How to get your keiki involved in gardening


Ask a child where vegetables come from and you might be surprised by their answer. Many children today are unaware that much of their food originates as a plant that grows in soil on a farm or in a garden.

Nationwide, efforts are being made to remedy this growing disconnect that children have from their food source. The hope is that healthy eating practices will develop with an understanding of the source of our food. School gardening programs are designed to teach children about growing food while incorporating math, science, nutrition, health and other subjects into the hands-on experiences. The programs are popular with students and are inspiring many of them to garden at home and grow food for their families.

The Kona County Farm Bureau and the West Hawaii Master Gardeners agree that helping keiki experience growing food can help them eat healthier. The experience can also spark an interest in gardening and get children excited about pursuing a healthy outdoor activity. These community organizations are sponsoring an event they hope will get some keiki gardening and growing their own food.

From 8:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday, master gardeners will be at the Keauhou Farmers Market to assist children in planting vegetable seeds to take home. CTAHR’s tomato, lettuce and eggplant seeds as well as some sunflower, marigold and nasturtium seeds have been donated for the event. The master gardeners will also have additional seedlings for sale. The free event is intended for children 12 and younger.

Each child who attends will be given a four-cell seeding container to fill with the supplied sterile seedling mix before planting the seeds of their choice. They will be assisted in all steps of the planting process and will receive written instructions on how to care for their seedlings when they take them home to germinate. The seedlings are suitable for planting in the ground or growing in large pots. Hopefully, this experience will result in a thriving plant that will produce some tasty ingredients for family meals.

If you can’t attend this event with your children, your grandchildren or some children from your neighborhood, you can do your own lessons at home. To get children started growing food, it is always best to grow things that are easy to grow and quick to produce. Choosing foods they like to eat will also help them enjoy the process. In addition to the seeds that will be offered at the Saturday event, others that are likely to have good results with keiki include corn, radishes, beans, sweet peppers or herbs such as basil.

To germinate, seeds need a damp environment and will probably sprout quickly in a shaded spot but should be moved to a sunny location once the seedlings emerge. Any time after they have produced their “true” leaves — usually the second set of leaves — they can be planted out in bigger pots or in the garden.

Protecting them from damping off disease as they germinate and slugs and snails as they begin to grow is important. Starting with sterile soil usually prevents damping off, but sprinkling some vermiculite or dampening with chamomile tea can serve as extra anti-fungal support. Placing copper strips around plants will deter slugs and snails. If you know these are a problem in your garden, wait until the plants are larger to transplant them.

The vegetables mentioned will grow well in soil that contains some organic matter or finished compost and is in full sun. Watering schedules will depend on your location and the rainfall in your area.

Whether you attend Saturday’s event or want to plant seeds on your own, the goal of getting children gardening is one worth pursuing.

Tropical gardening helpline

Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

Tony asks: My hibiscus hedge seems to be dying one plant at a time. I don’t see any insects on the plant or its leaves. I think they get adequate water and I’ve been spraying sulfur to control the blister mite, but otherwise have not done anything to the plants. What might be going on?

Answer: With no above ground cause apparent, you may have a soil or root issue. Getting a soil test might give you some indication of possible nutritional deficiencies that you could remedy. Be sure your soil pH is around 6.5 for best absorption of nutrients before applying them. You may also have a case of root rot if your plants are getting more water than they need. Another possibility is that the microscopic root knot nematode may be attacking your hibiscus plants.

If you can pull out one of the dead plants to inspect the soil and the roots, you may find more clues to the problem. If the soil feels damp and some of the roots seem black and rotted, overwatering is probably the problem. If you notice nodules on the roots, your plants may have been attacked by root knot nematodes.

In the case of root rot, cut back on water. Water deeply — 10 to 20 minutes on your irrigation system — no more than twice a week and less during rainy periods. Mulching around the plants will help prevent water loss and will provide slow release nutrition as it breaks down. Add organic matter and compost to the soil to encourage microbial activity that can improve plant health and help them ward off a variety of pests.

If you discover nodules on the roots of your dead plants, you can plant a row of French marigolds next to them to help with control. The roots of several marigold varieties produce exudates that stimulate nematode eggs to hatch, but when the larvae enter the marigolds they die without completing their life cycle. Tagetes marigold species can effectively suppress root knot and lesion nematode populations. Varieties including Nemagold, Petite Blanc, Queen Sophia, and Tangerine have proved to be the most effective.

As with most plant problems, proper diagnosis is the key to an effective cure or control. Become an attentive detective in the garden and you can usually nip problems in the bud.

Email plant questions to konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu for answers by Certified Master Gardeners.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant with an organic farm in Captain Cook.