Springtime for gardeners is an exciting time, with seed catalogs coming in the mail and choices to be made about what to grow each year. Letting your kids help you in your garden is a great idea, but imagine how committed they’ll be when they have their own little plot of land to care for. Helping your kids to grow their own garden is the ideal way to give them a sense of pride and make them want to be responsible. Spend the next growing season teaching your kids to love gardening and you’ll give them a lifelong gift.
Choosing the Right Plants to Grow
The most important part of kids gardening is knowing they’ll love to eat what they grow. Sure, letting them help out in your garden is a great way to get kids to try new fresh vegetables, but when it comes to their own little patch, you want to make sure they’re motivated through the season. Growing something they can’t wait to eat is a fantastic way to do that.
Their taste isn’t the only thing to consider, though. Your kids’ ages play an important part in deciding what to put in each garden plot. Preschoolers can’t handle much responsibility, but planting large seeds to grow their own jack-o-lantern for Halloween can be just their speed. School-age kids, on the other hand, can handle three or four different varieties, especially if they’re foods they love to eat. Some of the best and simplest for kids to grow are:
Bush or pole beans
Digging and Soil Improvement
Improving the soil for a new garden plot is a lot of work, and there’s no reason your kids can’t get down and dirty, helping out with the digging and soil mixing. This is the perfect time to talk about nutrition. Start by showing why the vegetables you grow together help your bodies, then go on to talk about why plants need good nutrition, too.
A great garden starts with great soil, so teach your kids to start with a base filled with compost and free of rocks, sticks, and other foreign objects. Let them dig their own spot with the shovel, or grub around by hand to pull out rocks. Most kids love to dig in the dirt; the fact that you’re encouraging them to get dirty makes it even more fun.
Maintaining a garden can either be a chore or a game, depending on the attitude you approach it with. If kids get excited because their parents “let them” take care of their own garden, they’re more likely to water and weed when the garden calls for it. Turning chores into fun little games never hurt, either.
Make a rain gauge with your kids by setting a ruler inside a glass jar, either a recycled pasta sauce or mayonnaise jar, or a canning jar. Use bright nail polish to mark the outside of the jar in half-inch increments, using the ruler inside to show you where to mark the jar. Once the polish is dry, have your kids put the gauge in the middle of their garden patch. Once a week, have your kids check the level of water inside the gauge. If it measures less than one inch, they should set up the water sprinkler and water their garden until the gauge is filled to the one-inch line. Have the kids dump out the jar after watering, to start over again with an empty gauge.
Weeding is an obnoxious job that most kids balk at doing, and rightly so. After all, you hate to weed, don’t you? Avoid most weeding chores by covering the garden plot with black plastic before planting time, and planting the seedlings through holes in the plastic. When it comes to small plants like carrots, lay plastic on the soil surrounding this patch. The plastic will smother weed seedlings, preventing them from emerging in the garden.
Harvest, Pride, and Tasty Treats
Nothing beats the satisfaction you get from eating a delicious meal made with produce you grew yourself. Imagine the pride your child will feel when they provide cucumbers for the family dinner or a bowl of strawberries for everyone’s dessert. Good self-esteem comes from doing a job well done and being recognized for your hard work. Providing a healthy harvest is a fantastic way to help boost your kids’ self-esteem.
It all starts with teaching your kids when to harvest their produce. It’s easy to tell with some varieties such as bright red strawberries or plump green beans, but other plants such as potatoes or pumpkins have a sort of code to be figured out. Having the secret knowledge about plant leaves yellowing before digging potatoes or vines drying up before birdhouse gourds are ready to pick can give kids a sense of being competent gardeners. Teach them to watch for signs that their food is ready for harvest.
They’ve spent all summer helping their plants to grow. Your kids should be able to decide how they want their food to be served. Should every carrot be pulled from the ground and swished under a hose and eaten outside, or should some of them be saved for the dinner table? Are all the raw green beans destined for ranch dip? Who gets to carve all those pumpkins? Let your kids decide if they want to share those tasty treats with grandparents and neighbors, or if they want to eat them all themselves. After all that work, they deserve to decide.