Gardening with Kids

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gardening with Kids

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My kids and I love to garden together. We spend all summer tending to our garden and watching the vegetables grow. But my kids favorite part is picking their vegetables and eating them! Here are some practical tips for gardening with kids.
Tips for Gardening with Kids

You should definitely garden with your kids this summer. Not only is it a wonderful, outdoor activity you can do together. Gardening with kids helps kids to understand where our food comes from, how it grows, and to develop a sense of wonder at how things work.

Prepare the Garden Beds

There lots of wonderful resources on preparing garden beds, but here is the gist.
You need a location that gets at least 8 hours of direct sunlight a day (more is always better – especially for peppers!)
Preparing garden beds for a small suburban vegetable garden
You need soil to grow it in. If weeds grow there, a garden will too! You may also want to “turn the soil” to loosen the dirt and add some peat moss (to help it retain moisture) and manure to add nutrients).
Create a fence, path, or somehow mark the edges of your garden. If kids step in your garden it will hurt tender vegetables. We used non treated railroad ties for this garden and non-treated 8-10” high pressed wood for the raised beds.

As soon as the garden can be worked with a shovel you can plant the weather appropriate seeds.

Plan your Garden

I think planning what we are going to plant is half the fun. My kids and I pour through seed catalogs in January, dreaming of summer and our vegetable garden. We make a plan for where things are going to grow, considering the space each one will need to grow, how much light they need, and what plants can be planted well together.
Planning my Home Garden

I use an excel spreadsheet to make a grid to plan how my vegetable garden will be planted.

Help kids plan their vegetable Garden
My kids like to glue on pictures of what their garden will look like.  They each take ownership of a few vegetables; they become that master gardeners that water, weed, and pick the produce.

Planning a garden is a great, fun, educational activity for kids of all ages!

Don’t forget to plan for some supports for your vegetables! Crops that are falling over are hard to maintain and you’ll miss produce! We like the square cages with tall expander for tomatoes, pea fences, pole bean tower (for pickles and pole beans), a net over our strawberries, and triangle cages for the peppers and eggplants.

What to Plant in your Kids Vegetable Garden?

First, I suggest letting your child’s interests and pallet determine what to grow. But here are some recommendations based on things that are fun and easy to grow. Harvesting vegetables from a kids garden
  • Radishes (ready the soonest! Great for eager gardeners)
  • Beans (kids are amazed at the loaded plants and enjoy picking a whole bunch)
  • Potatoes (easy to grown and are so fun to dig up!)
  • Cherry Tomatoes (kids enjoy picking these sweet treats and eating them raw)
  • Melon (melons are great fun to watch grow bigger and bigger and bigger! Try watermelon, cantaloupe, or pumpkin)
  • Carrots (kids are amazed at how long carrots can get under ground. Try growing them in a see through container for an especially big WOW)
Other Good Options if your kids like to eat these:
  • Cucumbers (Pickling) They are fun to pick and your kids will enjoy helping you make bread and butter pickles too
  •  Zucchini – These plants grow prolifically so there is always something to pick
  • Corn – One of our favorites to eat; also a favorite for critters to eat
  • Peppers – Peppers are so colorful and delicious to grow, but they take a long time for us Northern states to grow
  • Lettuce – Lettuce grows very quickly and is a great return on garden space. But again, only grow it if you’ll eat it!
  • Strawberries – These delectable treats will be gone before you know it. My kids think it is their snacking area outside.

Gear up!

Kids love having their own gear. If you have the funds, consider investing in some rain boots, kids gardening gloves, small shovels, and a kids watering can. They will love getting to help with their own stuff.

Planting Time!

Once it is warm enough to plant your seeds (see when to plant here) or plants (in the case of peppers and tomatoes) you get to get your hands dirty. Take a ruler with you and use it as an opportunity to teach kids about reading directions and measuring how far apart seed should be.

Make sure all weeds are picked before planting of they will choke out tender shoots.
After planting and lightly covering with soil, water your seeds in. You will want to make sure seeds and tender young plants get a steady supply of water until they are established (several weeks). Mind you that doesn’t mean a lot of water, unless it is from rain. There is such a thing as over watering. But for the most part plants are super hardy.

Wait and Watch them Grow

Gardening with Kids, 30-45 days after planting

Although waiting is hard work for kids, they will enjoy watering their garden and watching things grow. My kids are so excited to see the plants they’ve carefully taken care of get SO BIG!
Kids tending to watermellon in kids garden

When my son Goofy was 3 he would give the watermelon a hug every day. We sure had well loved watermelons!

Harvest and EAT!

Kids Gardening GIANT Zucchini

My kids love to help me pick things from the garden. From giant zucchini that have been hiding and gotten SUPER big to lettuce for a salad for lunch. We love to sit in our backyard and shuck peas together and dig out potatoes.

Harvesting 2 bushels of peppers from 9 pepper plants in kids garden

Gardening is a fun adventures and you will create priceless memories! I encourage you start gardening with kids this year.

About our Garden

We live on a 0.25 acres in the suburbs. So if we can have a thriving garden, so can you! We have about 300 square feet of garden space plus 3 fruit trees, blackberry bushes (that thrive in part shade), 2 grape vines, and a row of about 10 raspberry bushes.  We are thrifty people who love gardening together as as family. I plan it carefully to optimize space (more on that later). Depending on the weather, we get about:
  • 2 bushels of peppers from 9 pepper plants (grown from plants ordered from Territorial Seed Company)
  • More Zucchini & Yellow Squash than our family of 5 can eat in a year from 1-2 plants (grown from seed)
  • 60+ jars of pickles from one bean pole tower filled with about 15 seeds around the base
  • A summers worth of daily salads using Lettuce & Spinach from a densely planted 5 foot row of each
  • Tomatoes for fresh salsa AND 40 quart size jars of homemade tomato sauce for winter from 4 plants (did I mention ours get to be over 9 feet tall!)
  • 15 meals worth of beans picked over the course of many weeks from about 15 square feet of densely grown green bean seeds
  • 3 carving pumpkins from one seed planted in a 12 square foot space allowed to vine around the garden
  • 12 butternut squash from 1-2 seeds
  • 2-3 meals of peas from a 15 square foot garden space (unless you get snap peas they are not a high yielding crop for the home garden, but they are fun)
  • 60 carrots about 8” long out of a 15 square foot area

More Gardening Goodies

Preserving Tomatoes (and our 9+ foot tall tomato plants!)
How to make Bread & Butter Pickles


3 comments:

  1. Great post Beth. I have spent a lot of time teaching children to garden via school programs and love seeing them learn life lessons (maths, responsibility, life/death, etc) through plants. I have written a few articles on sustainable, low-cost gardening with children too - you may find some projects for your family. http://themicrogardener.com/category/gardens-projects-for-kids/. All the best with your garden.

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  2. Loved reading this! My daughter is 1 and a half and we are doing a small container garden with her this year. Next year we'll go bigger! I think it's such a great life skill and lesson to teach little ones to grow their own food, cook it and eat it. I'm looking forward to reading more of your posts about your garden!

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  3. WOWWWWW!!! I am in awe of what your garden produced!! Our first garden experience was last year and definitely look forward to planting this year.

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