ERROL CASTENS: Church Garden: Kids first, vegetables second

By Errol Castens

Gotta love being part of a church where the pastor not only uses gardening analogies as sermon illustrations, but where he spearheads the congregational garden.
As such, Stephen, Gregg, Susan, Rob, Patti and I were helping the church’s kids late one recent afternoon learn how to mix soil and compost, what an earthworm’s role in life is (turning varied organic matter into forms that plants can use – a function otherwise known as eating and pooping) and that instructions matter for a variety of reasons, one of which is there will be more potatoes to enjoy if we don’t pull up the vines while the tubers are so small as to be barely discernible.
Of course there’s opportunity also for children to learn that adults don’t always know best. When the other kids were running their fingers through a box of rich, dark soil in search of freshly bought earthworms to put into the planting beds, Maggie Mae insisted she wanted “a pink wum” but wisely rejected my suggestion that any of them would be rose-hued if only she licked the brown dirt off.
Griffin, who quickly detoured to the play area, learned that adults sometimes say things that don’t make sense, such as “Here, Griffin, let’s get you down from that playhouse roof. You really don’t want to be up there.” (Of course he wanted to be up there; why else did we think he’d climbed to the top?)
With 15 or 20 munchkins on each half-hour rotation through the garden, the chaos was only sometimes uncontrolled:
* Not all that many potato vines got broken. (Really, go look: Several whole plants are unscarred.)
* Those planting bed frames made of 2-by-12s proved altogether too tempting for aspiring gymnasts to practice their balancing acts, but you can probably count the soil-compacting footprints in all the planting beds without using toes.
* The lemon balm will recover after being in the line of attack for a swarm of locust-children who were asked to pull up the going-to-seed turnips and didn’t notice the subtle differences when they moved on to the herb bed.
* A fair percentage of the 40 new bags of topsoil and compost actually made it into the planting beds despite extra-enthusiastic shoveling by some participants and frequent work stoppages to look for worms by others.
I’d like to say that we planted every available space, deadheaded all the perennials and built a Volkswagen-sized compost pile, but we didn’t. And I suspect Pastor Curt and some other grownups share my temptation to go whip the church garden into shape when no kids are around to interfere with the process.
But we keep reminding ourselves that the whole purpose of the garden is to rear children.
Raising vegetables is secondary.
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at

Click video to hear audio