Watching your vegetable garden fade out as fall sets in can be depressing, even jarring—especially for kids.
“Something is killing our garden,” gasped Aria, Amanda’s 5-year-old daughter, after she’d wandered into the backyard one recent morning. “The sunflowers are keeling over! So is the corn! It’s going yellow and shrivelly, Mama, is it sick?”
The night before, a big rain had toppled many of the tall plants. The sweet corn and mammoth sunflowers looked like capsized masts; the vining cukes and green beans were withered and slumping on their stakes. But the plants weren’t sick exactly, they were just petering out. For weeks they’d been wilting, exhausted, having given up their fruits all summer. They were dying their natural autumnal deaths, and the rain had just accelerated things. Now they were ready to be yanked up, roots and all, and added to the compost pile.
Not everything in the garden was going: the tomatoes, basil, peppers and eggplants, cucumbers, and zucchini were still vibrant. But not for long—the first light frost will wipe them out completely. Others will survive the frost: Brussels sprouts, kale, carrots, beets, potatoes, chard, and spinach. But their days are numbered, too.
“What do I tell her?” Amanda asked Jeanne, after Aria’s gloomy discovery. “Tell her it’s the cycle of life—that plants die and decompose, so they can feed the soil and help new plants grow,” Jeanne offered. “Tell her that death is a new beginning.”
This was one of many conversations we’ve had with each other and our kids this summer about big life lessons we can all learn from the humble act of growing food. The garden is a safe, quiet place where kids can begin to understand the full gamut of essential life skills – from basic stuff like time management to lessons about death, birth, bravery, connectedness, and how to slow down.
Here are our top 10 life lessons from the garden: