Growing Kids and Veggies
It’s no secret that I love edible gardening. Growing up on a farm, I was exposed to gardens and fields when I was literally just a sprout. I’m convinced that’s the reason I find it so easy to make “half my plate” (or more) fruits and veggies. As long as you don’t ask me to eat canned peas, I will try just about any fruit or veggie-based dish.
So my goal when I had children was to share this passion and hopefully entice them to enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs. Starting at age three or four, I allowed my kids to have their own mini-garden patches in the yard. They learned to prepare the soil, chose what to grow, and helped with weeding, watering and of course, harvesting. I’m pretty sure they ate quite a bit of dirt as well – I would often look out and see them munching blueberries, pea pods, green beans or even tomatoes right off the plants.
Research supports the value of gardening with kids, both from a health standpoint and also as an educational tool. Math, science, language arts, nutrition, and just about any subject can be explored through the lens of a school garden. As a result, schools across the country are increasingly incorporating school gardens into the curriculum.
Tips for Getting Started
- Your local or regional Cooperative Extension office is a great free source for gardening information specific to where you live. Master gardeners have been trained and can answer just about any of your questions.
- Even the smallest yard or apartment balcony affords the aspiring young gardener a place to cultivate fresh vegetables. A small raised plot (2 feet by 4 feet) is easier to manage, especially for a child under the age of five. Container gardening is also a great option when space is limited.
- Garden soil should be dark brown and feel loose in your hands. It is best to start with containers or garden beds that you can fill with organic, compost-rich soil.
- Provide tools that children can easily handle. A shovel, spade, hoe, watering can and wagon are essentials for the young gardener.
- Choose some vegetables that germinate quickly and have short growing seasons such as radishes, leaf lettuce and pea pods. Kids won’t have to wait all summer to enjoy the harvest if you combine short-season vegetables along with later maturing produce such as tomatoes, peppers, squash and corn.
- To make planting easier, mark a wooden craft stick at the quarter-inch, half-inch and inch marks. Following the recommendation on the seed packet, poke the stick in the ground to the appropriate planting depth, and have your child place a seed in the hole. For very tiny seeds, try using seed tape or a dispenser designed for planting small seeds. You can also label craft sticks and use as markers for the different seeds you plant.
- When deciding what to plant, be sure to include some old favorites along with some new-to-try fruits and vegetables.
- Consider planting a theme garden. I’ve included a downloadable worksheet from Nutrition Fun with Brocc & Roll with ideas for getting started.