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Let kids get their hands dirty

Young girl watering the vegtable garden with a hose. (C) Fotolia

The first time I grew vegetables, the harvest was more than the bounty.

That was the summer my then six-year-old son, Ben, learned the difference between flower, flour, plants and power plants.

His questions revealed how his mind worked and what he’d picked up in the news. We lived in Southern Indiana at the time and Marble Hill, a now defunct nuclear-powered generating plant, was in the headlines. I loved talking to him at the kitchen counter about such heady stuff, even if he was only six.

That also was the summer I learned dozens of ways to cook zucchini, which thankfully, was Ben’s favorite vegetable.

Many kids find gardening fun, especially when they grow food and flowers they like. And some plants are just plain fun to grow not matter what your age.

When working with kids, get them involved from the start, asking for their input for planning the garden and what kinds of seeds and plants they’d like to try.

It’s easy to wimp out in mid-summer when weeds are high and the days are hot, but gardening teaches us about responsibility and commitment, no matter who needs the lessons.

Fulfilling responsibilities is the reason to start small. Don’t dig up more than you can handle.

Here are a few edible suggestions to whet a kid’s appetite:

*Carrots and beans. Both are easy to grow and rewarding for youngsters. Beans grow on bush-type plants or vines and both are great for kids. Make a teepee with sticks from the yard or inexpensive bamboo stakes for beans and other climbers. Make the teepee large enough and children will have a seasonal playhouse. Some beans have incredibly beautiful pods, including purple, striped and pink.

*Pumpkins and watermelons. Jack ’o lantern styles for carving, ‘Baby Bear,’ ‘Wee-Be-Little’ and ‘Jack Be Little’ are great pumpkin varieties for kids to grow. For a watermelon, try ‘Sugar Baby.’

*Pizza garden. Tomato, basil, parsley can be grown in the ground or in a large container. A five-gallon or larger bucket works great as a pizza pot. Just punch holes in the bottom for drainage. Don’t use soil from the garden in the pot. Use a good potting soil or soilless mix.

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