The purpose of this lesson is to help us improve our skills in growing family gardens.
President Spencer W. Kimball said: “We encourage you to grow all the food that you feasibly can on your own property. Berry bushes, grapevines, fruit trees—plant them if your climate is right for their growth. Grow vegetables and eat them from your own yard. Even those residing in apartments or condominiums can generally grow a little food in pots and planters. Study the best methods of providing your own foods. Make your garden … neat and attractive as well as productive. If there are children in your home, involve them in the process with assigned responsibilities” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1976, 170–71; or Ensign, May 1976, 124).
The Rewards of Home Gardening
There are many good reasons to have gardens:
Families who work together in a home garden build family unity because they share a common purpose. President Kimball said: “We hope you are making this [gardening project] a family affair, with everyone, even the little ones, assigned to something. There is so much to learn and harvest from your garden, far more than just a crop itself” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1978, 120; or Ensign, May 1978, 79).
Appreciation of Work
A home garden helps children learn the value of work. After they have helped the family plant a garden and care for it, they will enjoy seeing the results that come from their hard work.
Growing a garden helps us develop confidence as we become better prepared to take care of our own needs. We know that if problems come we can meet them because we have preserved fruit, grown a garden, and planted fruit trees and berry bushes. An added blessing is knowing that we can also help others in need.
Instruction and Pleasure
A garden reminds us of the beauties of this world our Heavenly Father created for us, and it can give us hours of instruction and pleasure as we witness the miracle of growth. President Spencer W. Kimball said that gardening will “remind us all of the law of the harvest. … We do reap what we sow. Even if the plot of soil you cultivate, plant, and harvest is a small one, it brings human nature closer to nature as was the case in the beginning with our first parents” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1976, 117; or Ensign, May 1978, 77–78).
The Lord loves us and wants us to be healthy. Growing and eating our own fresh vegetables and fruits will help us maintain good health. Also, food we get from our gardens is usually fresher and better tasting than the food we buy.
Home gardening can reduce the cost of living. Eating the food we grow ourselves enables us to save the money we would have spent on food grown by others.
What else can we learn from planting and harvesting a garden?
Beginning with a Plan
Before we actually plant our gardens, we must make the following decisions:
Where Do We Plant?
Show visuals 16-a, “A home garden can produce many kinds of food”; 16-b, “Gardens can be planted almost anywhere”; and 16-c, “Vegetables and fruits can be grown in pots if land is unavailable.”
A garden deserves the best location possible because it will become a valuable piece of land. A sunny location that receives at least six hours of sunlight each day is best for a garden plot.
The garden should be easily accessible from the home. It should not be so steep that the water will wash away the soil and seeds. If the garden must be on a steep slope, the furrows, or trenches in the earth, should run across the slope, not up and down.
Soil is also important. If it is too sandy, it cannot hold water. If it is too full of clay, the water puddles on top and penetrates slowly. We can solve either problem by adding the opposite kind of soil and by adding compost. If there is not enough rainfall in the area, water for irrigation will be needed.
Those who live in apartments face special problems because of space limitations. These people can garden in pots and planters or borrow or rent land. This is what two families in Germany did in order to have a garden. Writing of their experience to President Spencer W. Kimball, they said:
“We are two families in the Frankfurt Mission, and we [are writing to] tell you about our garden.
“It was not very easy to find a piece of land in a large city like Frankfurt—it is a tiny garden—and when we rented it, it looked like a wilderness, with a broken fence, a broken cottage, and wild grass all over. It did not discourage us.
“First we made a new fence, repaired the cottage, and [dug] the whole garden. In the springtime we planted vegetables and the neighbours told us that [they] would not grow. There is a little stream where we can go on our bikes [carrying cans with us], and this way we carry our water. We prayed to the Lord that he would bless our garden. The Lord did answer our prayers. Every kind of vegetable came. It is so wonderful to see the plants grow” (quoted by Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, Oct. 1976, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 1976, 5).
What Do We Plant?
A second decision we will have to make is what to plant. Some garden plots have plenty of space; others have only a little. If space is limited we must choose crops that grow upward on stakes or fencing, like berry vines, pole beans, or tomatoes. We can also conserve space by planting seeds that bear heavily, like squash and tomatoes, rather than planting seeds that produce only one fruit or root apiece, like radishes.
Although we may need to preserve space, we should choose foods that will give our family members the nutrients they need. We should also plant only those foods they like and will eat. Legumes such as lentils, soybeans, peas, and nuts; fruits and leafy vegetables; root vegetables; and grains provide a variety of nutrients from different food groups. Of course, in making our selections we should only choose foods that grow well in our climate and soil.
Display a poster listing the specific fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains that grow in your area, or refer to the information on the chalkboard. You may want to discuss which of these crops produce the most food in the least amount of space.
We should draw a map of our gardens as we are planning our crops so we can alternate the foods each year. If the same plants are grown in the same spot year after year, their quality will deteriorate.
Show visual 16-d, “A sample garden layout.”
When Do We Plant?
Another decision we must make is when to plant. Different foods grow best under different conditions. Some crops grow better in a dry season, whereas others prefer a wet season. Some crops grow best in cooler weather, like beets, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, onions, peas, and spinach. Others grow best in warmer weather, like beans, corn, melons, squash, and tomatoes. We must know when to plant the crops that grow best in our area.
Display a poster listing the planting times for specific crops in your area, or refer to the information on the chalkboard.
Preparing the Garden Site
Four to six weeks before planting time, clear the garden site of weeds, stumps, stones, trash, and twigs, and loosen the soil with a shovel or hoe so that water can penetrate easily. The soil will be right for planting if it is crumbly but not in clods.
Most soil can be improved. Compost, which is well-rotted plant and animal waste, will improve the texture of both sandy and clay soil. Compost also helps produce more and better crops because it adds nutrients to the soil. Properly prepared compost, however, cannot be made and added to the soil in the same day. Making compost often takes four to six months. Because of this, some people make a compost heap every year and add it to their garden the following year.
Making compost is not difficult. First, locate a spot for the compost. This may be a pit, an open area away from drinking water, or a three-sided corral made of wood or wire fencing on top of the ground. Next, spread a six-inch layer of organic refuse such as grass clippings, leaves, chopped corn cobs, straw, vegetable or fruit peelings, or leftover vegetable foods over the spot, being careful to keep cans, metal objects, bones, fat, or other material that does not decompose quickly out of the heap. To this layer add livestock or poultry waste (manure) or commercial fertilizer. Waste from cows, chickens, sheep, goats, horses, and pigs makes good compost. Never use waste from humans or carnivorous animals; these waste materials contaminate the soil.
Show visual 16-e, “The compost heap.”
Finish the compost heap by covering the layer of refuse with a two-inch layer of soil. Then indent the top of the heap to form a basin that will collect water. As you collect more refuse, cover each six-inch layer of refuse with two inches of soil. Moisten each layer when you add it to the heap.
Always keep the heap moist but not wet, and turn it with a pitchfork every week or so to let air into the center. The heap will decompose most rapidly if the center is “cooking” at about 160° F. If the compost heap is not hot in the center, add more nitrogen in the form of cottonseed meal or blood meal, or use a nitrogen fertilizer, if available. When the heap has lost its odor, the compost is ready to be added to the soil.
Invite a few class members to describe how they make compost.
Planting the Garden
In areas where the growing season is short, you can start a garden indoors in potting soil. If you start your garden outdoors, plant the seeds in straight rows so you can distinguish young vegetables from weeds.
Plant rows of the same crop such as corn every week for several successive weeks so that the crop does not mature all at once. Seeds vary in size, so they cannot be planted to the same depth. Normally seeds should be planted no deeper than three times their diameter. Space the seeds far enough apart from each other in each row so that as they sprout and grow the plants have room to mature to their full size. Tap the soil firmly over the seeds, and leave enough room between the rows of seeds to allow the soil to be loosened around the plants while they are growing.
After the seeds are planted, keep the ground moist. If the ground dries out, the seeds will not sprout.
Tending the Garden
All of your planning, preparing, and planting will have little benefit if you do not care for the garden afterward. Such care includes the following:
Water the garden heavily at least once a week where there is not enough rainfall. The soil should be wet seven inches deep just after watering. To prevent the ground from becoming baked, try not to water during the hottest part of the day.
Weeds rob water and nutrients from plants. Pull weeds out by hand, or dig them out with a hoe. After your plants have sprouted, a thick mulch may prevent weeds from growing, but you must still loosen the soil each week. Using the hoe, pull the mulch to one side, loosen the soil, and then replace the mulch.
When the plants get several inches high, remove any remaining weeds, and place sawdust, shredded newspapers, grass, leaves, or straw two or three inches high around the plants and between the rows. This mulch prevents the soil from drying out or getting too warm. Many people who use mulch find they weed less often.
Control Insect Damage
Insects damage plants and can even ruin entire crops. You can remove insects by hand, wash them off, or kill them with insecticide. If you use an insecticide, you must wash the food before eating it.
Harvest the Crops
Show visual 16-f, “A good harvest is the result of good gardening.”
Fruits and vegetables picked just before they are cooked, eaten, or preserved will taste best and have the highest nutrition. Some crops such as cucumbers produce better if you harvest them often. They should not be allowed to become overripe, wilted, or dried out. Harvest leafy vegetables when they are young and tender.
How can we motivate ourselves to care for a garden after we have planned, prepared, and planted it?
We can show that we love and trust the Lord by doing what His prophets ask us. One thing they have asked us to do is to plant a garden. If we each plan, prepare, and care for a garden, keeping it orderly and producing well, we will be blessed.
Work cooperatively with your family members to plant and care for a garden.
Doctrine and Covenants 59:16–20 (God gave us the good things of the earth)
Before presenting this lesson:
Learn from your library, local agricultural advisers, or experienced gardeners:
Which crops produce best in your area.
Which of these crops produce the most food in the least amount of space.
Planting dates for each of these crops.
Prepare the posters suggested in the lesson, or write the information on the chalkboard.
Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.