own children, I was determined that they would enjoy the experience of working in the soil, watching a seed sprout and grow into a plant that would give them delicious, fresh food. So, we continued to learn together. I gave my young children small sections of the family garden for them to tend. They could choose what plants they wanted to grow. They were responsible for that little section of the world…to water it, weed it, and eventually harvest and enjoy the yields, or learn how to do better next time.
For Brittany, our second child, each day brought a fresh opportunity to visit the garden to see what new things were growing. The vegetable plot was a lesson in patience for her, and eventually, a lesson in obedience. She could hardly stand to wait for a tomato to ripen, and many times she wouldn’t wait for me to tell her whether carrots, radishes or squash were ready to harvest or not. So, when I wasn’t looking, she grazed among the plants like an herbivore eating whatever appealed to her eye. She recalls a time when she had her own “Adam and Eve” moment. She and a friend decided to try the red peppers I had clearly designated as forbidden, something she could not graze upon in the garden. Every day, she admired the lovely red peppers and wondered why I was being so selfish with them. Finally, one warm afternoon while catching bugs with a friend, she could wait no more. She convinced her friend that they “were going to be fine” and decided to nibble a bit of the lovely peppers. When their lips were fiery red, swollen, and seemingly ablaze with drool escaping down their chins, Brittany decided it was time to confess and ask for help.
Memories to Cherish
A sweeter recollection of that first garden was the summer evening our oldest daughter and I were busily pulling weeds that we had neglected for too long. I don’t remember specifically what the conversation was about, but before we knew, it was 10:00 at night, and we were still talking and pulling weeds by the light of the summer moon. That was many years ago, and I couldn’t have been more delighted this past spring when her daughter asked us for a garden plot of her own for her birthday.
Place to Learn
Vegetable gardening may not spring to mind at the mention of nature study, but growing your own food is one of the simplest ways to engage with nature, especially for those who may be reluctant or unable to explore much beyond their yard. As S. Kelley Harrell said in Nature’s Gifts Anthology, “Regardless of geographical region or culture, gardening is perhaps the most common and shared experience of nature.” Gardening allows us to interact with nature in a personal way in partnership with our Creator, as a nurturer of His provisions. Gardens provide excellent places for hands-on application of Biblical lessons, and a quiet place to hear from God as He teaches us through His handiwork. In his book Natural Science through the Seasons, James Partridge recognizes additional benefits of gardening. “The vegetable garden has, however, a worthwhile contribution to make to pupils through the development of desirable attitudes and habits, the cultivation of practical skills, and the giving of useful knowledge.”
We need not know everything about gardening to get started, but once interest is established, gardening can provide a lifetime of rewarding learning experiences and fresh, nutrient-rich food. Having too much area to work and too many plants can quickly become overwhelming and discouraging, so start with a space that your family can create some time to manage. For our granddaughter, we bought pre-fabricated squares for quick assembly. Just as with any nature study, set aside time each week to devote especially to garden care. For those who do not have a sunny spot of lawn, container gardening works wonderfully for most plants that would otherwise be grown in a garden. Children can help plan, draw, and establish a garden plot, and even help choose a gardening method suitable for the family. We have enjoyed Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening, experimented with straw bale gardening, and just this past year, our neighbor introduced us to Back to Eden gardening, my favorite so far. We are just beginning to implement those principles and even combine a few favorite methods.
Children who garden will naturally learn to recognize various seeds and the plants they produce. Try purchasing heirloom seeds and learn to harvest and store them for use the following year. Have children glue or draw seed samples into their nature journals or a garden record book along with a picture of what the mature plant looks like.
Variety to Enjoy
Seeds are not the only way to produce plants for your garden. It is fun to experiment with the various methods of plant propagation using kitchen scraps and a few common supplies. Organic scraps of some fresh produce can be used to generate new transplants. Rhizomes, such as ginger root and turmeric are underground stems that form new plants a distance from the parent plant. Tubers, such as potatoes, are also underground structures that can be grown into new plants, and so are bulbs, such as onions and garlic. Cuttings of young shoots with root hormone applied can be transplanted into a sand and soil mixture, and eventually transferred to the garden. Celery bases, carrot greens, and romaine hearts are also fun for propagation experiments.
Should you be so successful in your gardening endeavors that you have a surplus of food, many local food pantries will accept donations of locally grown produce, providing the opportunity for children to practice generosity by sharing from the work of their own hands.
I have accepted that I will be a lifelong learner in my gardening endeavors. I don’t anticipate ever becoming an expert, but I thank my parents for the lessons they inadvertently taught me by letting me work with them in the rich Iowa earth to grow our own food. I developed a taste for pure, healthy vegetables, learned a bit of patience, and made some priceless memories that I hope to pass on to my family. Best of all, those barefoot days in the warm soil planted my first connections of an awesome God with an amazing creation.
Verses and Quotes
Ecclesiastes 3: 1&2b “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun…a time to plant, and a time to pluck is what is planted.”
“It was such a pleasure to sink one’s hands into the warm earth, to feel at one’s fingertips the possibilities of the new season.” Kate Morton
“Weather means more when you have a garden. There’s nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans.” Marcelene Cox
Genesis 2:15 “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it.”
Isaiah 61:11 “For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.”
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin
- “Natural Science through the Seasons” by James A. Partridge
- gardening curriculum and supplies for children
- Junior Master Gardener- http://jmgkids.us/