Eye on Nature

Children Dig Veggie Gardening

Theme Garden Ideas

Jeffrey Clarke, garden supervisor at Camden Children’s Garden says, “The garden should be easy and fun. Otherwise the kids will lose interest.”

You can generate more interest by creating a theme garden. For example, Clarke suggests growing items that would be on a pizza, such as tomatoes, peppers and onions.

Or you can grow something big and small, such as spoon tomatoes and giant pumpkins, or build a bamboo teepee retreat in the middle of the garden for the kids to hide in and play.

by Natalie Friedrich Kidd

Vegetable gardening is a great way to get outside and spend some quality time with your children while teaching them about how plants grow. In addition to seeing where those carrots come from, they might even want to eat more veggies after watching them sprout.

Getting Started
Kids can get involved as you decide which vegetables to have in your garden. “Families do not need a huge yard or a green thumb to have a garden,” says Michele Wales, farm program coordinator at Coverdale Farm in Greenville, DE. You can even grow plants in a patio container if you don’t have a yard.

“It is better to be small and successful than huge and overwhelmed,” advises Wales.

When locating your garden, answer these questions:

Does the site get at least 6 hours of full sun?

Is there easy access to water?

Is there enough space to grow the plants you want?

How healthy is your soil?

Will you need to protect your plants from rabbits and groundhogs with fencing?

Your Child’s Age
Even 3-year-olds can participate in a vegetable garden in a limited way. Betsey Ney, director of public programs at Tyler Arboretum in Media, PA offers this advice:

3-year-olds enjoy exploring while using their senses, especially touching, but they are not yet able to actually plant or maintain a garden. They can keep you company and you can show them the plants as they grow.

4- and 5-year-olds are beginning to have the dexterity and focus to plant and harvest with a lot of help from a grown-up. They love to help with watering and digging and explore bugs, dirt and stones. They have lots of imagination, so stories are a great addition to their gardening experience.

Ages 6 and up can begin to handle planting seeds, tending crops, harvesting and even some weeding — all with guidance.

Prepare Your Plot

Mark out the area you selected. Get rid of grass, roots and weeds.

Create paths between rows so the kids will be able to move around and easily reach plants.

Dig up the soil to lighten it. Break up any big clumps of dirt.

“One of the biggest factors for successful gardening is good soil,” says Ney. A healthy soil is rich in organic matter, so add compost or finely chopped leaves.

Plant seeds or plants. You can find them at your local garden center or online at www.burpee.com and www.parkseed.com

Label each row so you will know what you planted and where you
planted it.

Water the plants thoroughly and regularly, and don’t neglect weeding. “When planting a garden for kids, one of the most important aspects is to make sure that the garden will be a success. Nothing is more discouraging than plants that won’t grow, or a garden that becomes infested with weeds,” advises Ney.

Tools and Supplies
“Invest in a good shovel, a hoe, a soil rake and a few small weeding tools along with a garden cart,” Wales recommends. Child-sized tools are available at most garden centers.

In Delaware, Wales suggests finding tools and supplies at Gateway Garden Center in Hockessin. Affordable kids’ tools can also be found online at www.parkseed.com.

Which Work Best?
Wales says, “Cherry tomatoes are gems — fun, bite-sized and easy to grow! Anything edible that develops underground is a homerun: carrots, turnips, radishes, potatoes, beets, garlic, even Spanish peanuts. Watermelon and pumpkins are awesome but require a lot of room to grow.”

The Results!
The kids will enjoy helping you harvest your vegetables. They can also help plan and cook meals using the veggies. They’ll feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Natalie Friedrich Kidd is a local freelance writer.