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Sowing the Seeds of Interest in Children

January 31, 1998|From Associated Press

With the right choice of plants, a garden is a place for a child to play and to learn.

In gardens, children can realize that food does not grow on market shelves in boxes or plastic bags. Watch a child's face turn from boredom to wonder as you push a shovel into the earth next to a carrot plant and slide out the long, orange root. Give it a quick rinse and start chomping on it right in the garden.

Then hop over a couple of rows and start munching on green beans, hidden beneath the foliage. Or peas. You'll be a Pied Piper, followed by children stuffing things into their mouths and pockets.

Catch a youngster's attention by nonchalantly popping a few day lily flowers in your mouth, either before the blossoms open, when the blossoms are fully open or after the blossoms have wilted. (They are eaten all three ways in Asia.) Equally edible are violet and squash flowers.

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Extremes in size are another way to spark interest. Plant some seeds of one of the giant pumpkins, and stand back! For a jack-o'-lantern so big you can hardly budge it, grow one of the giant varieties such as 'Big Max' and keep the plant well fertilized and well watered.

After some fruits have begun to form, remove all but one or two. All the plant's energy, funneled into just one or two fruits, will pump those fruits to enormous size.

Play around with some of the secrets of those who grow record-size pumpkins. For instance, cover parts of the stem with soil so new roots form, or feed milk or beer "intravenously" through a slit in the stem.

The sunflowers, rimmed with yellow petals, and towering high above the ground, will bring a smile and a look of awe to any child's face. Imagine the sense of wonder kindled in the child who has sown the seed for this plant. The sunflower is one of those basic flower shapes drawn by children. And it is big.

There also are mammoth types of radishes. It is hard to imagine that a 'Sakurajima Mammoth White Globe' radish seed only one-sixteenth of an inch across will grow into a 20-pound radish. But it will. These radishes are grown for winter use and pickling in Asia.

Fast-growing plants give quick satisfaction. Drop some spring radish seeds into a furrow, cover with a half-inch of soil, then firm and water the soil. In just three or four weeks, the small, crisp roots will be ready to eat.

Pole beans climb fast. A good way to train them is on a tripod of bamboo poles. Six-foot poles should be long enough, although even at this height the bean stems will eventually grow beyond the poles and twine back on themselves or flail in the wind groping for support.

Build the tripod wide or use more than three poles, and a child can make a playhouse within the green walls.

Gourd vines also grow fast. Leave the fruits on the vine until the shells get hard. Hollow out the fruits for containers or for birdhouses.

Kindle some enthusiasm for plants in a child and you may get a helper for weeding. Children, it seems, have not yet learned that sowing seeds is supposed to be fun, and weeding is supposed to be work.

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