Three Ways to Garden With Children
Over the past few years, my husband and I have taken a huge interest in learning how to grow and maintain a backyard garden. When we were house hunting, our main goal was to find a home with a large backyard. During that time, we didn't know much about gardening, but we knew we wanted to start one and learn about growing our own fruits and vegetables. Since then, we've planted two apple trees, two cherry trees, strawberries, and a nice sized garden. Through much trial and error, we've developed decent green thumbs! We've relied on advice from my grandpa, our parents, and a wonderful book about gardening in Iowa (kindly given to us by our new neighbor!)
When we had kids, we knew we wanted to continue our garden. We had two boys 15 months apart and the garden did indeed get planted/harvested, but it was super neglected (weeds were knee high during the infant years!) Now that the boys are a little older (three and 21 months), it has been a little easier to maintain the garden. We've also begun to introduce the boys to gardening, and they love it! Being outside, getting fresh air, and digging in the dirt? What's a kid not to love? Here are three easy ways to garden with children, plus alternatives if you don't have (or don't want) a backyard garden.
Allowing children to help with planting truly shows them where their food comes from. My kids didn't help plant every seed, but they did help plant the onion sets. The onion sets are bigger than tiny seeds or delicate plants, so sets worked out well for their little hands. Although, as you can see from the above picture, my method of planting isn't quite the same as my three year old's method! We worked together to straighten his pile of onion sets into a nice straight row. My 21 month old didn't help with the planting, but he did enjoy digging in the dirt with his shovel!
Alternatives: Don't have (or want) a backyard garden? Try these options instead!
- Plant in containers. Kids can help plant tomatoes in extra large pots. Or try planting herbs in smaller pots, and keep them in a sunny windowsill. We've successfully grown basil inside, and it was great to have fresh herbs all winter long! Or plant flowers in small pots to put on a porch or balcony.
- Look around town for a community garden and rent a plot.
- Check for any local youth classes about gardening. My city offers a free outdoor class in the summer where kids get to plant seeds at a local park. They can then check on the plant's progress all summer long!
For my kids, this is their favorite part about gardening! Learning to water the plants helps teach kids what the plants need to thrive. I give each of my boys their own little bucket and they go back and forth between the garden and the rain barrel, over and over and over (and over and over). One day, they spent about twenty minutes just filling up their bucket and dumping it on the plants (use a small sand bucket and it's easy to carry). The kids loved getting wet and it gave them a sense of responsibility. Every time they see me with a watering can, they immediately want to help. Just be careful that they don't step on the little seedlings that are sprouting. We lost a few onions and radishes when they got squashed by little feet!
Alternatives: if your plants are in outdoor containers, try letting your kids use the hose and sprayer on a gentle setting. Or fill up a watering can at an outdoor faucet. If you have indoor plants, your kids can fill up a small cup at the sink and carefully dump the water onto the plant. When my boys are at their grandparent's house, they like to help water the indoor plants with a small watering can.
This is the best part for me! I love seeing the plants grow throughout the summer, and finally being able to pick and eat them. As the plants get larger, my husband and I show our kids how the plants are progressing. They can see the flower buds forming, the strawberries and tomatoes turn from green to red, and the onions getting taller. When the fruits/vegetables are ripe, the kids help us harvest, and put them into buckets. My three year old thought the radishes were "so cool!" and wanted to carry them by hand into the house.
Alternatives: Here are several more ways for kids to harvest vegetables without a backyard garden.
- . These hang-able planters are already filled with dirt and seeds. After they are hung up, the plant grows from the bottom of the bag, toward the ground. I haven't personally tried an upside down planter, but learned of them from a friend, who hung one on his apartment balcony. Success! It produced a very nice amount of cherry tomatoes. Kids could harvest tomatoes from an upside down planter just as easily as they could from a regular tomato plant. Upside Down Planters
- Use an . This is a nifty countertop device that utilizes seed kits, lights, nutrients, and water to grow vegetables, flowers, or herbs. It's a bit pricier upfront, but you have the benefit of growing all year round! My husband and I were gifted an Aerogarden for our wedding four years ago, and have since grown basil and tomatoes with it. It's a nice way to garden indoors, and produce a small crop of fresh veggies during an Iowa winter. Aerogarden
- Visit a local U-Pick farm. What fun it is to visit a berry farm or a pumpkin patch. This is a fantastic opportunity to get outdoors with your family and harvest local produce.
Bonus tip: if you're feeling really ambitious, you can also teach your kids about composting, and how it helps the soil. My kids love throwing their banana peels right into the garden!
That's it! These three simple ideas are a great way to introduce children to gardening; allow them to breathe in the fresh air, feel the warm summer breeze, and get a little (or a lot!) dirty at the same time. It also helps them feel like they are contributing to the family. My older son gets so excited and proud when he sees the plants get bigger and the fruits/veggies ripe enough to eat. He tells me "I'll go check the strawberries!" He brought back a green strawberry last time, but that's ok! He is trying, and wants to learn more.
If you're looking for a fun and rewarding summer activity with your children, I encourage you to give gardening a try. The skills they will learn will be beneficial for years to come. Plus, the memories will stick with them for a lifetime!