Everyone who knows me well knows that I love growing food. I love talking about growing food, reading about growing food, planting and transplanting and eating the fruits of my labors. I even love — yep — weeding. Well, to an extent. As American writer Charles Dudley Warner said over 100 years ago, “Blessed be agriculture, if one does not have too much of it.”
Luckily, you don’t have to have a huge garden to get kids excited about growing plants. Growing food plants in particular rewards children for their efforts — and makes eating healthful food like vegetables fun! In addition, it can teach kids responsibility, independence, and problem solving.
Here are a few basics to get you started, as well as some plant suggestions.
Decide where you’re going to grow
Do you have space for a plot in the ground? Or will you garden in pots on your apartment balcony? Wherever you and your kids choose, make sure you have enough sunshine. Most vegetables like at least six hours of direct sunshine. I wouldn’t recommend trying to grow food indoors — the light just isn’t strong enough. But pots on a sunny, south- or west-facing balcony could do just fine.
Start small and build on successes. A 3-by-3 plot or a couple pots is plenty to start.
Get a good start with healthy soil
Experienced gardeners know that good soil is the key to harvesting tasty vegetables. Good soil is balanced in nutrients and full of organic matter (pieces of things that are or were living).
You can improve your soil by adding compost, which is available at garden supply stores to purchase. Or, better yet, make your own! Resources on composting abound online. If you’re gardening in pots, buying good quality soil is recommended.
If you want to grow in the ground and you live in a place where an orchard grew before the 1950s, you may want to have your soils tested or play it safe by buying soil, because your soil may be contaminated with lead and arsenic.
You should have a plan for how you’re going to give your thirsty plants a drink before you put them in the ground. Kiddos can hand-water small areas or pots with a hose (having a nozzle really helps) or watering can.
What to grow?
Some easy things for kids to grow include cherry tomatoes (Sungold is a favorite for its sweetness — buy young plants at a garden store), lettuce, pole beans, snow peas, squash, radishes and herbs. You could choose to grow a themed garden — a pizza garden with tomatoes, onions, and basil, or a rainbow garden with plants of many different colors.
Be a scientist!
Use your time in the garden to learn and grow not just vegetables, but your kids’ minds. Don’t be afraid to try new things. If someone asks what happens if you plant some seeds deeper than others, rather than explaining why it won’t work, say “let’s try it and see what happens.” Then record what you see.
I hope these short tips help you get started growing delicious, home-grown veggies!