Meditations on Gardening with Littles
“Look, Mama - worms!” Alice has a penchant for handling those wriggly masters of the soil. I watch it wrap around her finger, sit up and stretch at odd angles. I fight the repulsion of imagining it was my little finger. Careful not to show her my aversion, I try to keep from passing on the silly yet prevalent fear of bugs. I look at her in awe. There’s not a trace of disgust in her countenance - simply fascination along with that unadulterated, childlike happiness that belongs to the race of kindergartners. It may as well be a beautifully shining ring and she the Queen of the Wild Things. She’s growing up differently, I think.
Worms are just one component in the ecosystem of our backyard garden. In fact, we have a worm farm in our basement to harvest castings for our soil. We trade them produce scraps for poop, happy to be getting the better end of the deal.
From the time our Littles were babes, The Mister and I have kept a modest vegetable garden and delight in watching it unfold and evolve year after year. Dream and plan the beds. Send for seeds. Plant inside while the snow is still melting. When it warms, we dig in the dirt and pray it goes well. We plant. We water. We curse rabbits. We prune. We wait. We discover vegetables we don’t actually like. We learn that some plants make better bedfellows than others. We delight in traipsing outside in the cool of the evening to pick a few sprigs of sage or cilantro for a recipe in the making. And so it is that Alice and Milo have come to know where our food comes from - and more importantly, to learn to love the growing of it.
The littles flock to us in the garden, barefoot, as we pull weeds in the shade of the neighbor’s maple tree. Alice and Milo are experts at scooping rocks and watering cement while their daddy and I accomplish more...pertinent tasks. But this year they will be initiated into the fold; this year they will have a plot of earth all their own.
To add some spark to our endeavors, we let them choose what to sow in their small box of dirt. Wide eyed, they wandered into the giant greenhouses at Mulhall’s and thrilled at the sight of all of those little envelopes of seeds. Our adventure yielded colorful packets of easy-to-grow things. Radishes. Carrots. Peppers. Marigolds. Eggplants. And Alice’s prized pick - rainbow beets. “Purple pickles,” she likes to call them. Satisfied with their picks, we brought them home for sowing.
Armed with mini shovels and trowels gathered up from dollar aisles over the years, our little sun-hatted dirt-diggers roam the backyard, eager to bring the world in under their fingernails. If Milo had his way, he would plant nothing but pebbles, excavate a pit and faithfully water it’s empty soil. That boy. I can’t help but laugh. Sometimes with exasperation. Alice, though, is excited to plant her new things.
Daddy has been preparing the soil for years with compost and a layer of mulch - key components to a fruitful garden. Take good care of your dirt and it will take good care of you. They watched closely as he showed them how to make furrows and sprinkle seeds. We read instructions. We transplanted seedlings we’ve been cultivating under heat lamps. We covered. We watered. And now we wait some more.
My heart beats a little faster when I think about all of the things we’ll get to talk about through gardening. Germination. Why we compost. Photosynthesis. The farm to table philosophy. Precipitation. Preparing and cooking what we harvest. Sustainability. Canning tomatoes. Taking care of tools. The responsibility of tending a living thing. Purpose. Drawing plants in our nature journals. The value of hard work. Vitamins and nutrients from our food. Insects. Strengthening immunity with dirt and good bacteria. Family time. Stewardship. Inspiration to eat new vegetables. Reveling in nature. Synergy. Satisfaction from a job well done.
The sky’s the limit for all of the powerful things we can teach children - and ourselves - through gardening, but perhaps the one that fills me up the most is simply getting to share this love of growing things with our tiny tribe and the chance to spend time getting dirty together.
What did Helena Rutherford Ely say? “With a trowel in hand and joy in my heart"...and I would add “my little children at my side.”