Kids in the summer patch
Children are natural veggie gardenersâ€¦theyâ€™re curious, like to learn by doing, and love to play in the dirt!
Working in a garden, a child can experience the satisfaction that comes from caring for something over time, while observing the cycle of life firsthand.
Veggie gardening gives children a chance to learn that much of their food grows from a seed, important knowledge in these uncertain times. Growing fruit and vegetables is an important life skill, one that is overlooked in standard school curriculums.
Start them young, before they get addicted to technology and instant gratification, and they will remember and come back to it when needed later in life.
Even if you donâ€™t have space for a vegetable garden, get a few pots or window boxes, fill them with the best soil (Vital Veggies of course), and help the next generation learn about the miracle of growing some food.
Although there are many veggies suitable for the young gardener, here are the most popular veggies that they can plant over summer whichare relatively easy, have short growing seasons and are fun to harvest.
Gotta have â€˜em! These may be the most fun crop for a child, aside from strawberries. You can plant them from seed in small pots (transplant to the patch or a large container when they are ready) or buy seedlings from the local nursery. Plant them in full sun with a stake alongside each seedling. Add lots of compost. Water at ground level, trying to keep the leaves dry.
There are lots of fun varieties around: yellow cherry tomatoes, valentine tomatoes, yellow bell tomatoes,tommy toesâ€¦check out the heirloom seed catalogues online.
The growing season is 50 â€“ 75 days.
Lettuce is a quick and reliable crop to give children (and adults) fast results. They are also a good way to interest kids in salads. In summer, lettuce likes part shade so if you have a small patch, you can plant it under other veggies like eggplants and tomatoes. The seeds need sunlight to germinate and will pop up in 7 â€“ 10 days. Again the varieties are endless: try the heirloom Freckles lettuce in summer, as it is slow to bolt.
Quick results for the young gardener. Radishes germinate in 3 â€“ 10 days and have a very short growing season of 20 â€“ 30 days. They can be planted close together, about 6cm apart. Planted in cooler weather they are milder but planted in summer, theyâ€™ll haveahotterflavour.
Fast, easy, high yield and, because they do not grow tall, they are easy for kids to harvest. Bush beans germinate in 4 â€“ 8 days and mature in 40 â€“ 65 days. Itâ€™s best to plant a small patch, then another in a few weeks to extend the harvest. Plant closely, about 6cm apart, in direct sun.
Seeds can be sown directly into soil. They can be slow to germinate, especially the heirloom varieties so you need to be patient. Soil should be a bit sandy and free from rocks and rubble. Once they germinate, teach your children how to thin them out. Crowded carrots will produce a lot of foliage but not much carrot. The reward for all this work is finally pulling out gorgeously tapered fresh carrots and munching on them. Try the smaller carrot varieties for children or even the purple dragon varieties.
Jack and the Beanstalk will come alive as children watch how fast climbing beans climb up the pole or trellis. They will break out into flowers then form tiny beans that grow into edible pods. Magic!
Just make sure you have netting or poles for them to climb up, or plant them next to established sweet corn seedlings for a lesson in symbiotic support, or make a tepee from bamboo poles. Purple beans are fun for kids, the flowers are purple instead of white and when cooked, the beans turn from purple to green! More magic!
A 'never-fail' crop. You can plant red or white varieties; red will mature faster. Children seem to favour the red variety. Cut seed potatoes into chunks with at least 2 'eyes' per. Plant in furrows, about 12-15" apart, with eyes pointing upward. Mound soil up around plant as it grows; harvest when plant collapses.
A 'must' for a child's garden, if you have the room. Plant seeds in a small hill; poke three holes in the hill and put one seed in each hole. Seeds will sprout in about 1 week; after a few days, vine leaves begin to form and creep along the ground. Once there are 3 pumpkins on the vine, pick off any new blossoms. Pumpkins take 80 - 120 days to harvest: it's ready when it feels hard on the outside and sounds hollow when tapped. Seeds can be dried to eat, or save for future planting. The flesh can be used for pies, and the pumpkin for carving.
Another â€˜mustâ€™ for a childâ€™s garden. Plant just one or two since they take up a lot of room. Sunflowers will sprout in one week, become small seedlings in 2 weeks (you can eat them at this point!), and should be 60cm high in about a month. In 8 weeks the buds will flower revealing hundreds of seed kernels. The seeds, rich in protein and iron, can be roasted for snacks.
These flowers are easy to grow and yield results quickly, which encourages the young gardener. Nasturtiums bloom into orange, yellow and red flowers in about 50 days after the seeds are planted. They prefer sunny, dry locations and do well in poor soil. The flowers are edible and can be used to add colour to a fresh garden salad.
Of course, there are many other things you can plant with your kids: strawberries, blueberries, watermelons, zucchinis, but we think the list above is the easiest and most fool proof selection of veggies that will give kids the best chance at success.
Tips for veggie gardening with kids:
- Give them their own garden bed, plot or container where possible.
- Use the best possible soil (such as Vital Veggies) to ensure success.
- When they grow out of it, reuse the sandpit and make it into a veggie garden.
- Give them a good set of gardening tools, not the cheap plastic kind that breaks.
- Engage them throughout the entire process, from seed to table.
- Start from seed â€“ while itâ€™s convenient to buy seedlings, children will learn more by watching seeds sprout into seedlings.
- When all else fails, make a scarecrow!
- Show off their work. When you have visitors, be sure to show them your childâ€™s veggie garden. Send photos to grandparents. The attention given to their work is the best motivator to keep them positively engaged.