Summer is long gone as is the outdoor growing season where I live, but I still wanted to write about gardening with kids. I especially love gardening with my kids in the summertime, but gardening is something that can be a fun learning experience any time of year.
Why do it?
There are so many great reasons to garden – with or without kids. I get great satisfaction and pleasure from nurturing seeds to plants. The vegetables that I buy in the grocery store are often varieties that are prized for their ability to travel and store well rather than for their flavor. I love that I can grow extra-tasty varieties of vegetables and berries that I can’t get in the grocery store. I love that I can buy a pack of seeds for less than two dollars and reap a bucketful of good stuff to eat. And I love what it does for my kids. They get to learn firsthand where the food we eat comes from. And, better yet, they are often more likely to try vegetables that they grow than vegetables that we buy from the store. My son made peace with both tomatoes and onions this year thanks to our cherry tomato vine and green onions.
When is a good time to get started gardening? Anytime! Snow will soon be flying where I am, but there are still plenty of gardening opportunities. In fall and winter, take the time to prep your garden for the next growing season if you’re in a cold climate or plant cool weather crops like lettuce, carrots, cabbage, peas, and broccoli if you’re in a warmer climate. I planted garlic outdoors recently in hopes of having heirloom garlic to harvest next summer. And now I’ll move my gardening indoors. If you have a sunny window, you can grow herbs indoor year round. We’ll stick mainly to low-light loving house plants and bulbs.
Gardening with kids
Gardening with kids can be a magical experience. What kid doesn’t love digging in the dirt? Let a child plant a seed and watch it transform to a seedling and then to a recognizable plant. It takes patience, but the payoff is big!
Some tips for successful gardening with kids. First, give them a say in what is planted. My kids’ two requests this year were carrots and sunflowers. Into the garden they went! Second, give them some gardening responsibility. Watering, weeding, planting seeds, helping with harvesting – let them help you tend the garden. Not only will they learn more about how a plant goes from seed to fruited plant, but you’ll have help! Last, let them help decide how to use the fruits or your gardening labor. For us, this meant that strawberries went straight into little tummies, and kohlrabi was eaten both raw (at my son’s request) and roasted (my preference).
There are so many teachable moments in gardening. Even pests, the bane of every gardener, can lead to a learning experience. We choose to garden organically and honestly have very few pests to deal with (most pests can’t deal with our winters), but my kids still learned plenty about slugs and earwigs this year. They can learn about the different bugs and animals that like to munch on the garden, about beneficial bugs that gardeners want to keep around (ladybugs, anyone?), and about why and how you choose to treat your garden for pests.
We also compost, which is another great learning opportunity. I love watching our kitchen and yard scraps transform to deep black, rich dirt over the course of a year. We have a big compost pile that we maintain, but they sell small compost bins and tumblers or you can build a small compost bin that is appropriate for your space. Maintained properly, smell and pests are not an issue. My son, in particular, loves the fact that we recycle our kitchen scraps rather than throw them away, and it gives him insight into the workings of the natural world. We talk about what our compost heap needs to decompose the way we want it to – brown material and green material, air, moisture, and bacteria. I keep two piles going at a time – one that I actively put kitchen scraps into, and one that is curing, that is, making that slow transformation to finished, black compost. Because of our cold weather here, composting can be slow, so it was actually thrilling to add my first load of finished compost to my raised bed this fall.
Afraid you’ll have a brown thumb?
Let me tell you, I am no expert at this gardening business, but I managed to grow carrots, kohlrabi, cabbage, broccoli, squash, green onions, potatoes, peas, green beans, lettuce, spinach, potatoes, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, and lots of herbs in my garden in northern Wyoming this summer. Just think of what you could grow someplace where frost isn’t a constant threat! I learn a little more each year. The mistakes are as educational to my kids and me as the successes.
Get started, be diligent with watering and weeding, and watch what happens!