Gardening with kids has so many benefits--for both you and for them. But it can be a little tricky (and messy and destructive) unless you have a plan in place. Here are some tips to help you get your kids involved in the garden and making it a meaningful and beneficial experience for all--without ending up with a disaster.
I loved vegetable gardening with my dad when I was a kid.
I also found out very quickly through meeting a lot of gardening enthusiasts that like me, most gardening passions start a long time ago in the younger years. More often than not, an older parent or grandparent teaches us the ropes.
Fast forward to today -- I have two kids of my own, and love showing them how to garden, the fun in growing your own food, and the science that goes along with gardening.
My personal favorite part of gardening with my kids is going to the garden and pointing out all of the cool insects we find (both beneficial and harmful).
I wanted to get my kids learning all about gardening as early as possible and at the same time make it fun and enjoyable. I must have done something right, because just last week, my boys decided they were going to plant some broccoli. I am happy to say that this proud father had a smile from ear to ear as the kid’s broccoli has popped up (shown in the picture below).
Tips for Gardening with Kids
1- Get the Right Gardening Tools
One of the first things that I did was to buy my kids their own garden tools. I wanted them to have the same types of tools that I have so that when I am working in the garden, they can grab their “like kind” tool and work with me.
For just a few bucks it was well worth the investment. No need to go overboard here and buy a name brand. Just some dollar store toys will do when they are younger (under 5), and then you can upgrade as they get older.
2- Give Them Space
Give your kids their own space to garden. Whether it is a few containers to garden in, or what I do, they each have their own three foot by three foot raised bed garden to grow in, when they have their own area that they can work in, they will have a lot more fun.
My kids love playing in the dirt. This gives them a chance to do it and not worry about making a mess or accidentally damaging anything in Dad’s garden.
3- Choose Kid-friendly Plants
What I found what worked best for my kids when they were under five years old, were large seeds such as squash, pumpkins, sunflower and so on. I would also “help” them pick out one of the fastest growing vegetables like radishes.
They enjoyed seeing the large plants grow and the larger seeds were easier for them to handle. The radish gave them a quick victory in the garden -- something they can harvest within forty-five days and show off like a trophy to mom and dad.
Another great option is to choose one of the easy to grow vegetables. Most of these will overlap with fast, but there are a few differences.
Now that they are over five years old, I find that letting them pick what they want to grow works better. Each year I pull out the box of seed packets and let them choose.
Most of the time they go with the most colorful-looking veggie on the packet, but my older son will actually try and grow items that he enjoys eating -- broccoli being one of them.
4- Grow Fast Growing Plants
It's tough for anyone to wait--and it can be even harder for kiddos! Try planting some fast-growing vegetables so your kids (and you!) can enjoy eating your harvest sooner!
5- Keep Your Investment Low
Just get what you need and don't go overboard on expensive supplies. You can even take the kids with you to get free plants for your garden. That way your investment is low and mishaps don't matter that much!
Adrienne's Experience with Her Kids In the Garden
Gardening is something that's been a real trial for us - we aren't great at it but we keep on trying.
We've had flop after flop, including 3 years in a row of just about no zucchini. I marvel at folks who have so much that they have to give it away!
But every year at least one crop does great. This year it was lettuce. Other years it was kale.
This past year we had a "bumper green pepper crop" that wasn't really a bumper because we planted too late, but we did still get quite a few.
Finally, take it slow with your kids and make sure you let them do the work after showing them how to do something. My kids love getting their hands dirty, and love it even more when I just step back and let them go at it.
Mike Podlesny is not only a gardening expert (both with kids and adults) but he is also the author of the book Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person. He is the host of the Organic Gardening Podcast.