Raising a gardener, or two

Jane Juten loves to be in her vegetable garden, getting her hands dirty. "It's good therapy. It's a great place to be," says the 44-year-old Gnesen Township woman. Juten remains in awe that one little seed can produce a bounty of tomatoes and tha...

Jane Juten loves to be in her vegetable garden, getting her hands dirty.

"It's good therapy. It's a great place to be," says the 44-year-old Gnesen Township woman.

Juten remains in awe that one little seed can produce a bounty of tomatoes and that a row of peas can be ready for picking overnight. She also loves the taste of homegrown fruits and vegetables.

"It's just amazing to harvest my own food," Juten said with enthusiasm.

She wants her sons, Jonathan, 6, and Peter, 8, to experience that awe and to feel that the garden belongs to them. "I want them to feel it's a great place to get their hands in the soil," she said.


While the boys have been helpful harvesters, Juten is getting them more involved this year with the help of Gardens Galore, a community program that encourages families to garden together and to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Coordinated by St. Louis County horticulturist Bob Olen, the project has about 25 families in the Lakewood area.

"These are typical families, with mom and dad working," said Olen, who works for the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Duluth. "We're teaching gardening but hope that it becomes a family endeavor. We're talking about kids taking ownership so ultimately they eat more fruits and vegetables."

Olen believes the children will eat healthier diets and some will overcome their aversion to vegetables. Because her sons like eating fresh from the garden, that part isn't a problem for Juten, who works part time during the school year but has summers off.

The Juten family signed up for the program after Peter brought home a notice from school in March. For $25, participating families received 30 packets of vegetable seeds and about 35 starter plants. At spring meetings in Lakewood Town Hall, nutrition and gardening basics were covered with the adults while the children participated in related activities. During the summer, the families can call the extension service with questions.

While Juten has grown vegetables for several years, she says she's still learning. Her husband, Robert, doesn't have time to garden but he put up a wire fence around the garden plot a few years ago to keep out deer and other critters.

Jane Juten has had good luck with broccoli, potatoes, beans, peas and cherry tomatoes. The organic grower said her biggest challenge is dealing with insects.

After the first Gardens Galore meeting, the Juten boys were excited and helped draw a map of the garden. "It felt like someone had handed us a garden," Juten said of the many seed packets.


The Juten boys picked rocks out of the garden plot and helped clear weeds to create rows for planting. Peter has been hoeing and weeding. Both boys helped plant seeds for carrots, pumpkins, beans, peas, kohlrabi, cucumbers, corn, lettuce and spinach. The seedlings they planted included cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and red and green peppers. Juten hasn't grown many of the vegetables that they planted this year.

With pride, Juten has observed Peter's sense of accomplishment from hoeing the garden. A week ago, he still was consistently raking and weeding. On days it doesn't rain, he waters.

Keeping the boys from harvesting too soon will be one of her challenges.

"The children can't wait until something is full grown," she said. "They dig them up as soon as they can. Once carrots come, they start pulling them up like crazy."

That's the fun part, Jonathan said.

"It's exciting when we get to pick the corn and dig up the potatoes," he said. "Then we'll eat them. That's the best part, because I love potatoes and corn."

This year, his mother is stressing that potatoes, carrots and other vegetables will get bigger if left in the ground longer. "I'm hopeful that this year we'll get real vegetables," she said.

At age 8, Peter is at a good age for getting started in gardening, Juten said. He's old enough to realize that vegetables take time to grow and ripen, while her younger son thinks it should be time to harvest potatoes already.


With the planting done, the grunt work of the garden has begun. Juten realizes that keeping the boys involved until the harvest will be another challenge.

"I wish I knew how to keep it fun," she said.

As an incentive, Juten pays the boys 25 cents for each bucket of weeds they pull. Peter is in sole charge of the corn and will be paid 10 cents an ear at harvest.

"This is the first year my kids are able to help and take ownership in the garden, which I am delighted about," Juten said.

CANDACE RENALLS covers home, garden and food topics. She's at (218) 723-5329 or e-mail: .

What To Read Next
Get Local