With the COVID-19 pandemic upending most people’s sense of normal, Kentucky 4-H is encouraging families with young people to take to their backyards and get their hands dirty growing a garden.

“Gardening can give young people something to look forward to, as they watch plants grow and develop. It also helps them get more physical activity and relieve stress,” said Ashley Osborne, 4-H youth development specialist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. “When young people are involved in the entire gardening process from the beginning, they are more likely to try healthy fruits and vegetables that they may not typically eat.”

Opportunities for gardening exist regardless of the amount of space a family has. Beginners may want to start small and grow vegetables in a few containers on their porch. Raised bed gardening is another great option for beginners. The UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment offers an extension publication, ID:248- Gardening in Small Spaces, that provides easy to understand information on both types of gardening including plant selection, planting, care, site selection and dimensions.

Families can plant gardens geared toward a particular theme, such as a children’s book, to help get young people excited about gardening. The Junior Master Gardener website has a list of children’s books that focus on gardening and could help families get ideas for their storybook-themed garden. The list is available at http://jmgkids.us/bookawards/.

4-H’ers and their families can also do activities focused around their garden. Some of the potential activities include:

Seed mats for the garden using paper towels. Directions are available on the Junior Master Gardener website at http://jmgkids.us/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Paper_Towel_Gardening_p165-67_and_fall_append.pdf.

Compost bins help reduce household and yard waste and provide gardens with rich, organic material. Directions for building a bin and its care and maintenance are available in UK Extension publication HO:75- Home Composting: A Guide to Managing Yard Waste, available at http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/ho/ho75/ho75.pdf.

Seed starters using paper towel and toilet paper cardboard tubes. University of Florida Extension offers a short fact sheet on this and other projects that use repurposed materials in the garden. It is available at https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/baker/docs/pdf/horticulture/RecyclingintheGarden.pdf.

Build a scarecrow. Young people just need clothes and material for stuffing, such as old newspaper or straw, to create this garden fixture. The scarecrow can stand on a wooden stake, or it can sit in an old chair.

Young people can also use their garden as a service project and grow some produce to share with neighbors with limited mobility or older adults who may not be able to garden on their own.

4-H’ers may want to consider entering some of their harvest in county or state fairs. Youth can find information on the categories and classes for the state fair and read through the guidelines and rules online at https://4-h.ca.uky.edu/files/6015_horticulture_2020_clean.pdf.

The UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment offers numerous publications with gardening how-to’s for all experience levels and spaces. Beginners may want to check out the following UK publications: HO-116: Beginners Guide to Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky, ID 248- Gardening in Small Spaces, ID:128 Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky and NEP: 219- Preparing Your Gardening. All of these publications and more are available online at http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs.asp.

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