This from Carolyn Lindell, who writes about gardening for us:
Using trowels, spoons and other hand tools, a small group of kids stoop by a garden bed and loosen the soil, preparing to plant seeds for a vine.
“I see a baby roly-poly,” Julia Pinzur, 6, says with excitement, before announcing that she’s ready for seeds. A butterfly flits by as Camille Cline, who runs the Gardenheads summer camp, explains that they should plant them about a quarter-inch deep.
“Like this much of your pinky,” says Cline, pointing at the top of her little finger.
On this cool June morning, the kids are content with the simple jobs of gardening, mixed in with playing in a fort area, snacking and other activities. A while later, they were going to do an art project, making homemade paper that included orange peel and rosemary to gives it a scent, Cline says.
This time of year, as parents seek activities for their out-of-school kids — and the number of options is overwhelming, from sports to theater to music camps — some kids are spending time learning to garden.
Gardenheads, in the Crestview neighborhood in Central Austin, is among the camps that focus on teaching kids about organically growing flowers and vegetables. It’s geared for kids ages 3½ to 8. Cline’s mother started the program in 2007 in this location and recruited her daughter, who has a bachelor of fine arts in painting, to help with the art projects, Cline says. Since then, her mother has moved and now Cline, 38, operates it. She takes up to eight children per week, and they usually have a variety of experience with gardening, she says.
In a fenced-in backyard, they start with yoga to stretch out, then drink plenty of water, before getting to work in the soil, among the tall sunflowers and riotous garden beds.
The program, which runs in weeklong sessions, lasts from 8:30 a.m. until noon, though it still gets hot enough that sometimes Cline sprinkles off the kids with the hose, she says.
“I’ll water the plants and water the kids,” she says. “They’ll act like they’re a seed and grow.”
Activities vary, according to what’s happening in the gardens. Cline says a bunch of potatoes are ready to be pulled up. There are so many, she says, “It’s like an Easter egg hunt” to find them in the dirt. As the kids get the potatoes, Cline says, she’ll ask them if they know whether potatoes grow underground or above ground.
“Then they get to take them home and actually eat them,” she says.
Another day they might get a basket and scissors and cut herbs. Other days they might pull up roots out of the ground, and they’ll be surprised at what they find, she says.
“(They’ll) go, ‘whoa.’ They don’t think there’s something growing underground,” Cline says.
The kids oftentimes also discover all kinds of bugs.
“If they find a weird bug, we’ll look it up,” she says. “They learn a lot about the benefits of good bugs.”
Fridays have special activities, such as face painting.
Cline says some kids have repeated the camp, and parents have told her that their children would not eat a salad before taking the camp.
But at Gardenheads, she says, “They’ll just eat Swiss chard off the plant.”
Julia’s mother, Caren Pinzur, says her daughter enjoys it because “she likes digging in the dirt.”
For more information, check www.gardenheads.net.
Elsewhere, kids can get the feel of farm life at Farm Camps put on by the folks at Green Gate Farms, eight miles east of downtown Austin, off of Decker Lane.
The weeklong camps give youngsters an upclose look at how food is grown and how to grow plants organically and care for farm animals, such as pigs, goats and chickens. The camps, running 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., are offered for ages 5 to 15.
“The majority (of kids) are 8, 9, 10, but if you offer it to 15 year olds they become stewards,” says Christina Jones, sales and marketing manager for Green Gate Farms, a family-owned/operated certified organic farm.
Activities vary by the week, she says, but include foraging for edible plants and learning how to plant and preserve foods. For more information, check www.newfarminstitute.org.
In addition, Crowe’s Nest Farm in Manor offers a half-day camp on Farm and Wildlife Study, Monday-June 26, for kids entering kindergarten through fifth grade. Among the activities, kids will learn about growing organic vegetables and harvest vegetables to cook. For more information, check www.crowesnestfarm.org.
Inside Out School
Among the other places that offer summer gardening activities for kids is the Inside Outside School in Pflugerville. Camp I.O.S., from July 6-17, focuses on pleasures from “the good old summertime,” such as playing in the creek, making pickles, building forts and, of course, gardening.
The kids might plant items such as pumpkins and be part of a farmers market, says Deborah Hale, executive director.
“They may be helping to harvest and wash and put things into baskets for the market,” Hale says.
The camp is for ages 5 through 12 and runs from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with aftercare hours available.
In addition, the Book of Nature Summer Reading Camp, 9 a.m. to noon Monday-June 26, will tie in gardening activities with reading and writing, she says.
For more information, check www.insideoutsideschool.org.