When the flavor of that first ripe tomato crossed my taste buds I knew I had been doing fruits and vegetables wrong for decades.
I planted my first grape tomato bush when my son William was three. I didn’t think much of it, other than I’d get to eat a few vine-fresh tomatoes here and there. When the flavor of that first ripe tomato crossed my taste buds I knew I had been doing fruits and vegetables wrong for decades.
For the rest of that season my wife and I explored different farms in the area for fresh local produce. That summer we discovered that zucchini wasn't actually a flavorless vegetable, radishes have quite a zing to them, and that kale was still gross no matter where it came from.
The next season we started our own modest garden and I was impressed by how easy it was to grow a few of my favorites. I was eating my own zucchini and peas by late June.
I was hooked on gardening and I wanted to do my best to make sure William was hooked too. But he wasn’t terribly interested in pulling weeds and picking cutworms from the bottom of tomato plants.
I set out to make gardening fun for him so that we could work on the garden and enjoy the food together. After a couple seasons I have some advice for would-be gardeners with children:
You’ll find that letting them have their own garden instead of helping you in yours will be much more fun for you and the kids. Having their own garden is a very exciting idea for them and it helps to keep them from getting in the way when you’re sweating buckets while pulling weeds out of yours.
Clearly define their space with a little hardscaping like stacked stones or a small vinyl fence. Painting the border a fun color will make it feel more at home.
They probably have their favorites, so as long as they grow well in your region there’s no reason to stear them towards other plants. If you haven’t already sprouted your seeds indoors I would start with seedlings bought from the store.
Kids can be a bit impatient and they aren’t going to want to wait a couple weeks for the seeds to sprout. Let them feel like gardeners right away with some plants and you have a better chance of capturing and keeping their interest all season long.
Kids aren’t going to want to be gardeners all of the time. They love doing other crafts too. A perfect way to keep them interested in growing their own food is to do a craft that relates to their garden.
One of the easiest and most fun activities is to make a sign that lets everyone know that this is their garden. A wood board on a stake is all you need. Paint it their favorite color and write their name on it.
You can take this a step further and make markers for the individual plants too. All you need to do is glue a few popsicle sticks together and paint them up. Write the names of the plants on them and press them in the ground. It doesn’t take long to make these signs but they leave a big impression on the kids.
Plant a sunflower: when you’re three feet tall a six foot tall plant with an enormous bright yellow flower on top is fascinating. They’re easy to grow and it’s fun to show them how the flower turns to face the sun as it moves across the sky.
Buy tools that will last. I would get a few of the basics from your local gardening center and paint the handles or even just write their name on the handle in permanent marker.
William has grown into a teenager and isn’t interested in gardening right now, but the foundations for being a locavore and gardener has been laid.
He understands and appreciates the difference between store bought and locally grown, and I’m sure that when he has a home of his own he will have a garden with some of his favorites in it.
Maybe he’ll even set aside a small piece of his garden for me to grow sunflowers and raspberries in.