What I learned abut parenting from organic gardening
Mother nature is a marvellous teacher if we take the time to become acquainted with her, explains Gretchen Carroll.
As a novice organic vegetable gardener, not only have I learnt how to grow vegetables naturally, I’ve also realised you can learn a lot about life and parenting from the vege patch. My gardening skills are still a work in progress, but over thyme I’ve gathered many sage insights from Mother Nature that I’ll share with you here!
SOME THINGS COME EASILY ... AND SOME DON'T
Through trial and error, I’ve discovered there are certain easy-growing vegetables, such as lettuce, that you can pop in the ground and, voilá, with some water (or not!) and sun, a few weeks later you’re eating them. However, other vegetables, such as carrots, can be more challenging. I was warned about carrots by a seasoned gardener, and yes, we ended up with shrivelled little orange and black things. The life lesson here is – that’s life! Some things will be easy and others won’t, but you still need to push your own limits and try the tougher challenges, as you’ll find it highly rewarding if you succeed. For a novel challenge, my son and I grew yacón, a South American root vegetable, and I’m pleased to report that our efforts are paying off and the plants are slowly but surely growing.
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
Once a plant has done its thing and looks wilted and brown, I’ve sometimes pulled it out thinking it’s done and dusted, must be time to move on. Then I realised some plants are seasonal and when you give them some time, they’ll make a return! The same goes for some parts of parenting: wait a bit longer and see what transpires. There’s no need to rush through childhood, it’s a time to be treasured. Children can be challenging, but if you allow them some time, many challenges will be worked out.
YOU WIN SOME, YOU LOSE SOME
There have been numerous times when I’ve planted something and it’s died straight away, or showed some promise but then turned black (capsicum, I’m looking at you). Then there are the surprises, the plants that pop up spontaneously – hooray for borage! The life-lesson here is that sometimes you pour your energy into a task and it fails regardless, other times you do very little and simply get lucky. You can only really accept the loss or celebrate the success, and move on.
NATURE NEEDS BALANCE
Organic gardeners know there are natural ways to mitigate pests and diseases, and that some plants coexist well together and others don’t. Our worm farm became disgusting because we let things get out of balance. There was too much wet stuff in it and not enough dry; we also put too many processed-food scraps in as well. My insight here is that our stress levels will become uncomfortable if we’re not living a balanced life. Likewise with our food: everything in moderation and minimal processed food – otherwise our health suffers.
CHALLENGE YOUR PREJUDICES
I wasn’t a huge fan of bees as a child, but as an adult gardener I quickly cottoned on to how amazing they are. Watching bees move as a swarm is a sight to behold; fresh honey is a delicacy; and learning how beneficial bees are for plants and the ecosystem has been a revelation. With people, it can be tempting to label someone even though you don’t know them, and there they stay, so-labelled, in your mind. It’s not until you get talking and realise you actually have a lot in common, or that they just have a different approach to life, that your whole view of them changes. It’s good to challenge your prejudices!
DIGGING IN WITH THE KIDS
I used to think growing vegetables would be boring, but it’s actually therapeutic. Interacting with plants, watching nature in action, being in the fresh air and eating the tasty produce – it can only be good for you and your kids! Here are some tips to help you get started.
What you’ll need: Children usually love being outside, so you probably won’t have any trouble encouraging them out the back door. To introduce them to the joys of gardening, first get the right-sized gear. Check out op shops or garden centres for kid-sized gardening gloves and a spade, although small adult trowels work well for little hands. A small watering can is a good idea and, for the autumn leaves later on, a mini rake too. If you’re thinking of buying seedlings, Awapuni Nurseries wrap their seedlings in newspaper instead of using plastic pots. If you do buy plastic-potted seedlings, some garden centres will accept used ones for recycling or reusing. You may also need a bag or two of potting mix or soil, unless your patch is already well-established.
Who does what: Now you have the gear, think about what age and stage your child is. Older preschoolers and school-aged kids are capable of, and will enjoy helping with, planting vegetables and flowers, whereas the really young ones might be tempted to eat the potting mix! Perhaps a better job for littlies is watering the plants with a small watering can, and save the planting for the older ones.
What to plant: Seedlings are usually more fail-safe than seeds, but why not try both? Once you have started with a few plants, then you can branch out. It’s always best to plant seasonally (and this will vary slightly from region to region), so some suggestions for planting in summer are:
🌻 Lettuce seedlings are easy to grow and, it’s salad season!
🌻 Tomato seedlings. We’ve had success with tomatoes, and the cherry variety are fun to pick and eat with the kids.
🌻 Strawberries. If you haven’t already, get your strawberry seedlings in quick smart, you might still be able to grow some over summer.
🌻 Sunflowers are loved by kids. These flowers can be planted as seeds, just make sure they’re in a nice sunny spot. You can either sow full-sized sunflowers (and measure who is taller by the end of summer – the flower or the child?) or dwarf sunflowers, which are lovely too.
What else? Worm farms are a great way to make the most of your scraps and kids love seeing the worms wriggling about. They’re available from garden centres and are easy to set up. Weeding and slug hunting can also be fun. Finally, if you have the space, just let the kids dig a hole. There’s much fun to be had with some dirt, water, a spade and a bit of imagination!
Gretchen Carroll is a freelance writer specialising in community, lifestyle and parenting topics. She is also a published creative writer. Find her at gretchencarroll.journoportfolio.com.