I’ll never forget the first time I picked a beautiful, ripe, red tomato that I helped to grow. I had watered and weeded the plant with love; I was so proud of that tomato. Because I wasn’t interested in gardening when I was a kid, this memorable gardening experience happened the summer I turned 40! Now I get my own kids digging in the dirt.
I’m already learning that gardening alongside your kids provides valuable opportunities for them to learn, to get some exercise and fresh air, and to spend some time connecting with you. Check out these tips and ideas for gardening success, as well as a few reasons why gardening is one cool hobby.
Green is in right now, and there’s nothing greener than growing your own food. Composting is another fun, green aspect of gardening because kids get to toss “trash” into the garden (egg shells, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable shavings and rinds). Toss the “trash” from Halloween (leftover pumpkins and gourds) and see what happens next year. You can make the entire garden a compost pile in the off-season, and if you like, you can leave a section for composting year-round.
Appropriate tools. Make sure you have kid-size tools available for your budding gardener to keep him interested. For Small Hands offers child-size gardening tools like gloves, shovels, watering cans, kneeling pads, small buckets for weeds, small aprons and totes for tools and more.
Responsibility. Consider planting most of the plot as a Family Garden, but save one entire section for your child’s own garden—and make your child responsible for it. If she doesn’t fall in love with gardening, provide a small allowance for garden chores like watering and weed-pulling throughout the entire garden. And be sure to relax your own standards. For instance, who cares if the rows are not planted perfectly?
Decorate plant markers with the kids. Make stepping stones using a kit, or let kids paint lattice screen that can be used as a short fence to keep animals out of the garden.
Education (a.k.a. don’t tell the kids they are learning stuff). How much will it cost to buy enough tomato plants to fill half of our space? How many feet by how many feet is our garden, and how many different things can I plant in it? Could we plant an ABC garden if we have room for 26 small plants?
Nourishment. Have a garden-to-table pizza party, where the toppings come from your own garden. Learn how to can your goodies at FreshPreserving.com so you can save them for another day—and give some as holiday gifts. Can fruits and vegetables as-is or doctor them up (salsa, pie filling, jam and so much more!). Sometimes you might end up with so much ripe bounty that you need to find people to share with.
Insects. Which bugs are bad (Japanese beetles), and which are beneficial? Which plants attract butterflies—and keep them around (see almanac.com for details)? Buy some ladybugs and let them loose; see how long they stay to eat up aphids. Head to KidsGardening.org, search “insects” and have fun reading about different insects and the work they do.
No space? Try square-foot gardening (SquareFootGardening.org;Loyal Gardener How To Guide), which is a great system for beginners that saves time, work, water, and money. You can start as small as one foot square and grow from there by adding more area as you are ready. This system is on a raised-bed system, so weeds are kept to a minimum; you can even bring in your small garden if a frost is on the horizon. Or think “up” by growing pole beans or gourds so you can plant more stuff below. Grow herbs in a pot inside. And if you have no backyard, community gardens are all the rage these days. Visit CommunityGarden.org to locate one near you or learn how to start one.
Get the kids involved. Take them along to pick out seeds at the garden store or spend an afternoon poring over a seed catalog before making final decisions on what to plant. Their faces will light up when they get to pick green beans for dinner or grab some mint for their lemonade. Soft lamb’s ear, fragrant lavender, and basil make a great addition to a fruit and veggie garden.
Great Gardening Resources
Green Thumbs: A Kid’s Activity Guide to Indoor and Outdoor Gardening by Laurie Carlson
Grow Your Own Pizza: Gardening Plans and Recipes for Kids by Constance Hardesty and Jeff McClung
The Ultimate Step-by-Step Kids’ First Gardening Book by Jenny Hendy