Jan Even, a 70-ish OSU Master Gardener who lives in Terrebonne, knows first-hand what it takes to get children interested in gardening. A few years ago, she and other Master Gardeners created a series of gardening programs for children at the Redmond Boys and Girls Club.
The original focus of the program was teaching kids about healthy food, but it became much more involved than that, according to Even.
“We found the kids were interested in everything,” she said. “They wanted to learn about flowers and vegetables, and the general science of growing things. They wanted to play with bugs and worms and were really engaged with compost.”
The adults learned a few things too.
“It was important to give the kids choices,” she said. “Did they want to grow flowers or vegetables? What kind and what colors? Having their own little area gave them ownership of their plot, but they also learned that working together made things like weeding go faster.
“And when things were ripe, they loved eating from their gardens,” she said. “Especially if it involved ranch dressing.”
Even, who has gardened since a child growing up in the Midwest, especially appreciates what an early introduction to gardening can mean over a lifetime.
“Obviously, gardening is a form of physical exercise that gets you outdoors in fresh air and keeps you moving,” she said. “The bending and lifting – done properly — promotes core strength and balance. But its’ the mental and emotional benefits I’ve come to appreciate the most.”
According to Even, it becomes a habit to “see” beauty in blooming flowers and luscious tomatoes. “It creates a sense of peace and joy to have a plant that you’ve nurtured grow into something useful and beautiful.”
Gardening also speaks to a belief in the future and imagining something growing healthy and strong, which is becoming increasingly important to mental health.
According the American Psychological Association gardening helps to manage ecoanxiety, a mental health condition increasingly diagnosed as people become overwhelmed with stress, fear and guilt regarding unchecked climate change. Raising food, feeding pollinators, creating wildlife habitat, and reducing carbon and waste creates a sense of agency and empowerment and helps people regain a sense of control over their environment.
“When I’m gardening I look forward to things – to the next bloom, the ripe squash, the recipes I’ll make with produce from my garden. It grounds me in a pleasant and positive mood,” she said.
Jan’s Tomato Tips
Tomato growing gets a bad rep in Central Oregon, but it’s not really that hard, Even says. “And nothing tastes better than a home-grown tomato fresh from the garden.”
1. Pick varieties suitable to Central Oregon’s very short growing season, including:
- Cherry tomatoes are reliable and ready to eat as early as July.
- Sungold is a super sweet variety developed by Oregon State University.
- Sweet 100s and Sweet Millions are widely available.
2. Start with sizable seedlings or established plants.
3. Harden your plants for at least five days by putting them outside in a sheltered but sunny space for longer and longer periods every day before planting.
4. Keep frost cloth available at all times. A 5– 10-degree variation in the temperature can make all the difference.
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