I think we all agree everyone should be able to cook (at least the basics), clean a bathroom, and do their own laundry before they leave the home they grew up in. Gardening is a skill I would love every parent to add to that list. Learning to grow your own food gives you a better understanding and appreciation of how our food gets to us, the nutrition it gives us and, in my opinion, makes you less likely to waste food. Teaching kids at a young age how to grow their own vegetables also gives them a deeper connection with nature (and with that comes less screen time), makes them excited to eat their harvest (no more or at least less fights at the dinner table) and confidence (who couldn’t hold their head up high when they grew a seed into delicious carrot).
Not all kids are going to jump for joy at the idea of gardening. Who can blame them? It does sound like a chore. To get them excited try to peak their interest in what will engage them. For some this might just be playing in the dirt with the bugs. Some will love the idea of nurturing plants. For those who love to eat, it may just be the idea of growing their own food.
Instead of it being a chore make it a game. Who can weed the fastest? Who can count the most worms? Whose plant is going to grow the tallest or taste the sweetest?
Let them have their own little garden to take pride in. Buy your kids their own gardening tools, some fun gloves and a watering can. Everybody should get their own area to plant in and be able to choose what they want to grow. If you are using pots let them decorate the pots before growing season starts and let them decorate your plot markers too.
Once your vegetables start to grow, always allow snacking – snacking on sweet peas or eating a carrot just harvested from the ground is one of the simplest pleasures. Eating is always a good motivator.
Since you are already in the garden with them try to teach them a bit about the why and how of gardening. It might not stick the first year but eventually they will get the connection between food, nature and us. Talking about worms is a great place to start. Worms are a gardener’s best friend! They eat their body weight in organic matter every day and excrete their weight in casting that help enrich the soil which helps give us healthier vegetables. Worms, also, won’t eat live plants so we don’t have to worry about sharing our harvest with them and they aerate the soil to help the plants roots get oxygen.
Taking weekly progress pictures of your family garden is fun for kids to compare the growth week to week and then they can show off their hard work to their friends and family.
Make sure to get them to help with harvesting, cooking and most importantly eating the vegetables you grew together. This is where all their hard work pays off and they should be a part of it.
If all else fails and they fight you every step of the way, don’t force it – just like anything the more you force your children to do it the more they will resist. Try to get them out and gardening for a few minutes when you are but let them go and play once they start to fight it.
WHERE TO GROW?
Many local governments or not for profits have community garden plots in urban areas for community members to use for a fee. These are usually a hot commodity and you may need to put your name on a waiting list for a year or longer. Community plots are great if you don’t have a backyard or have graduated out of balcony containers and they are full of fellow gardeners to learn from.
Using pots or containers on a balcony is a great alternative when you don’t have a green space. Re-use different sized old containers to save money on pots. Vertical gardening is a great space saver too. Have small pots on shelves to get the most of your vertical space.
If you are lucky enough to have a backyard, try building a raised-bed garden. Raised-bed gardens are an easy garden to start with and are designed to produce more harvest with less weeds.
WHAT TO GROW?
For easy to grow, kid-friendly veggies:
Snap Peas: easy-peasy to grow, delicious to eat right away plus they grow upwards taking up less garden space and produce tons of harvest
Herbs: easy to grow and fun for kids to experiment with
Potatoes: easy to grow in a pot or plot and fun to dig up like a pirate searching for treasure
Herbs, Tomatoes, Strawberries, Lettuce and Radishes are also great for balcony growing along with Peas, Beans and other vine plants that will grow vertically on a trellis.
Great How-to Gardening Books:
All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
The Edible Balcony: Growing Fresh Produce in Small Spaces by Alex Mitchell