Most young children enjoy being outdoors and love digging in the dirt, getting dirty, creating new things and helping their parents. So why not plant a garden together? Gardening is a wonderful family activity since everyone can get involved in planting, growing and harvesting from your own backyard. Even if you don’t have the time or space for a full-blown garden, your kids can enjoy starting a few vegetables in a pot on your porch or patio.
Focus on making it fun and exciting. A big part of the fun is having the right tools. There are many gardening tools made just for kids, in their size, and in wonderful colors, including gardening gloves and watering cans. While not necessary, they are a helpful and fun way to encourage kids to join in.
Choose plants that are easy to grow. While it’s important to involve your children in choosing the plants, make sure the choice of plants that are trouble free as possible. Choose a few plants that will produce a delicious vegetable harvest for your children to pick this summer and take straight from the garden to the table. Some good starter choices include: radishes, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, peas and beans.
Show your children the basics of planting seeds and seedlings in the ground. Give them the joy of planting, watering and waiting for their little plants to sprout. You can make the job even easier by planting seeds in cardboard egg cartons. When it comes time to transfer the seedlings to the garden, cut out each little egg holding portion and let your children plant the whole thing into the ground. The egg carton will disintegrate as the seedling grows.
As you plant your garden, remind your children that plants need four things to grow – water, sunlight, air and good soil (dirt with nutrients). Be sure to check the seed packet or plant tab. These will tell you approximately how tall or long your plant will grow, and will give you the approximate number of days to maturity.
You can give each child a special row of their favorite vegetable to garden on their own. Have them watch their plants grow by measuring them every day. Daily measurements will help your child see how fast their plants grow. You can make a growth chart and log it weekly. Be sure to explain that different plants grow at different rates – some will grow quickly while others are slower to grow. And the amount of water, sunlight, type of soil and air temperature can all impact plant growth. Plants that are fun to measure because they can grow quickly and quite long include cucumbers, squash, and cherry tomatoes (from seedlings). Discuss the various parts of a plant (roots, stem, leaves, buds, flower, fruit or vegetable). Try growing some root vegetables, and watch your child’s face light up when they pull a huge carrot or potato out of the ground!
If you’d like your children to grow up loving gardening and learning how to grow their own food, it’s never too early to get started.
Author: Vicki Starks, Fayette County Food & Fitness F2ECE Associate
Artwork: Miss Stella ‘Family Garden’