As a dedicated father and organic gardener, I can safely say that my daughter will not be one of those kids who grows up not knowing where vegetables come from. She’s two and half (32 months actually) and she’s already an accomplished gardener. A year ago, she planted her first row of potatoes. It was great—she said goodnight to each little spud as she covered it with dirt. What else would you say when you’re putting something in a bed?
A few months later while we were eating homemade mashed potatoes, I asked her where these potatoes came from.
She said knowingly, “The garden.”
And who grew these potatoes?
So far this year, we’ve planted our peas and onions, and we’ve started lots of seeds indoors under a light in the basement. Every day we go down the musty steps of this old farmhouse to spray our little seedlings. She is completely invested in the well-being of these plants; from the tiny basil sprouts to the robust zucchini seedlings, she knows that at some point we’re going to eat good food thanks to these plants.
Gardening with kids, in my opinion, is one of the most important ways to teach a child how to engage with the world. The child learns nurturing, caring, and compassion. Gardening teaches patience, rhythm, and the importance of timing. A kid in a garden will be connected to nature in a way that a kid with a video game or a plastic action figure never will be. And besides, what’s more fun than playing in dirt?
Here are a few ideas to get you and your kiddo started in your own garden.
I usually make a bamboo tripod to support the climbing vines of bean plants. But this year, I’m going to go a step further and build a teepee just outside the garden fence next to Iris’s sliding board. It’ll be about eight feet tall and by the middle of summer will be covered by a thick green and growing mass of bean vines, creating a fun and shady fort for us to play in all season long. And at the end of the summer, we’ll harvest the beans.
A Raised Bed
Think of a raised bed garden sort of like a sandbox, except you play from the edge instead of actually climbing in. A four-foot by four-foot by twelve-inch box is all you really need for a small first garden. Build it from untreated pine boards, fill it with organic soil and compost, and you and your kids will have an awesome place to plant, dig, and grow together. This article from Organicgardening.com will tell you more about how to build and garden in a raised bed.
Like most of you, I’m not a big fan of plastic—so I was excited to find kid-sized garden tools made of metal and wood. They feel real in your hand, which I think gives my daughter gets the sense that these are tools—not toys (but still lots of fun). And they’ll last a lot longer than plastic. We bought these the Rumford Gardener Kids Hand Tool Set. ($13, rumfordgardener.com)
What to Grow
Here’s my Top Ten list of veggies and flowers that are easy to grow, fun to eat, or both.
- Peas Kids love cracking open the pods and eating the peas right in the garden.
- Potatoes Potatoes are fun because you have dig for them. It’s like digging for buried treasure.
- Carrots Growing carrots requires equal amounts of patience and faith.
- Beans Watch as these climbers grow higher and higher.
- Cucumbers The best reason to grow cucumbers: Pickles!
- Marigolds Sunshine, water, and love will turn a few seeds into beautiful flowers.
- Pumpkins Carving a jack-o-lantern from a pumpkin you grew yourself—priceless.
- Lettuce Leafy greens are easy to grow and are a great way to introduce kids to salads.
- Zinnias These are cut-and-come-again flowers. They’re easy to grow and look great in the garden and in a vase.
- Sunflowers Watch as these beautiful giants follow the sun across the sky.
While there’s much more to organic gardening than simply not using chemicals, when it comes to gardening with kids, being chemical-free is simply the way to go. Remember to use organic soil and compost, and be sure to buy seeds and seedlings that are GMO-free, as well. I like to get my seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds. As for soil and compost, talk to your local garden center—most places will have an organic option. The other way to get organic compost is to make it yourself with leaves, grass clippings and organic food scraps from your kitchen.
For more ideas about gardening with kids from Organic Gardening magazine, check out our Gardening with Kids page.
Eric Hurlock is the online editor at Organic Gardening magazine. He lives and gardens in Chester County, PA, with his wife, daughter, and new baby. Follow his Real World Gardener blog at http://organicgardening.com/blogs/realworldgardener.