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A gift idea for youngsters could have them enjoying veggies for years to come. Angela O’Callaghan says this stocking stuffer could end up giving a child an incredible edible experience.

It’s so hard to determine what gifts are best for the children in our lives.

Kids grow too fast for clothes, and they’re hardly exciting gifts for an eight year old.

Computer technology changes too fast – unless you’re an IT professional, how can anyone tell what makes sense? It might be brand new to us, but old stuff to a young person who’s exposed to cutting edge toys all the time.

It’s tempting just to send a gift card, or worse yet, a check, but why not try something else? Especially since gift cards aren’t even completely used so much of the time?

How about a gift that might interest them for life?

You probably know that I have a youth horticulture program where we concentrate on teaching teachers to use the outdoors as a classroom. After all these years, it’s caught on.

I went to the student run farmers market at Zappo’s the other day. There were 30 different schools, each with their own booth, in addition to the Cooperative Extension Junior Master Gardener group.  There were about 300 students and teachers, plus all the shoppers.  People from supporting agencies all over town were busy with shopping bags and cash. Lots of Extension personnel were there to support the kids, too. It was mostly elementary schools, but students from a few middle and high schools were also selling fresh produce and some of the crafts that they’d made. What you couldn’t miss was their enthusiasm while they explained what they had grown and done.

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Now, all those kids had school gardens, but it’s possible to get children interested in growing things with just a little effort. Kids that grow vegetables eat vegetables. I was stunned to see children eating Brussels sprouts that they’d grown. And enjoying them!

If you want to go the deluxe route, there are home hydroponics units that can fit on a counter top or take up an entire wall. Very impressive, but all of us don’t have that kind of money, or space. Most of us do have fluorescent lights and windows, though, which is basically all you need to grow leafy plants.

I’m always pushing edible plants, since they’re both attractive and nutritious.  They’re also incredibly easy to grow from seed.

Here are Angela’s directions for - your instant mini garden for kids.

A package of seeds: radishes are a good choice - they germinate fast and you have a finished vegetable in a month. I worry that some of them are a bit too spicy for little ones, but a selection of multi-colored radishes can be a pretty sight. Remember - there are many more varieties of all vegetables than the standard supermarket types. Like lettuce.

Lettuce germinates in less than two weeks, and it only takes about a month and a half to have a full head. Don’t try for iceberg lettuce, though. It’s everywhere and it’s tasteless. I find it’s more like a sack of water than something delicious. Look at any seed catalog, on line, or even at the seed rack in the store. Lot’s of interesting shapes and colors to catch a kid’s eye. Spinach, as well. And think of those red leaf items – chard and beets.

These are easy plants. No green thumb necessary. A package of seed mix, which is a very light soil substitute to get seeds started. Follow the directions on the seed package. Make sure things never get dry – we’ll often put plastic wrap over the soil to keep the seeds moist after they’re planted. That stays on until the babies emerge.  Then you take off the plastic wrap, get the seedlings under bright light, and watch as they get larger.

So, this is the child garden demo kit – seeds, soil, a pot, and light. No big expense here, but once you create a child’s interest in growing tasty, healthy things to eat, you have a child who eats tasty, healthy things! You’ll be getting them something else, clothing or toys, but this’ll have an impact.

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