Fresh picked vegetables certainly taste better and growing your own saves you some “green”, but many parents are finding that involving kids in growing their own food has an even greater reward -- less fuss at dinner time.
“I can’t think of a better outdoor activity for families than gardening,” says Tom Mahoney, owner of Mahoney’s Garden Center. “You show your children first hand where food comes from, and that encourages them to eat healthier foods and make better choices!”
As previous president of the Massachusetts Flower Gardeners Association, Mahoney offers these simple steps to get your garden off to a successful start.
1. First decide what you want to plant. Ask your kids what their favorite vegetables are and plant those. Take them to the garden center to select their veggie plants already started in small pots.
2. Next decide how big a garden you want. Just remember, the larger the garden, the more work involved.
3. Next work with your kids to pick the right spot. Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of sunlight and lots of water. So make sure the spot is a short distance to the hose so it’s easy for the kids to water.
4. Now get your kids out and dig. Clear the spot of grass and weeds and work some good organic matter into the soil. Now you are ready to plant.
Mahoney suggest these potted vegetable plants that are easy to grow and fun to eat:
• CHERRY TOMATOES are delicious and easy to grow. Some are so sweet your kids will just pop them in their mouths. Potted plants are available at your local nursery. Look for heirloom varieties, or for fun, try the pearl variety. Two plants will produce plenty of fruit, unless you're feeding an army. Water approximately once every two days, and fertilize every two weeks with liquid fertilizer.
• CUKES are easy and grow fast. Plant them closest to the hose as they need deep, regular watering. For a plentiful harvest, plant cucumber starter plants in mounds every three weeks from now until July 15 or 3 months from the first hard frost. Be sure to select a variety for picking.
• ZUCCHINI will delight your young farmers because of their abundance and speedy growth. Zucchini starters should be planted in mounds and watered deeply once a week. Consider grilling this vegetable and also making zucchini bread with your bountiful harvest.
• LETTUCE is the gift from the garden that keeps on giving! Lettuce is a favorite in the garden because it is easy to grow, is one of the earliest crops that can be planted, and is one of the first crops to yield in the spring. Try growing your lettuce in containers, it doesn’t need a lot or room and has shallow roots!
• PEPPERS -- especially sweet yellow peppers -- make a wonderful addition to homemade salsa! Green are still a classic, but brightly colored, sweet bell pepper varieties have recently burst onto the scene. Place transplants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row, or 14 to 18 inches apart to avoid overcrowding.
Remember, offer new veggies with a ranch dressing dip – this will encourage a taste!
If you don’t have the time or space to garden, experts agree you should teach your children that ‘buying local’ means getting the freshest, most nutritious and best selection of vegetables, flowers and herbs.
“Going local extends further than just the dinner plate,” says Massachusetts Flower Grower Association president Dave Volante, owner of Volante Farms. “Locally grown flowers and plants are hand selected to be more suited to the Massachusetts weather, and that means more success for the home gardener.”
Before starting on a new vegetable garden, visit a garden center or farm stand for the best advice and selection of potted vegetable plants grown specifically for your area.
To locate a local garden center or farm stand near you, visit www.massflowergrowers.com, and your whole family will be on its way to great tasting, fresh vegetables from your own garden to your family’s table, with love.
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