Research has shown that an increasing number of grandparents are raising their grandchildren, making it essential that they are provided with necessary resources and support needed to do so successfully, according to Dr. Karleah Harris, assistant professor in the Department of Human Sciences at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB).
“One way we have tried to support them is by helping them to grow their own food,” Dr. Harris said. “I find immense joy in teaching about gardening and its profound impact on families, especially grandfamilies.”
A partnership between UAPB’s School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences (SAFHS), the Jefferson County Cooperative Extension Service and the Pine Bluff First Assembly (PBFA) church, has brought together grandparents and their grandchildren for an experience of planting and harvesting produce at a community garden, she said.
Guided by university project leaders, grandparents and their grandchildren planted and cared for an assortment of fruits, vegetables and herbs including bell peppers, eggplant, cabbage, tabasco peppers, strawberries and sweet potatoes, Harris said. Through the Extension initiative grandparents and grandchildren were also taught lessons about stormwater, effective parenting, sweet potato production management, and communications and computer skills.
“When families engage in growing their own food, they unlock a multitude of advantages, including maintaining a healthy diet, being aware of the food’s nutritional content, saving on expenses, connecting with nature, witnessing crop growth at various stages, and reaping physical, psychological and social rewards,” she said.
The garden project will continue into the fall, according to Dr. Obadiah M. Njue, UAPB assistant dean for Extension and outreach. It will involve new teachings and new challenges.
“Fall gardening is more challenging because of the high temperatures that promote weed growth, high insect populations and high humidity which can promote plant diseases,” Dr. Njue said. “The hot and dry late summer/early fall weather can be harsh on germinating seeds and young seedlings. The key to success is to ensure that plants are watered regularly, in the evening or early morning.”
The vegetables have varying planting times and approximate days until harvest, he said. Some examples of vegetables, with approximate days from seed sowing to maturity that can be planted in the fall include, lettuce (45-65), turnips (40-55), mustard (40-50), broccoli (50-75), collards (50-75), cabbage (60-82), kale (55), spinach (42), carrots (66-75), beet (54-68), Swiss Chard (60) and Bok Choi (40-60).
“It is a great privilege to interact with a very rewarding gardening project organized and led by Dr. Karleah Harris,” Dr. Njue said. “This project offers unique opportunities for both the grandparents and their grandchildren.”
Dr. Sathish Ponniah, associate professor in UAPB’s Department of Agriculture, has been assisting with the project. The grandparents are educated on different methods of propagating the seeds, conserving the use of natural resources, water management, harvesting time of the particular vegetables and storing the seeds for the coming season.