FOR A DEVOTEE, gardening means raising crops to offer Krsna. Of all the things we grow in the garden fruits, flowers, vegetables I think the best "crop" is our children. Parents, children, and gardens go perfectly together. The combination of love, fun, and work in the friendly environment of the garden ensures that whatever the children learn there they'll remember in a treasured way.
In the garden, parents can entertain even the youngest toddlers. Let them use their dump trucks to deliver seeds, their toy shovels and wheel barrows to deliver compost or mulch. To keep children from stepping on new plants, I hill up all the rows so the children can easily see them and step over them or jump over them. What four-year-old doesn't love to jump and jump? If you make it so children can see the rows, they are free to run in the garden and make it a game not to touch the rows.
Teach children that gardening is fun. Be sensitive to their attention spans and size limits. When you give a child his or her own rows to care for, make sure the rows are very short that way weeding is easy. And because children take pride in working with their own tools, it's good to invest in tools their size.
As a child grows, his garden patch can grow along with him. Start by making the plot twice as long and twice as wide as the child's height. As children get older, give them no more than they can work in one hour.
A garden is the ideal place to share lessons of Krsna consciousness. Show your child how the soul is present in every living entity, including plants. Plants can talk, but in their own way. Wilted plants are saying, "I'm thirsty! Please, give me some water." Small scraggly plants are saying, "Help, the weeds are trying to choke me to death save me!" Pale plants are saying, "I'm hungry! Please, give me some manure."
Children easily develop an appreciation for manure. They know that Krsna loves the cows because they are friendly and playful and provide many benefits. People become strong by drinking milk, and plants become strong when you feed them manure. Encourage children's pride in their work. Relatives and visitors who tour the garden are usually a good source of praise for fledgling green thumbs. Take pictures of children working in the garden during different stages and make a small book of the photos. If the children like to color or sketch, have them make pictures of the garden as it grows and changes.
In early spring you can start your own plants indoors. Peat pellets are good for kids to work with. You can also show them how to make their own evenly spaced seed tape. Unroll a long sheet of toilet paper. Have the child dab it every inch or so with a dot of wet flour-paste and press a seed into every dot. Allow the whole long sheet to dry. Roll it up carefully. Later on the child can dig a shallow trench, unroll the seed tape, and cover it with a thin layer of soil. In the moist earth, the paste and toilet paper will disintegrate, leaving only the child's perfectly spaced row of seedlings.
As soon as the weather begins to warm up, build a compost pile with cow manure, forest leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen scraps (no fat, please). Children can see how Krsna has arranged that by some things decaying and decomposing, nutrients are recycled so that new plants can grow lush and strong.
If you are imaginative, you can turn work into play, but still get the job done. Make a bean teepee village. Plant your corn in a spiraling circle. Plant flowers among your vegetables. Marigolds help repel insects and hide young brassicas from greedy ground hogs. Nasturtium flowers (and leaves) can be offered to Krsna in salads.
These are just a few ways you can turn gardening into a form of devotional service your children will love. When Krsna and Balarama go to the forest with their friends to tend cows, their work is actually play. Similarly, successful gardening for kids and parents mixes play with work in such a way that no one can tell for sure which is which.
Harakanta Devi Dasi, a devotee since 1976, and her family live in a devotee farming community. Though their house has no electricity or running water, their life is opulent in peacefulness, simplicity, hard work, and good cheer.