The Perfect Recipe
Take one energy-filled youngster. Provide subject with a cup of seeds and a shovel. Infuse with dirt and sprinkle on healthy dollops of fresh air and sunshine. Mix with a shovel. Yield: One happy kid and the beginnings of a summer long project for the domestic unit, otherwise known as THE FAMILY GARDEN.
I had fond memories of gardening as a child- my family shared a large backyard garden with a neighbor. Each spring, every willing youngster old enough to hold a spade was assigned a vegetable. Through the spring, summer and early fall, she was responsible for the weeding, watering, sowing and distribution of her yield. Over the years, we had a variety of crops: summer squash, horseradish, leaf lettuce, corn, beans, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, chives and rhubarb. As a result, I grew up with an appreciation for the process and consumption of fresh produce. For me, gardening is a relaxing escape from the pressures of an urban environment, and I wanted to pass that tradition on to my children.
Cooperative Extension : The Mother Lode of Gardening Guidance
After poring over books on design, composting, and organic gardening, we consulted local experts. Our first stop was Cornell Cooperative Extension, which proved to be the mother lode of gardening guidance. Cooperative extension programs are located throughout the U.S., and in each state are affiliated with land grant universities. They provide research-based educational resources through a network of educators and extension offices.
Our local office provides soil analysis and maintains a hotline staffed by Master Gardeners who answer consumer questions. New this year is an online home gardening database that provides user-friendly instruction and information, including vegetable growing guides, fact sheets, and a virtual visit to a family garden.
According to Cornell Master Gardener Bob Eller, a soil pH of 6.8-7.0 is ideal for growing vegetables. “Choose a sunny spot, with well-drained soil that is compatible with want you want to grow. Almost anything can be grown if the soil is right” he said. In order to reap the benefits of the analysis, you must plan in advance! “Don’t wait until May to get it tested,” Eller advises.
Since we began planning the garden in early May, we did not have time to send in soil for analysis. Not knowing what areas of the backyard were most fertile, we opted for a raised bed garden. Raised bed gardens are an ideal option for both new gardeners and city dwellers without a lot of space.
Local Garden Centers
Our next stop was local garden centers, where we received advice on starting a vegetable garden and kid-friendly vegetable varieties. Upstate New York has an abundance of garden centers, and each has unique offerings for families. Stores in our area offer everything from free gardening classes for kids and adults to play areas with jungle gyms and sandboxes full of oats. Chances are, you will find similar offerings in your hometown.
Community Supported Agriculture Projects
Families whom desire a growing experience but lack space, time or other resources should check out community supported agriculture projects. Besides being a great place for families to get hands-on gardening experience, the fruits of your labor are rewarded! Here’s how it works: community members sign up and purchase their shares, either in one lump sum before the seeds are sown in early spring, or in several installments through-out the growing season. Production expenses are thereby guaranteed and the farmer or grower starts receiving income as soon as work begins.In return for their investment, CSA members receive a bag of fresh, locally-grown, typically organic produce once a week from late spring through early fall, and occasionally throughout the winter in northern climates.
At Peaceworks Organic Farm in Newark, NY, a typical week’s bounty for a full shareholder, is 7-11 fresh vegetables which might include the following: one head of lettuce or 2 of leaf lettuce, 1 lb. spinach, 1 lb. carrots, a bunch of greens or herbs, 2 lbs. potatoes, 1 head of broccoli, 6-8 ears of corn, 1 lb of shelling peas. “Exotic vegetables, such as bok choi, mizuna and komatsuna are grown for variety, but we emphasize popular ones – tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans, onions, broccoli and lettuce,” Farm Director Elizabeth Henderson explains.
Tips on Gardening with Kids
Following are some tips from local experts on gardening with your kids from Carol Sorbello, a 20 year employee of Wayside Garden Center in Macedon, NY, Bob Eller, a Master Gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension and Sarah VanEnwyck of Grandpa’s Nursery and Gardens in Sodus, NY:
1. Pick a spot for your garden where you know things grow. If you don’t know about the soil, have it tested.
2. Pick a spot that receives 6 hours of filtered light (sun) per day (necessary for crops such as tomatoes, lettuce, beans, carrots, beets, etc.
3. Plant a few things in the garden that germinate quickly, such as lettuce and sunflowers.
4. Give the kids an area of their own in the garden and make it fun. For instance, construct a teepee for pole beans.
5. If you can’t wait until after the last frost (predicted date is May 3 for Rochester, NY), you can start seeds indoors. Sorbello recommends using a mini greenhouse, priced at about $5.
6. Suggested seed-starters for eager growers: beans, peas, lettuce, radishes, marigolds and zinnias
7. Vegetables that are especially popular with junior gardeners: corn, beans, peas, tomatoes
8. Flowers that are easy to grow: marigolds, impatiens, and petunias.
Make your Hometown a Great Place to Live and Grow!
This spring, with a lot of enthusiasm, we will prepare and plant our crops. Then, we’ll hope for the best. With a fresh dose of sunshine and a few sprinklings, we’ll have the makings of cost-effective meals all year long and some happy kids (one in a 40 year old body). Whatever you decide to grow this year, and wherever you decide to do it, enjoy! Make your hometown a great place to live and grow!
* according to information provided by UMass Extension service
For assistance with your backyard garden, including soil analysis, contact the cooperative extension office nearest you. Consult the USDA Cooperative State Research and Education directory at http://www.reeusda.gov/
For information on home gardening in general:
Cornell University Home Gardening Database: http://www.explore.cornell.edu/homegardening/
Print publications available:
Garden in the City
Designed for youth and adults who have had little experience with gardening and limited space. Covers the garden box, starting seeds, planning the garden, cleaning the site, breaking ground, planting, weeding, thinning, and harvesting. Lists supplies and tools you’ll need; suggests activities for groups. 40 pp.
The Home Vegetable Garden
A popular how-to reference. Planting schedules, recommended varieties, pest control, and more. 31 pp.
To find the predicted last frost in your geographic area, consult the Old Farmer’s Almanac Gardener’s Companion Frost Chart at http://www.almanac.com
To find a garden center near you, consult the American Landscape and Nursery Association at http://www.anla.org/
For more information on Community Supported Agriculture Projects in your area, visit the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center CSA Farm Directory at: http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/csa/.