I’ll never forget the first time I picked a beautiful, ripe, red tomato that I helped grow. I had watered and weeded around the plant with love, and I was so proud of that tomato. Since I wasn’t interested in gardening when I was a kid, this memorable gardening experience happened the summer I turned 40.
This experience made me determined to share the joy of gardening with my kids. I’m already learning that gardening alongside your kids provides valuable opportunities for them to learn, get some exercise and fresh air and spend time connecting with you. Learn my tips and ideas for gardening success, as well as a few reasons why gardening is one cool hobby.
Green is in right now
There’s nothing greener than growing your own food. Composting is another fun, green aspect of gardening because kids get to toss eggshells, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable shavings and rinds into the compost bin. You can make the entire garden a compost pile in the off season, and if you like, you can leave a section for composting throughout the year.
Make sure you have kid-size tools available for your budding gardeners to keep them interested. The website For Small Hands (forsmallhands.com) offers several child-size gardening tools such as gloves, shovels, watering cans, kneeling pads, small buckets for weeds, small aprons and totes for tools and more.
Consider planting most of the plot as a family garden. Save one section for your child’s garden and make your child responsible for it. If your kid doesn’t fall in love with gardening, make the watering of and weed pulling in the garden chores that can earn an allowance. Be sure to relax your standards. Who cares if the rows are not planted perfectly?
Decorate plant markers with your kids
Make stepping stones using a kit. We use lattice screen that my husband cut to make a short fence to keep animals out of the garden, and the kids can paint it themselves. These projects are ways to help your children make the garden their own.
Education (aka don’t tell the kids they’re 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?
Have a garden-to-table pizza party where the toppings come from your garden. Learn how to can your goodies at freshpreserving.com so that you can save them for another day and give some as holiday gifts. Can fruits and vegetables as they are or doctor them up (salsa, pie filling, jam and much more). Sometimes you might end up with so much ripe bounty that you need to find people to share it with.
Which bugs are bad (Japanese beetles), and which are beneficial? Which plants attract butterflies (wild plants)? Buy some ladybugs, let them loose and find out how long they stay to eat up aphids. Visit kidsgardening.org, search for information about insects and have fun reading about insects and the work they do.
Try the square-foot gardening method (visit squarefootgardening.org), a great system for beginners that saves time, work, water and money. You can start as small as a 1-foot-by-1-foot plot of land and grow from there by adding more feet as you are ready. It’s on a raised-bed system, so weeds are kept to a minimum. You can 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 items below. Grow herbs in a pot inside. If you don’t have a 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 looking at 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 vegetable garden.
Visit our website for a delicious pizza sauce recipe you can prepare with your homegrown vegetables.
Gardening Resources for Families
“Green Thumbs: A Kid’s Activity Guide to Indoor and Outdoor Gardening” by Laurie Carlson (Chicago Review Press, 1995)
“Grow Your Own Pizza: Gardening Plans and Recipes for Kids” by Constance Hardesty and Jeff McClung (Fulcrum Publishing, 2000)
“The Ultimate Step-by-Step Kids’ First Gardening Book: Fantastic Gardening Ideas for 5- to 12-Year-Olds, from Growing Fruit and Vegetables and Having Fun with Flowers to Indoor and Outdoor Nature Projects” by Jenny Hendy (Lorenz Books, 2010)