Parents who wish to pass their love for gardening to their children may sincerely doubt that it is contagious. Sometimes to the younger generations, indoor gardening may seem a tedious pastime that requires a long time to produce rewarding results.
Where gardening is already a hobby important to some members of the family, a child's natural curiosity can often be aroused and stimulated by the wonders wrought on a small scale in familiar home activities. The tendency of children to share and imitate may open the door to a fresh new world.
Easy plants from the kitchen can be the point of imitiation.
Sprouts in a salad may be the starting point of a young person's interest in plants. Whether you carry them home from the supermarket or germinate them on your kitchen counter, sprouts are a lesson in how plants start to grow from seed. Sprouts as a tasty and nutritious edible for immediate consumption may be of prime importance, but they are also an introduction to the basic pattern of nature and the knowledge that much of what we eat starts with plants. The miracle of seed is undeniable.
Just about any grain and most vegetables will grow sprouts that can be used in soups, salads, sandwiches and other dishes. Some good sprouts to grow are mung beans, soybeans, peas and lentils. Buy the seeds at a health food store where they will not have been treated with chemicals to prevent sprouting. Or order seeds for sprouting from a mail order seedsman, who also may sell special containers for sprouting.
The simple equipment for sprouting can be assembled in the home kitchen by the young recruit or volunteer. A wide-mouth jar, cheesecloth or other fine netting and a jar lid are needed.
Soak the seeds overnight in a jar of water. Use about two tablespoonsful at a time. (one tablespoon of seeds makes seven tablespoons of sprouts.) Next day pour out the water. Cover the mouth of the jar with cheesecloth so the seeds won't float out with the water. Punch three or four holes in the jar lid to provide air circulation and screw the lid on the jar. Place the jar on its side in a dark, warm place. Each morning and evening rinse the seeds and drain off the water. In about five days, the sprouts will be large enough to use. Remove the cheesecloth and rinse the sprouts thoroughly with warm water to flush away the skins. Now the sprouts are ready for a salad or a favorite recipe.
Start a new crop in other jars every few days to have a steady supply of sprouts.
Another salad ingredient easy to grow on the kitchen counter is cress. Order seed from a garden catalog. Look for Curled Cress in the cabbage section, or purchase seed from spring-time seed racks at the garden center.
Plant the seed in a shallow container such as a margarine or cottage cheese tub or an aluminum frozen food pan. Scatter the seed, about a teaspoonful at a time, on the surface of sterile potting soil or vermiculite lightly moistened with warm water. A grapefruit shell dipped in paraffin and filled with sand or vermiculite is a colorful container that can be set in a dish on the table when the little green plants have grown to about two inches tall.
Set the counter in a light, warm place. In two or three days, seeds will have germinated and soon show a nice crop of cress. Harvest it by snipping off the plants with kitchen shears and add the bright green leaves and stems to salads or use them as garnish for cooked vegetables. Repeated sowings will be necessary because the little plants that you have mowed down will not grow again. Keep a new crop coming along in other containers for continuing flavor enjoyment.
An indoor crop to be grown for feline members of the family is oats or wheat. Oats can be bought at some pet shops. A health food store can supply both wheat and oats that have not been chemically treated. Grown in a pot on a sunny windowsill, the crop of three-or-four-inch blades makes juicy nibbles delight your cat. It may be necessary to protect the plantlets until they reach nibbling size, for the cat will go after the green sprouts as soon as they appear.