Here are some tips on gardening with children:
Recognize kid’s priorities are different. Straight rows and weed free may not be what really stands out for kids, but watching an earthworm wriggle across the ground and watering a tiny little seedling is great fun.
Letting children help to choose what to plant will capture their interest, perhaps a theme garden such as a spaghetti garden or pretty smelling herbs. If a child loves green beans, planting the seeds, harvesting the beans and eating them is a great way to instill a love of nature and willingness to eat more veggies.
Gardens can be grown in the ground or in containers on a deck. Keep in mind at least 6 hours of sunlight is recommended, although great gardens can be grown in lesser amounts. Soil used for container gardening should be potting soil as it will be less compactable than regular garden soil. Amending the garden soil with well rotted cow or horse manure, compost or peat moss will add to the fertility of your soil and your plants will love it. The manure can be found at area garden centers in bags, as is the peat moss. Compost can be easily made with vegetable and fruit peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds but be sure not to add any meat products, oils, fats. Keeping weeds cleared from around the plants cuts down on competition for water, sunlight and nutrients.
Veggies to grow from seed include peas, beans, squash, watermelon, pumpkins, corn, lettuce and other greens, while tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant benefit greatly by starting out as transplants. Bulbs of garlic and onions can be planted and pieces of cut up potato (called sets) will grow into the most delicious food imaginable.
A good rule of thumb when considering when to plant is to divide into “cool” crops which do not mind cool days and nights (not frost!) and “warm” crops who really cannot take chilly temps and should be planted out about the mid to end of May here in the Madison area.
Cool crops include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, peas, lettuce, spinach, onions.
Warm crops include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, corn, beans, pumpkins, and squash.
Harvesting can be on going for lots of vegetables, for instance beans and tomatoes. Beans are best when they are young and tender, before the pods begin to fill out. Tomatoes are harvested when fully ripe for best flavor, but if a frost is predicted, picking ahead and allowing them to ripen indoors extends the season. If you plant broccoli, harvest the central head but don’t pull the plant out of the ground immediately – it will form smaller side shoots that are delicious. Peas should be harvested frequently as it will cause the plants to keep producing new pea pods. This is the same as beans, frequent picking will keep up production.
Container gardens are a great way to introduce young gardeners to the joy of raising your own food and flowers. Keep in mind that container gardens will dry out quickly if it’s a windy day or bright and sunny, so will need to be checked daily for moisture. Terra cotta pots dry out faster than plastic.
Theme containers can be a great deal of fun. Imagine a pretty container on the deck or patio, filled with all the fixings for pasta. A tomato plant for the sauce, a sweet bell pepper plant to help season, basil and oregano to spice it up – everything in one place! A salsa garden container could include a tomato plant, a pepper plant, a few small onions and some cilantro – you have the makings for a fiesta! The containers should be at least 12 inches across to be able to support the plants needs.
I recommend organic practices for health and safety as well as being kind to the environment. If we are feeding our children the freshest vegetables and fruits possible, let’s not poison them with sprays. It can also poison beneficial insects and butterflies; the poison does not distinguish between good and bad bugs. A very easy approach to pest control is to mix up a drop or two or dish detergent in a gallon of water and spray or water your plants with it. Do this every three days at least 3 times to stop the life cycle of noxious insects. When you do spray your plant, try to do so in the morning so it has all day to dry. This will help cut down on mildew.
There are lots of fun things to do with children in the garden. Aside from all the health benefits of growing fresh produce, it’s a great way to spend time with your children. Creating good memories while making cute little dolls out of hollyhock blossoms, growing beans up a teepee of bamboo stakes can create a fort to hide in, and measuring how tall the sunflowers grow are ways to enjoy the outdoors and learn valuable life skills. Other ideas are scratching your name in a pumpkin while its small and watching it grow as the pumpkin grows and growing an alphabet garden – a is for asparagus, b is for bean, c is for carrot all the way to z is for zucchini.