Want to have some family fun – and teach your children about food, nature, hard work, and responsibility? Plant a family garden. While parents are naturally the overseers, children can feel like this is primarily their project. They take responsibility for the planting and the care, with a little parental guidance. Of course, they get first pickings in eating the fruits of their labors. Garden-growing gives children a sense of responsibility, the pride of ownership, and they learn valuable lessons about how sun, water, seeds, and soil come together to make food. The big payoff is that kids are more likely to eat the veggies they grow. Our little 6×20 foot side yard garden has rewarded us with not only hours of family fun, but produce we can trust.
Another great idea might be to try something like the Tower Garden.
Here are some home gardening tips to help you get started:
- Ask neighbors who have a garden what grows best in your part of the country and when to plant it. Or, go to a garden store in your community for advice. They can tell you what you need to get your garden going, including gardening books, soil preparation, gardening tools, seeds, plants, and maintenance.
- Select an area in your yard that gets a lot of sun.
- Choose fruits and vegetables that will grow well under the conditions you have and that you most like to eat. Because children are impatient, choose at least some vegetables that grow big and fast. For our family, it’s zucchini, which can grow bigger than a child’s arm overnight, it seems. The vines have big impressive leaves and get into everything. You can make great zucchini pancakes at harvest time- a real family treat! (See ) Put as much color in your garden as you can, such as red tomatoes and peppers, yellow squash and corn, and purple peppers. Pole beans are fun, too. They’ll climb a trellis or lean some poles against each other for a leafy teepee.
- Make a maintenance chart and help your children keep track of when they planted the garden, when they water the garden, and when they take care of other gardening tasks. This record-keeping adds to their sense of diligence. As they see the fruits of their labor, watch their pride sprout.
- Keep a garden book. Keep track of what you plant and when from year to year, how much you harvest, what grows well, and what fails. Take photos of children at work in the garden and with their harvest.
- Make first pickings a special occasion. When that first zucchini comes off the vine, make zucchini pancakes the main course. Make a special salad with the first tender lettuce in the spring.
- If your yard is not suitable for vegetable gardening, you can still plant a mini garden in pots, small and large. This works well for apartment dwellers, too. You can keep your garden on a patio, a balcony, or even the roof. Tomatoes and peppers grow well this way, as do herbs. Even a cardboard box or shoe box can house your mini garden. Set the box in a sunny place, such as the kitchen or bedroom window. Your local garden shop can help you create a mini garden.
- Sprout some sprouts. Sprouts are kids’ favorites, since you can plant a seed on Monday and by the following Sunday the kids can already see their sprouts growing. Radish sprouts should be ready in a week.
- Beets are fun. The leaves (tasty steamed or raw) are more nutritious than the beet root, with gobs of beta carotene and other phytonutrients. They’re a healthy alternative to lettuce on sandwiches, but don’t forget to remove the chewy purple stem. Of course, it’s fun to discover the deep red beets under the ground, too.
- If you have several little gardeners, divide the garden into plots and let them name their plants (“Susie’s squash” and “Tommy’s tomatoes”).
- To have fun with your garden, let the children draw faces with a marker on the produce still on the vine. As the pumpkins or zucchini grow, the eyes get bigger and the smiles get wider.Will you save money by growing your own produce? It depends on what you grow and how much money you spend getting started. Even if your produce winds up costing more than what’s available at the grocery store, the extra money is worth it. Gardens are great for kids. As they help the garden grow, the garden helps them grow, too.