Early morning, the first day after school let out for the summer, I would be wide awake before 7am, my body still in school schedule mode. I would tiptoe out to the kitchen to find a note from my dad, an early riser like myself, already gone to work for the day.
The content of the note varied from summer to summer, as I got older and shouldered more responsibilities, but for every year we had a garden, my dad always reminded me to go check for fresh berries to go with breakfast.
June brought strawberries, so red and juicy that half of them never even made it into the house. Any that remained after breakfast were coupled with magenta rhubarb stalks and baked into flaky, homemade crusts that my mom rolled out on the kitchen table, or sliced into more manageable bites and scooped onto vanilla ice cream.
In July, our six carefully pruned raspberry vines started to droop under the weight of the ripening fruit, and we loaded the bright pink berries on our cereal, dried them into fruit leather, and baked them into bubbling cobblers.
August walks were always accompanied with a basket of some form, since the empty lots around our neighborhood sported masses of bushes loaded with blackberries just waiting to be picked. My siblings and I returned home with baskets overflowing and purple juice all over our faces, declining dinner sheepishly before heading to the first aid kit to cover our arms in bandages.
As an adult, my obsessive berry consumption is rivaled among my family and friends only by those who also grew up with gardens, picking their own fruits and consuming them moments later. Little do my children know…I am drawing up plans for a garden right now, mapping out where each fruit and vegetable will grow, and planning how to get my kids involved with the process; for that is, in fact, where it starts.
Want to get your kids excited about gardening? Talk about their favorite fruits and vegetables, and tell them about your favorites. Recruit them to map out the garden beds, and research which plants grow well next to others, both for shading and beneficial nutrients. Show your kids how to read a planting chart, and recruit them to label the rows of seeds. Give them some stakes and some netting, throw in some twist ties that everyone seems to have in abundance, and give them ownership of keeping the birds from getting the seeds.
Take them to the garden store and have them pick out their own trowel and hand rake, a little watering can, and a big hat. Let them sow seeds and watch them grow and delight in the progress that “their” plants make. Let them fail, and see you fail…and let them watch you learn from your mistakes without beating yourself up about them.
Lastly, cultivate your garden with patience and care, and your children will absorb the value of lessons learned outside, working hard, and real rewards that come down the road. And then, who knows? After planting, watering, protecting, and observing, your kids may just try the vegetables they grew. They might even (*gasp) like them!