Inside: Gardening with kids is a powerful learning experience. They get to plant, water, weed and watch things grow into something edible, delicious and nutritious. It’s Spring! Plant a garden with your kids! Make it a yearly family tradition and activity your kids will remember!
It’s Spring and guess what? It’s time to plant a garden with your kids! When you were young—did your family plant a garden? What are your favorite memories of that experience?
When I was young, we planted vegetable and flower gardens each year, but our family’s pride and joy (particularly my dad) was our amazing raspberry patch. It was huge! My siblings and I helped our dad with the planting and nurturing and picking the ripe berries each day. The downside: grasshoppers the size of elephants jumped around us as we tried to pick the berries and scared the wits out of us. When they landed on our hands, heads or arms, we ran out of the patch screaming at the top of our lungs and dropping our buckets of berries. Our dad was not amused…
Grasshoppers aside, the best part was putting loads of fresh ruby-red berries on our vanilla ice cream. We felt a certain pride knowing those raspberries were raised and nurtured by our family. Many fond memories were created around that raspberry patch.
Gardening With Kids
Growing a garden is not only a fun experience for kids—it’s memorable and educational, too. Kids learn so many things when they’re up to their elbows in dirt and watching something amazing and edible growing from a seed.
Make a goal this year to grow a garden with your kids. There is something magical that happens when a child helps to plant, nourish, prune and harvest the family garden. And they love:
- Eating what they’ve grown
- Creating recipes that include fruits or veggies from their garden
- Sharing with others the family’s garden bounty
- Canning or freezing some of the fruits and veggies for future eating
10 Tips for Gardening With Kids
Here are some tips and steps to help your family create the most amazing garden ever!
Tip #1: Hold a Family Council to Discuss the Garden
Before planting your garden, hold a family council. It’s a way to get input from your kids on what kinds of vegetables and/or fruits you want to grow. If they have a say in what is grown—they are more likely to eat the results.
Have an agenda, gather your children together and discuss the following:
#1: Determine the size of your garden plot so you can decide how many fruits and veggies you can grow in the space. Let your kids choose a variety of vegetables to plant. Some of our kids’ favorites included easy-to-plant-and-grow tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, scallions (onions), cucumbers, carrots, peppers, and broccoli.
#2: Make certain the weather in your area is good for growing the fruits and veggies you want.
#3: If you have space to plant fruit trees—do so because eating fruit is healthy and delicious. Because of the weather and growing season in Southern California, we planted lemon, orange, apricot, plum and peach trees.
#4: Have your kids choose a berry to plant so they can experience fruit growing on a vine such as raspberries, blackberries, or boysenberries.
And be prepared for something not to grow. We tried growing corn numerous times—and it flopped because the space we were growing it in was not large enough.
Learning by trial and error is a great teacher but I would suggest that after you choose what plants to grow—go to the library; check out some gardening books and find out everything you can about the particular fruit or vegetable your kids want to grow. You will learn a ton about how to grow prize-winning fruits and veggies and will be less likely to have a garden-flop!
#6: Last, when choosing items to grow, make certain they are foods your family will eat.
Tip #2: Going to the Nursery: Buying Seeds, Plants, Soil & Fertilizers
Plan a trip with your kids and go to your local nursery or Farmer’s Market. Look for heirloom seeds and plant “starts.”
Heirloom seeds are seeds from real fruits and veggies. Once you grow your fruits and veggies, you can carefully extract some of the seeds, and save them for your garden the following year. This is what farmers do—save seeds from one season to the next. It’s a money-saver and if it’s a seed from a prize-winning tomato—you want to have that same seed to grow again.
Other kinds of seeds are called genetically modified seeds (GMO) or what I like to call “fake” seeds because they have been manufactured in a lab. Steer clear of GMO seeds—they are asexual meaning the seeds will not reproduce so they can’t be saved.
The fruit and veggies produced from GMO seeds taste bland and are devoid of important vitamins and minerals. You may as well eat a shoe for all the nutrients you’ll get from a GMO plant!
Plant starts are available at most nurseries. It’s a seed that has been planted in soil, has sprouted and is growing. They come in a variety of sizes from 2-10-inch pots. The advantage: it gives your fruit or veggie a head-start.
We’ve planted both heirloom seeds and plant “starts.” Obviously, the starts are easier because they’re already successfully growing. Starting with seeds will require more nurturing by the family.
Purchasing Soil, Fertilizers & Trellis
Purchase some soil. I prefer organic soil because it’s free of pesticides, herbicides, etc. Yes, you already have soil in your designated garden area but it’s nice to mix in some nutrient-rich organic soil. And purchase some organic fertilizer or mulch. Last, if you’re growing tomatoes or beans purchase a trellis.
Tip #3: Prepare the Soil & Plant the Seeds
No matter where you live, your garden will need a yearly spring cleaning. Get the whole family involved. It can be dirty work, but kids love getting dirty!
Spring cleaning the garden includes raking away any debris or dead leaves and amending the soil. Soil amendment means you are adding physical or chemical materials (fertilizer or mulch) to the soil to improve permeability and water retention. It’s also a time to add the organic soil and till the whole area. Carefully preparing the soil with rich nutrients means your plants will be healthy and strong.
Afterward, the kids can plant the seeds in rows; make signs with the names of the particular veggie or fruit and stick them in the ground where they’ve planted the seeds.
When planting your seeds, make certain you are putting them in the right location. Some plants need part sun and part shade, while others thrive best in direct sunlight (think tomatoes).
And don’t forget the snail bait! Otherwise, the snails will eat up your garden.
Tip #4: Weeding the Garden
The next step is weeding. Our kids were enthusiastic about weeding for the first couple of weeks, but after that, it was a chore they didn’t like. When that happens, dig in and get everyone in the family to participate.
Weeds are a part of life—but it’s important to weed your garden so they don’t choke out the healthy plants. There are two aspects of weeding to explain to your kids: eradication and prevention.
Eradication means pulling out or getting rid of any weeds in your garden. The tricky part is they grow very close to your plant and sometimes they have flowers on them so they look harmless. They aren’t—given a chance they’ll choke the life out of your plant. Pull them out and get rid of them!
Preventing weeds from growing is only partly possible. To slow down the growth of weeds we put down weed cloth. It worked great and cut down the number of weeds we had to pull.
Tip #5: How Things Grow: Water and Sunlight
Children will grasp the concept that in order for plants to grow and survive, they need two things: sunlight and water. Together they can produce healthy fruits and vegetables.
Giving the right amount of water to your plants is important. You don’t want to drown the plants or not give them enough water. Both kill plants. Water your plants, then wait until the soil is completely dry before watering again. But sometimes that doesn’t work. Watch the leaves of the fruit or vegetable—are they wilting? If so, water them.
Make a chart showing the days the plants need water. Then check the leaves of the plant and the soil.
Sometimes your fruit trees will need vitamins. We had lemon and orange trees and every other year we had the local nursery inject the trees with vitamins. This helped to improve the flavor, size, and health of the fruits.
Tip #6: What to do with all those Fruits & Veggies
Practice sleuthing as a family and find some recipes you can make with all your fruits and veggies. Eating fruits and vegetables fresh and raw is always the best, but it’s also important for kids to learn to read a recipe and use what they’ve grown in a recipe.
Some of our family favorite recipes where we incorporated our garden harvest included
- zucchini relish
- marinated carrots
- healthy summer salad,
- marinated green beans
- refrigerator pickles
- berry and peach cobbler
- strawberry ice cream
- lemon, orange & banana ice cream
Think about canning or freezing different fruits and vegetables. Freezer jams and jellies are easy and do not require any cooking. There are canning recipes for fruits and veggies that you put in jars and immerse in a hot water bath on the stove. The advantage is that the food will keep for several months.
BTW: Canning fruits and veggies is not necessarily healthy. They are loaded with sugar and the heat processing kills important enzymes needed for digestion. However, it’s a skill that will build your child’s confidence in the kitchen. Another option: dry your fruits and veggies.
This section is to give you ideas to teach your children about the “philosophical” aspects of gardening. Gardens are amazing for creating metaphors of learning. Here are some tips to incorporate when teaching your children about the “garden of life…”
Tip #7: Planting Seeds Every Day:
Share with your children about seeds that can be “grown” every day. In our family, we called them “character seeds,” because they included such things as spreading kindness, generosity, compassion, helpfulness, etc., to others.
It’s a well-known fact that we live in a busy, hectic world, and it’s just getting busier. But, helping your children to set aside time for growing character seeds influences not only the people they show kindness to, but it’s reflected in their personality and character as well.
Planting character seeds don’t cost anything and the time it takes to extend kindness, etc., to others is small and always comes back 10-fold.
Tip #8: The Beauty of Diversity
No one plants just zucchini in their vegetable garden or just lilacs in their flower garden. It would be boring, monotonous and stagnating. Just as kids love to plant a variety of fruits and vegetables in their gardens, diversity, and variety of people is what makes the world go-round.
Why? Because everyone brings to this earth their talents, strengths, and creativity to make this world a more interesting place.
One thing I loved about raising our kids in Southern California was the immense diversity of people—ethnic diversity, skin color, races, and religion. It was an amazing melting-pot of talent and our family felt blessed to be in that atmosphere.
Just like a garden would be dull and boring with only one kind of vegetable; it’s the differences between family members and people in the world that create a magnificent garden of beauty.
Tip #9: Pruning: A Necessity
Ask anyone who prunes and they’ll tell you it’s “a science.” You need to know when, how, where and how much to prune the plants in your garden. Pruning helps a plant reach its potential. Done correctly, it helps the plant create bigger and better fruit, flowers and veggies.
Pruning is necessary when raising children. Kids need their parents to guide and correct them and to help “trim” branches of their personality that are getting in the way of their growth. With careful pruning geared to the personality of each child, parents can help their children blossom and grow into something spectacular!
Tip #10: Law of the Harvest
Everyone knows the law of the harvest—you reap what you sow. However, I don’t believe that’s what always happens in life…or in the garden.
Each year our family carefully planted fruits and vegetables in the locations that they would grow best. We watered and weeded but sometimes the plants refused to grow or they started to grow and then stopped. When it was our fault, we made course corrections, but sometimes—it was mother nature’s fault. She didn’t provide enough hot sunlight and when that happened certain veggies didn’t grow—like tomatoes.
The same can be said of raising kids. Like growing plants, parents can nurture, water, and “weed” their children; giving them the best opportunities for growth. But it doesn’t always mean children will rise up, grow and meet their potential.
In times like this, the best thing to do is be patient. Letting your child find their own way and blossom in their own time just may be the answer to their growth. Either way—never give up on them! Eventually, kids with parents who love and nurture them, become amazing adults (and even tomatoes grow into healthy, hearty plants).
Have you grown a garden with your kids? What has been your experiences? We would love to know! Please comment in the section below.
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