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Gardening With Your Tween

A Four-step Approach to Gardening with Your Preteen

The family that sows together grows together.

OK, so it might not be the most popular rendition of the famous quote, but it's true, nonetheless. While there are no large, university-funded research studies claiming that gardening with your preteen can end teen angst, there are intimate ones conducted in backyards all over the world each gardening season.

"We've had a garden since we bought our first home 27 years ago," says Celia Ardmore of Salt Lake City, Utah. "The kids were never without homegrown vegetables, and they were so excited to pick pumpkins from their very own pumpkin patch or grab the biggest watermelon for our summer picnics."

More Than Food

While there's no doubt that the Ardmore kids loved eating from the garden, as they got older, they also loved caring for the garden.

"It was an enriching experience," says 26-year-old Damon Ardmore. "I have really fond memories of setting up the sprinkler system with my dad."

Damon admits that caring for the garden sometimes seemed like a chore, but he usually felt "paid back" for all his work. "They let me plant hot peppers and other foods that nobody else liked," he says, laughing. "It was like my own little corner of the garden, and some of my friends actually thought it was cool to come over and see how hot the peppers really were."

Oftentimes, family gardening would turn into hysterical moments, like the time when the Ardmore kids rigged the sprinklers to spray Mom and Dad. "We laughed a lot," says 24-year-old Danielle. "And we always ended our evenings in the garden with a bowl of ice cream at the kitchen table."

Time-Tested tips

You don't have to be a produce pro to benefit from a family garden. All you need is a bit of land and a bit of interest in the subject – and these time-tested tips from the Ardmore family:

1. Plan

  • Make sure your plot gets plenty of sun and is not protected from the rain.
  • Check the soil. Too much sand won't hold water; too much clay breeds fungus. A trip to your local gardening center can fix both.
  • Decide what you want to grow.

2. Place

  • Divide your plot. You can do this evenly or according to the items you like the most. If you like tomatoes more than green peppers, leave twice the room for tomatoes.
  • Don't forget to leave walking space in between each row of plants.

3. Plant

  • Know your climate zone. Take a trip to your local garden center and ask about the planting season in your area.
  • Refer to the seed packaging for details. Some annuals will need to be started indoors before planting.

4. Properly Maintain

  • Thoroughly saturate the ground an average of every three days. Make sure the soil is somewhat dry before watering again.

Help for Novice Gardeners

Sound like too much work? Don't fret. There are passionate planters waiting in the wings to help.

The Food For Everyone Foundation is a charitable foundation "dedicated to helping people throughout the world achieve individual and family self-sufficiency by using the best possible vegetable gardening methods and materials, consistent with a healthy ecology and environment."

The Food For Everyone Web site offers in depth instructions on how to garden using the Mittleider Method. You can also take things a step further and purchase specially designed software, like "The Garden Master CD", which makes a top-notch garden accessible to everyone.

Reaping What You Sow

When it comes to forming a closer family bond, Celia Ardmore has a hunch. "We don't have proof the gardening helped, but I do think the more time you spend together, the better it is for the parent/child relationship," she says. "Now, the next step is learning to be a great grandparent by gardening with my grandkids!"

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