A garden provides a wonderful tool for children to experience the life cycle first hand. Children learn by doing, and a garden is a perfect way to provide a hands-on experience. To be able to explore, dig, water, observe, and so much more we are teaching our children lifelong skills. Gardening seems as though it is a lost art with the age of technology, closer dwellings and smaller yards, and the ease of purchasing fresh produce at the grocery store. When children are involved in the process of growing healthy foods, nutrition becomes enhanced as they can grow, harvest, prepare and serve their food. What is better than watching your child pluck cherry tomatoes from the vine and pop them in their mouths? Or, prepare a salad for dinner with their lettuce, carrots, radishes, tomatoes, cucumber straight from their yard? Instilling healthy habits early are imperative to give children the foundation to carry on healthy lives and gardening is just one way we can do this.
Do not be intimidated by the thought of planning, growing, and harvesting a backyard garden. It can be kept simple and fun to learn together if you are new to the process. I’m here to simplify the process and make gardening with children an enjoyable time to create everlasting memories.
A garden does not have to be large. It is just fine to begin your first season with a small bed or two for a handful of different seeds or plants. You’ll want to find an area in your yard that gets a fair amount of sunlight throughout the day. I prefer raised beds that can be constructed with cedar or a chemical free wood which give good drainage, are easier to tend to a bit off the ground, and keep the little one from accidentally trampling. You’ll want it only as wide as you can reach (about 3 ft) and as long as you like. If you build multiple beds, which can be nice to rotate crops, ensure enough room to walk between or for a mower if needed. Pre-constructed beds are sold but it easy to make a few calculations and purchase wood and make yourself.
Fill the wooden bed with soil and compost mixture to prepare for planting. This can be found at your local nursery and purchased by bag or truckload, depending on size.
Planning your plants:
Types of vegetables and plants you’d like to plant depend on your taste but a few suggestions for gardening with children are ones with shorter gestation periods, are hearty, and plentiful. We are talking about nature, however, so weather, critters, and other surroundings may impact the success of your harvest. However “successful” your garden may be you will still learn so much through trial and error for next year! Confused about when to plant and harvest your vegetables? Check out this site and it will tell you the best time based on your area: Planting Dates Calculator.
Tomatoes are pretty hearty and thrive with the sunshine. Our favorites are the smaller variety like cherry or grape. My kids eat them fresh off the vine! They do well if started inside before planting in the bed, so for this reason, I help out and purchase starters from the local nursery and plant directly into our garden. The plants will need to be staked. Simply take a 2-foot stake and put it next to the plant and as the plant gets taller it will need to be tied to the stake.
Sunflowers are a fun plant to watch grow. They sprout in about a week and grow up from there! The seeds can be roasted and eaten if the birds don’t get to them first!
Zucchini is a plant that grows rapidly and can get giant in size! My kids enjoy zucchini sliced and roasted with some olive oil and sea salt. We also use zucchini as a pasta alternative and also for tasty, sweet bread!
Pumpkins are so fun to watch grow but beware; they take over! You will need a lot of room for these vines to spread. It’s great to look at the flowers bloom, wilt, and a pumpkin grow! They are done just in time for a fall harvest and decorating your front porch and home.
Bush or pole beans
Bush beans grow low to the ground, so are easier for kids to harvest and pole beans climb which are fun to watch grow up a trellis or pole. They are plentiful and easy for kids to pick off the vines!
I love fresh strawberries, but they take a while to establish. The plant comes back each year stronger than the previous so have a small area dedicated to a few plants. We’ve had a tough time keeping birds away from the sweet fruit but will try again this year in our new home. We always make a day trip to a large farm to pick strawberries in the large fields!
There are many types of lettuces to choose from and I recommend you plant something your family will eat. Lettuce thrives in cooler conditions so it is a good one to plant earlier in the season and will keep growing if shaded by nearby plants. My kids enjoy picking lettuce for their salads!
Carrots are a fun one to harvest since they grow under the ground. You must be sure to thin the plants to grow the root in size. A favorite to eat with the kids (and bunnies, beware).
Gardening Tips and Ideas
You can find seeds at your local nursery. Follow the directions on the package for planting details. Give your seeds some love, water, and they will grow and give you a beautiful harvest and place to smile. Give your child age-appropriate tools for gardening- perhaps a plastic shovel or small trowel, a watering can, and a sun hat. Young children love to water with a hose, dig around, look for worms. We always kept a small area open to being their own space. My one daughter made it into her fairy garden and planted a few flowers and plants, and our son used his as a construction site for his trucks. Older children can track days from planting to sprouting, measure height of plants, graph, write stories about the plants, the possibilities are endless.
I hope this clears up your fears about gardening with your children, and I encourage you to give it a try this year! I’d love to hear from you in the comments– What will you be growing this summer?