Whether you are a novice to gardening, or a regular pro with a green thumb who has kept a garden growing for years, involving your children in your gardening efforts can be a fun and educational endeavor. This is sometimes easier said than done, however. Here, we will explore the ways that you can garden with your kids, and all parties can enjoy the experience! (Growing your own vegetables just might entice picky kids to want to eat them, too!)
How to Get Started Gardening with Kids
When Should You Start Planting Your Garden?
If you are brand new to gardening, you might think that you can plant anything, any time of the year and it will grow. Unfortunately, this is not true. One of the most important things to know when you are starting a garden is what zone you live in.
Zones are determined by the United States Department of Agriculture, and are based on the average dates of the last frost in an area. Luckily, it’s easy to find out your zone. Simply go to the National Gardening Association’s Learning Library website and type in your zip code.
You will learn your zone number, best time of the year for planting different things, and what plants are expected to grow well within your zone. A little forethought and pre-planning can make gardening with kids a fun adventure!
Container Garden vs. Yard Garden
One of the first things you should decide is if you want to dig up your yard for a garden or start a container garden. This is often dictated by where you live. If you live in an apartment, a container garden might be your best bet.
Many people who do live in a house but don’t have a large yard also choose the container garden option. Container gardens are perfect hosts for certain vegetables, including lettuce, broccoli, radishes and cauliflower.
Containers can be made out of a variety of materials – rain boots were even used in one container garden educational project with children! Herbs can be planted in Mason jars and will easily grow there.
Where Should Your Garden Be?
Figuring out where in your yard you should plant a garden, and how large it should be, can be an educational exercise that you can share with your kids. Pick the sunniest spots of your yard. This can be done in the following way:
- Have your child go into the yard in the morning with a notebook and pencil.
- Choose an area of the yard for your child to watch (should be a low-traffic area, so that your garden won’t be inadvertently trampled).
- Your child should watch a certain area of the yard for a while, noting when the sun shines on that part of the yard and how long direct sunlight lasts.
- Every half hour, have your child note the sun’s position and whether that area of the yard is still getting ample sunlight. Repeat this throughout the day.
- If an area of the yard is getting six or more hours of full sun, this is the perfect area of the yard in which to place your garden.
When determining the size for your garden, make sure that it is no deeper than two arm lengths (your arm, not your child’s). This keeps it small enough for kids to easily manage the garden. Also, decide on the shape for the garden:
- If you want it to be a square garden, have kids help you mark off about four feet x four feet with a tape measure.
- If you prefer a round garden bed, use tape measure and string and mark off, with your kids, a four-foot circle. Allow two feet of clearance around the bed for walking.
What Should You Plant When Gardening with Kids?
When you are starting a garden with your kids, you should choose things that will easily grow. Kids will enjoy gardening much more if the “fruits” (or vegetables) of their labor are evident.
Just imagine how big your little ones’ eyes will get when they walk out to your garden one day and see actual vegetables growing there!! Some of the easiest plants and vegetables that you and your kids can grow in a garden are:
Vegetables that germinate quickly from seeds and can be picked and eaten while still young and growing include:
Vegetables that grow quickly and will yield copious amounts are:
- Snap peas
- Cherry tomatoes
- Herbs (such as mint, parsley, and chives)
Vegetables that are easy to grow, even if you are not a pro with a green thumb, include:
- Green beans
Of course, you don’t have to limit your garden to vegetables. Some fruits are great to plant with kids because they germinate quickly and grow well. They include:
Supplies You’ll Need to Start Gardening with Kids
When you are gardening with kids, keep it simple. For example, you don’t need to use a fancy watering can when an old pitcher will work just as well. Other supplies that are necessary for gardening with your children include:
- Long-handled shovels or smaller trowels (this is based upon your personal preference; for kids, I’ve found that smaller trowels work better, and adults might want to stick to using the larger shovels)
- Garden rake
- Hose or watering can/pitcher
- Kneeling pads/knee pads or towels (to protect little ones’ knees from getting sore)
- Seeds (if you are starting plants from seeds)
- Small plants (if you are starting from plants)
- Gardening gloves (to protect kids from the perils of gardening, like poison ivy)
- Bug spray (DEET-free, of course)
- Protective clothing
- Sticks (often necessary when planning small plants, tied to them with string to hold them up)
- String (see sticks above)
The best time of day to plant a garden with your kids is in the morning, before the full heat of the sun’s rays is shining down upon you. Make sure that you and your kids dig up any weeds first, by the root, to make sure weeds won’t take over your plants.
Gently tamp down the soil around each plant or seeds that are planted, and don’t over-water them. You can also use sticks (popsicle sticks are great for this) to write the name of each thing you’ve planted and stake it into the ground nearby, so that you will remember what will be coming up!
Talk about the gardening process with your kids while you are digging. Note the creatures, such as earthworms and insects, that wriggle out of the dirt, and discuss what they are and how they are living creatures that have as much right to be there as you do.
Also make sure that kids are spacing what they’re planting at least 18 inches apart, giving each plant an equal opportunity to grow without anything “taking over” the garden (some herbs have been known to do so, if left unchecked).
How Long Will It Take for Plants to Grow?
Just as kids will constantly ask, “Are we there yet?” on a road trip, you might find that after you’ve planted the garden with them, they are constantly checking on it, wondering when they will see the fruits (or vegetables) of their labor.
If you are growing from small plants, growth will occur much more quickly than if you use seeds. IF you prefer to use seeds, or have no other choice, germination times for seeds are as follows:
- Broccoli: 55 to 60 days from seeds to harvest
- Cauliflower: 60 to 75 days from seeds to harvest
- Corn: 58 to 90 days from seeds to harvest
- Cucumbers: 50 to 68 days from seeds to harvest
- Peas: 54 to 72 days from seeds to harvest
- Pumpkins: 100 to 110 days from seeds to harvest
- Tomatoes: 60 to 79 days from seeds to harvest
- Watermelon: 70 to 85 days from seeds to harvest.
How to Keep Gardening Fun for Kids
Once the garden is planted, you can keep the fun going for your children in a variety of ways:
- Keep a gardening journal with your kids to make this fun endeavor even more educational. As you are planting together, have kids write down everything that you’ve planted, including the dates, and then they can use the notes to keep track of when they water the garden, how it grows, etc. Maybe even do some internet research with your kids on what you’ve planted together and take notes.
- Have kids keep a check on the garden daily. If plants have bugs on them or are wilting or getting holes, have them report to you right away so that you can try to remedy the situation.
- Each morning, have kids check the soil to make sure it’s not too dry or too wet. You don’t want to over-water plants, but also don’t want them to be gasping for water, either. Have kids gently water the plants, at the roots, early in the day before the sun’s rays are too hot. If you are in a hot, dry climate, you might want to ask kids to water the plants again in the evening, after the sun has gone down.
- Kids should also keep a close eye on weeds, wearing their gardening gloves and pulling them out by the roots when they see them. (Just make sure they aren’t mistaking new plant growth for weeds!)
- Turn your kids into salespeople! Depending upon the zoning and laws where you live, they might want to set up a vegetable and/or fruit stand. Here, they can sell what they’ve grown (at modest prices, of course). This teaches kids not only about how plants grow, but also about the value of money and how much people will enjoy purchasing fresh produce from them!
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