Many urban and suburban families have joined their country neighbors in growing vegetables in a home or community garden. Motivated by health benefits and improved taste, these gardeners enjoy planting, harvesting and preparing homegrown vegetables. Guess what? So do their children. Creating and caring for a garden is fun and educational. Not only do children learn that vegetables do not always come from the supermarket, they also learn patience, responsibility, and a bit of science.
Parents facilitate fun in the garden by creating vegetable growing areas just for children. Parents and grandparents offer advice, observations, and instruction to pass knowledge to the next generation while working side-by-side with the youngsters. Getting children into gardening may be as simple as dedicating areas to children’s favorite foods like pizza, pasta, salsa and casseroles.
Tips and Gardening Equipment
Children’s gardening activities should be fun. It is okay if everyone gets dirty or wet. In addition, many academic topics can be cast under the broad net of gardening. When preparing the garden, parents can talk about plant nutrition—the value of fertilizer and compost, photosynthesis—why it is important that plants get sunlight, or comment on how plants grow and how to calculate their space requirements. This is not a formal class; rather it is sharing knowledge about why gardening is done the way it is. Children learn effectively from informal instruction and activities accompanied by constructive comments.
For young children—those under age 10—get them a set of gardening tools. A child-sized trowel, hoe, shovel and rake and a container to carry them helps make the garden and gardening activities theirs. Involve the children in placing seeds into the soil and patting them down. Let them take seedlings out of their containers and place them into holes. This is more about taking ownership than it is about getting it right the first time. Be sure to create paths near the plants for children to observe growth and harvest without trampling plants or compacting the soil.
Ask the child to chart the growth of plants and keep a log that shows size and production. Encourage them to find recipes that use garden-grown vegetables. Let them pick vegetables and invite them into the kitchen to watch their vegetables being prepared and, if they are old enough, ask them to help.
Types of Children’s Gardens
Two favorite children’s foods are pizza and pasta. Ingredients for both can be featured sections of a children’s garden. Pizza and pasta gardens include some combination of tomatoes, onions, peppers, spinach, oregano, Italian parsley, marjoram, and basil. Garlic is another Italian food essential. Unfortunately, garlic is usually planted in the fall, so purchasing fresh garlic may be a better option for cooking. Lay out the pizza garden in slices or in traditional square foot sections or rows. Each of these pizza and pasta ingredients is easy to grow in a home garden and local nurseries usually have seedlings to get going quickly.
A salsa garden includes tomatoes, various types of peppers, onions, and cilantro. Choose fleshy tomatoes such as roma or very flavorful ones like brandywine. Peppers are usually hot ones like jalapenos or serranos–just one is enough to flavor a bowl of salsa.
Another garden dedicated section that pleases many children is a casserole garden. For a casserole garden, one may add green beans, squash, peas, eggplant, carrots, or potatoes to the types of vegetables grown in the pizza and pasta garden.
After vegetables are harvested, parents can work with their little gardeners to prepare, cook, and consume the produce created in the children’s garden. It is psychologically true that even if the little ones do not like zucchini or eggplant, they will be more willing to try—and even appreciate—it when they help it grow.