The Q&A Archives: Children and Gardening

Question: I am a Girl Scout Leader. My troop is doing a community food shelf garden this summer. I found an article on planting potatoes in tires that sounded like it would be a fun project for my first-time gardeners. The article suggests starting with two tires stacked and filled with soil. To "hill" the potatoes, we would just add tires to the stack and fill them with soil. But I'm concerned that the chemicals in the tires might leach into the produce. If so, we'll let go of that idea. But do you have any other inexpensive, creative ideas for keeping 8 and 9 year old girls excited about gardening?

Answer: Many people use tires in their vegetable gardens, but I hesitate to recommend them. There have been suggestions that zinc may leach out of the tires, and though it hasn't been shown to be a hazard, I tend to err on the side of caution and stick to natural materials whenever possible.

You can create a similar growing situation for potatoes, using a cylinder made of chicken wire. Simply spread some hay in the bottom, add a few inches of garden soil, and plant your seed potatoes. Then, as the plants grow, continue adding layers of hay and soil, always leaving the top few leaves exposed. To harvest, simply remove the chicken wire.

Some other ideas: You could try devoting sections of the garden to different ethnic foods--say, an Italian garden with tomatoes, Italian peppers, basil, and eggplant; and a Mexican "salsa" garden with tomatoes, onions, jalepeno peppers, cilantro, and green peppers. And even a Native American garden, with the "three sisters", corn, pole beans and squash.

You could mix flowers and vegetables, including reliable growers like zinnias, nasturtium, sunflowers and marigolds. You could do a garden with unusual-colored vegetables--purple peppers, yellow tomatoes, pink eggplant, white pumpkins, purple basil, yellow carrots. You could build a teepee with long sticks, and grow climbing flowers like morning glories, creating a little hiding place inside (just leave one side open for a door.) Whatever you do, get the children involved in planning. Perhaps you could have a contest, where each child draws up a plan for the garden, then have them all vote on which one to use. Good luck!

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