Get a little dirty…it is time to garden!
It is that time of year when I am doing a bit of grumbling about all the yard work, but also looking forward to getting my perennial beds cleared and blooming, my cut flower bed planted and preparing my vegetable garden for this summer’s crop of tomatoes, beans and of course sunflowers. I definitely am not a Master Gardener, but I have a special place in my heart for gardening and getting a little dirty. I have very fond memories of my Grandfather and his vegetable garden and beautiful roses. I would walk through his garden when I visited and help water and weed. With his garden gloves on and a hat perched on the back of his head, he was a true farmer at heart. He showed me how to eat a fresh tomato right off the vine and how to pinch a peach so the fuzzy skin would pull back and I could eat the sweet inside. I guess my love of gardening started by watching my Grandpa and then my own father take pride in their gardens. My dad still grows amazing tomatoes!
So many of our children have no idea where their fruits and vegetables come from or even what a fresh tomato really tastes like! With the new fruit and vegetable pouches, I sometimes wonder if many toddlers even know what a real vegetable LOOKS like! There are many life lessons that can be taught by simply taking a small plot of land or a small container and growing something with your child! There is no better way to instill a love of nature and to encourage healthy eating than growing a fresh fruit or vegetable as a family.
Children are natural gardeners—they are curious, they learn by doing, and they love to play in the dirt. Gardening is good for families, it gives your family time together outdoors, and time to let your child get dirty for a purpose! Children love to look for worms, love to plant seeds, water, watch plants grow, pick their crop and even try the harvest they have grown. What a great way to get them to try green beans! This helps cultivate their curiosity about nature, the earth and maybe even foster a love of gardening. Children will also love the special time they spend with you. Gardening teaches patience, responsibility and is like having a science lesson without even knowing it! You might even find yourself feeling a little proud and definitely loving the taste of a fresh homegrown tomato!
Tips on gardening with children.
1. Plan a small container garden or a small plot of land that is theirs. Talk about a plant’s need for sun, water, and food. Put the garden in an area that can be seen easily by your child. A plastic storage bin or any other container with holes poked in the bottom for drainage works great for this! Keep it near your back door so your child can see it often. Tomato plants or lettuce can actually be grown in just a bag of topsoil that you open and plant the seedlings in the bag. What could be easier?
2. A “yardstick” garden is plenty big for a child. Take a yardstick and measure a garden that is 3 foot square. A young child can reach all sides of the garden and will take pride in that little plot he can call his own.
3. Gardens do not have to be square. A “pizza” garden can be planted with wedge sections. Put different plants in each wedge. Plant ingredients that would taste good on a pizza! This is a great way to grow an herb garden!
4. Use a little imagination, children will love a sunflower house! Plant large sunflowers in a semi-circle. As they grow, tie the top of them together and your child can have a “secret” hiding place in your garden!
5. Watering and weeding is not as much fun as planning and planting ( I don’t like it as well!). For older preschoolers or school age children, put a gardening calendar in the kitchen or in your child’s bedroom with tasks to be completed. Don’t force it, remember you are instilling a love of gardening! Keeping your child’s portion of the garden small should keep the time necessary to only a few minutes a day. Using a container garden really keeps it easy!
6. Child sized garden tools make it easier and more fun. I have seen tools in the dollar area of Target! I know if I had young children, the gardening boots and clogs I have seen would be a must, so cute!! A gardening hat is a necessity, protect yourself and your child from the sun. What is cuter than your toddler gardener in a wide brimmed hat! Don’t forget the sunscreen too.
7. Let your child dig the holes for the seeds or the plants that have been bought. Digging holes is a natural for kids!
8. Encourage your child by planting seeds that mature quickly and are easy for them to handle. Radishes and lettuce are great. They germinate in a couple of days. Bean seeds and sunflower seeds are easy to handle.
9. Be sure to put the seed packet on a stake in the garden to remind them what they have planted and what it will look like. Some discount stores even have little garden stakes that your preschooler could decorate!
10. Children love the unusual. Many vegetables are available in different colors or sizes. Speckled beans, red carrots, miniature cucumbers and pumpkins, purple beans, and grape tomatoes are just a few examples. Try something really unusual by taking a cucumber or pumpkin bloom and placing it inside of a 2 liter bottle. Shade the bottle with leaves from the plant and let the pumpkin or cucumber grow inside the bottle. It is a great “show and tell” item when there is a large cucumber or pumpkin inside the bottle!
11. Add a bird bath to attract birds. Children can be responsible for refilling the bird bath!
12. Think about planting bright colored flowers that are known to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Exploring the garden for butterflies, bugs, worms and caterpillars is great fun!
13. You might want to set a part of the garden for digging all summer. Put your sandbox in the middle of your garden to make your garden kid friendly. There were always a few cars or trucks around in the dirt of our garden.
14. You can have your child make garden stones or markers for the garden. Find larger stones and let them paint designs on the stones. These make great Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gifts for Grandparents!
15. Have your child help build a scarecrow for the garden. This can be a fun activity for late summer especially.
16. Measure the sunflowers that you plant once a week and chart their growth. If you have older children, planting sunflower seeds that mature in about 90 days is a great way to measure the length of summer. When they bloom, it is time to go back to school!
17. Try to grow organically as possible. Mulch is a great way to cut down on weeds which will prevent the need for weed killer and mulch will keep the soil moister during dry spells. Mix compost and/or topsoil into your garden each year to provide nutrients needed for plant growth. By growing without chemicals, your child will be able to eat a tomato right from the vine…there is nothing better!
18. Let your child harvest their own vegetables. There is nothing better than picking your salad fixings for the day! This will encourage your child to eat their vegetables I promise! Your child will love to eat “garden to table”!
19. Keep it fun…start small! Most new gardeners try something too big and then quickly become discouraged with the experience. Just grow one tomato plant and supplement your “garden” with a trip to the Farmer’s Market! We always had enough green beans from our small garden for at least one dinner. The kids would always ask, “Our these our beans?” With a little white lie, our kids ate green beans the whole summer!
There are some great children’s books that can be fun to read with your child as you start your garden:
Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert
Pumpkin Pumpkin by Jeanne Titherington
Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens
This is the Sunflower by Lola M. Schaefer
Whose Garden Is It? by Mary Ann Hoberman
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
Oliver’s Vegetables by Vivian French
Stone Soup by Marcia Brown
Alison’s Zinnia by Anita Lobel
Get a little dirty….plant a few seeds and you will see your child’s excitement grow as the plants grow, and who knows you might just raise a kid that likes his vegetables!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.