I cannot recall one year in my entire life that I have not been in a garden growing something — or everything!
My favorite memories from childhood are those of working or playing in the family garden. I suppose I always will hold onto those memories as I age, because they are of the wholesome kind and shaped me as a person. Whether I knew it at the time or not, I am so appreciative to my grandparents and family members who revealed to me what a little seed can do and provide if given the right kind of attention and love.
Including small children in gardening is one of the best life lessons I think one can teach. Gardening is more than just planting and reaping. It teaches responsibility, discovery, creativity, confidence, health — the list goes on.
Having worked in area schools and nonprofits with kids, I can tell you from experience it is not very difficult to get small children involved with gardening. All one needs is a plan and as little as a flower pot to get started.
Include your child in the process of buying or picking out the pot. Or if you have a garden patch, let them pick their planting site within it. The main objective here is to convey ownership throughout the planting process from start to finish.
Some plants are more kid-friendly than others. I have found short, bushy vegetable plants and most everything harvested as a root make excellent choices.
Small, snack-size sweet peppers are always a hit with the little ones. Two of my favorites in this category are Lunchbox and Lipstick peppers. Tomatoes are always fun to grow but make sure to pick a determinate variety. Most cherry tomatoes will set fruit in 60 days or less and are small enough for little fingers to pick easily. I would recommend Washington cherry or cherry cascade.
If you will be planting vegetable plants in containers, make sure you purchase one that will hold five to 10 gallons of soil. Explain to your child they will need to water the plant every day and feed it (give it fertilizer) every few weeks.
Before they can harvest their bounty, show and tell them the basic parts of the plant as it grows. If growing your plant from seed, let the child count each day until maturity with a calendar and some stickers — better yet, try and find stickers in the shape of vegetables.
Other fun things to grow with a small child are radishes, carrots, beets, turnips, gourds and pumpkins. Radishes are by far the fastest and easiest vegetable to grow. If you are not a fan of growing things yourself, radishes take up very little space and require very little effort beyond planting the seed and watering. In most cases, they will sprout from seed and grow to maturity in 25 days.
Carrots come in second on my list of things to grow first with a child. For whatever reason, it has been my experience that kids love growing and eating carrots. Atlas and Caracas are two great carrot varieties to choose from.
My No. 1 plant to grow with a child would have to be pumpkins. However, you need space and the child’s interest over a long season before he or she will see the results of their hard work. But watching a pumpkin grow from seed into a massive plant with large orange globes of fun can be very rewarding to a young one.
You never know, that first seed may be a lifelong journey!