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Make gardening an intergenerational affair

AGING MATTERS

Hawaii has the highest percentage of multigenerational households of any state in the country, defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as three or more generations sharing a home or apartment.

The reasons for this are many, including the high cost of living and cultural values of our diverse population. The benefits are also many and include sharing financial expenses, sharing household responsibilities, contributing to independent living for older family members, and passing on cultural values and traditions. Another possible benefit of multigenerational living is contributing to one another’s health through shared gardening activities.

Gardening contributes to the physical and nutritional well being of everyone across the lifespan. It has been shown to reduce stress, contribute to heart health, build hand strength, and build self-esteem. As older and younger generations spend quality time gardening together, they have opportunities for learning, problem solving, communicating, and accomplishing a joint goal. For those who do not live in a multigenerational household and want to benefit from intergenerational gardening, with a little bit of creativity and video conferencing or phone calls you can create a virtual intergenerational garden which benefits all generations.

When beginning a garden, start small and use the word P-L-A-N-T-S as a guide for the elements necessary for a healthy garden.

P stands for Place. Plants need different amounts of space to grow properly. For example, green onions, chives, parsley, and other herbs can be grown in containers between 6-10 inches in both diameter and height. Vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers need more space and can be grown in a 5-gallon bucket. All containers need drainage holes to allow excess water to drain away from the root system. Examples include aluminum foil pans, large yogurt or sour cream containers, large soda bottles or gallon jugs turned on their side with a growing area cut out, and old drawers or coolers. Look around your home to see what type of containers you can repurpose, recycle, or reuse.

L stands for Light. Plants need 6-8 hours of full sun daily in order to grow properly. Monitor different areas around your home to find the right location which is both convenient and receives sufficient sunlight.

A stands for Air. Plants take in carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen back into the air. The root system also needs air to properly develop which is one of the reason that drainage holes are so critical for plants grown in containers.

N stands for Nutrients. Three primary nutrients needed by plant are nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Nitrogen is used for growth above the soil. Phosphorus is used for the downward growth of roots. And potassium is needed to move water and nutrients around the plant. When beginning a garden, using a potting mix with these nutrients already included will provide the plants with the needed nutrients for the first 8-10 weeks of growth. After that, nutrients need to be added in the form of fertilizer or compost.

T stands for Thirsty. Water is essential for plant growth. The soil should be slightly damp. To test your soil, stick your finger into the soil. If your finger comes out dry, it needs more water and if it is wet hold back on the watering.

S stands for Soil. For beginning gardeners, commercially prepared potting soil is the easiest to use.

To learn more about growing your intergenerational garden, check out the Six-part Grow Your Own lesson series from UH Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resource. It can and can be accessed at go.hawai.edu/GMW.

* Heather Greenwood-Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Aging and Intergenerational Programs. Today’s column was written jointly with Jennifer Hawkins, edible crops extension agent on Molokai. Aging Matters covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Saturday of each month.

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