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The Heart of New England
Teamwork in the Garden: Children & Others Can Help
by Jeanne Sable

Few things bind people together in a more healthy or meaningful way than
gardening. Whether a family or community project, gardening seems to work
best as a team effort
. I think that's because even the most ardent of gardeners has
certain tasks s/he would rather avoid. By dividing the labor, you increase the
chances that a partner will take to a particular task you find difficult or
downright loathsome. Conversely, a job you find enjoyable may be just the one
your partner detests doing. And working together is always more fun.

Heavy manual tasks such as hauling loads of manure and compost, installing
fences and trellises, or digging out the latest crop of rocks are of necessity
relegated to those with strong muscles. But other jobs can be left to personal
preference. A friend who could not trust anyone else to weed her prize flower
bed had a helper simply shake the soil from the roots of weeds as she pulled
them. "I pulled,  he shook. . . . It was beautiful," she said. The dirt shaking was
the only part of working in that garden she disliked, while to her friend, it was
no problem.

Children are especially helpful for undertaking tasks adults often dislike, such
as chucking stones out of the soil, or hand picking insects off plants. I recently
overheard parents discussing how much  money they compensate their children
for each bug collected. (Of course,  lady bugs, spiders and praying mantises
would fetch no bounty.)  

But sometimes the division of labor in the garden can be tricky business. It's
frustrating to find that a well meaning child has sown lettuce seeds in the beet
bed, or a diligent partner meticulously picked out those pesky little blades of
grass that were actually the start of young carrots. Then there was the year
someone produced Frankenstein fruit by planting some squash or other too
close to the melon patch. These are obvious glitches that good communication
planning can prevent.

The garden is not so different from the corporate world.   Problems occur when
workers are not made aware of the individual differences and needs of persons
responsible for subsequent steps in a given process. Case in point - raised bed
boxes built too wide across for the person responsible for weeding and thinning
to comfortably reach the center. Bean poles erected to heights only a pro
basketball player could reach. Or how about the person who hasn't a clue why
it's not a good idea to empty an entire package of carrot seeds into three feet of
space? These people must be educated. A spirited session of thinning will do
the trick for the carrot planter. Supplying measurements of the picker's reach
will guide the box and trellis builder.

The duties in our garden are pretty consistently divided in the following
manner: Charlie does the heavy hauling, bean supports, initial turning and
fertilizing of the soil, bed box construction, sprinkler rigging and other
mechanical feats, and "putting  by" the harvest. I do most of the planting,
weeding, thinning, watering and harvesting.  

After an hour or more of picking beans in the hot sun, I'm glad Charlie's willing
to spend hours in a steamy kitchen putting them up in jars. I'd rather be out in
the garden anyway. One time I lugged in a shopping bag full of green beans and
half a dozen huge heads of cauliflower. Sure that I'd picked more vegetables
than humanly possible for one person to "put by" in a day, I thought I'd pitch in
with th easy part—bagging  the cauliflower for the freezer.  As I carefully slid a
seal-able bag over the tight-fitting form that keeps it open, Charlie commented
what a pain that job was for his wide fingers. He then settled happily in front of
his pressure canner with a good book to process a rack full of green beans.

The point is, one person's drudgery is another's recreation. It's one of the
benefits of teamwork. So get yourself a buddy or two and see if gardening isn't a
whole lot easier and more fun. Share both the toil and the spoils.

Just make sure everyone takes his fair share of zucchini.

About the Author: Jeanne Prevett Sable is an organic gardener, editor, and freelance
writer specializing in farming and environmental issues, with hundreds of articles
published in local, regional, and national publications. She has written environmental
scripts for children's television, live puppet theater, and the Web. She is also the author of
Seed Keepers of Crescentville, her first novel.
Do you have a family member willing to help out in the garden? Children are especially helpful for undertaking tasks adults often dislike, such as chucking stones out of the soil, or hand picking insects off plants.
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