Growing up in Phoenix, AZ, I never, EVER, understood why summer was such a beloved season. All I knew was the dry, unbearable heat that kept us clinging to the air conditioned indoors or getting the heck out of town from April through October. Sure, summer looked like a blast in those family movies about baseball and summer camp (that I spent my summers renting and watching, indoors), but I assumed- probably out of self-preservation- those were all just things of fiction.
Then Eddie and I moved to Oregon.
Greenery? In SUMMERTIME?! Lush, green walkways through neighborhoods and ordinary places, cool temperatures that allow people to be outside without risk of heat stroke, berries to pick everywhere you turn- what’s not to love? Worth every single rainy, winter day- no question.
For us, one of the most wonderful and important things this climate and culture allows throughout the summer is gardening**. Even in our first apartment when it was just the two of us, Eddie and I grew a variety of tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and greens in pots on our balcony. That quickly spread to community garden plots (not a thing I had ever seen in Phoenix, though there has been a slight movement toward sustainable living since we left 7 years ago). For Eddie, gardening is a means of release, and for me it’s a means of fresh produce to turn into delicious recipes! What we’re really enjoying now, though, is watching what it means for our boys. Teddy loves it because even though he’s only 3, he gets to help, and Elijah (11 months) loves the free samples.
Gardening lends itself beautifully to family time and educating children because it’s essentially just playing in the dirt! Babies can crawl and play in the soil. Let them explore and get dirty (builds the immune system!). As they learn to walk, little ones discover the plants and sample the fruits and veggies. As their awareness and dexterity develops, they can help water, plant seeds, harvest, and even choose their own plants to grow. It’s all about accessibility. Dedicate a spot in the garden that’s just for them with a shovel, watering can and gloves in their size! If kids are allowed and welcomed into the garden, they will grow up learning the value of working for what they have and, hopefully, develop an appreciation for fresh, healthy foods.
Even if you don’t have a yard or have too small a yard to dig a garden, I strongly encourage seeking community gardens near you! Our city’s Parks & Recreation department oversees a number of gardens, and we have also rented plots through community organizations such as local churches and schools. We pay less than $50/ year and have to commit to 2-3 “work parties”/ season (4-6 hours total dedicated to maintaining the garden cite by weeding walkways, spreading bark chips, etc.) for a plot located within a mile of our home. Once you have your plot, it’s up to you how simple or elaborate you make it. It takes a few season to figure out what works best for the plants you grow, so no harm in keeping it simple in the beginning- it’s a learning experience! And the best part about belonging to a community garden, is there will be gardeners with a variety of experience levels to give you pointers, so no need to feel intimidated.
Learning Opportunities in Gardening:
- Life Science! Kids can learn about life cycles of plants and insects, ecosystems, and the water cycle. Experiment with varying levels of sunlight, water, and nutrients in the soil.
- Food Education- What are fruits and vegetables? Where do they come from? What do they taste like at different stages? What can we do with them once we pick them? What recipes can we try?
- Physical & Mathematical Skills- Estimating measurements (space between seeds/ plants); how to dig/ plant in a way that allows for roots to establish and plants to grow; how to harvest without harming the plants or produce.
If Community Gardening:
- Social Awareness! There is incredible value in communities coming together for common causes! Kids will learn to share experiences, knowledge, and goods with their neighbors. They’ll get to see people using different methods to achieve the same goal (meaning, there’s more than one way to get a desired result). And, best of all, they’ll probably make some friends!
ACTIVITIES TO TRY:
Check out which fruits and veggies will grow best in your garden, then make a plan!
**Gardening is absolutely possible in Phoenix, AZ; it’s just generally not an enjoyable summer activity. If you are in Phoenix or another hot, dry climate, check into tips on working with different types of soil as well as planting/growing seasons as they differ from cool, wet climates like the PNW.