The snow is now a distant memory, and summer is closer every day. Although we may still have some cold weather, it's not too early to get out and work in the garden. If you have little helpers at your house, then follow these 5 tips to ensure happy children, and a healthy harvest.
1. Start Small! If you haven't done a lot of gardening before then proceed with caution. It's easy to buy 30 packets of seeds, or a carload of plants. What's not so easy is weeding and watering all of those plants as they turn into a jungle, and your kids would rather go swimming at the beach than work in the hot sun. Start with a container or two. Whether you start from seed or a starter plant, it will be easier to maintain and lets each child have their ownership of their garden space.
2. Get the kids involved from the start. What do they like to eat? Cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and strawberries are some of our favorites. Ask your child what they like to eat, and let them come pick out seeds or seedlings with you. The Saint Paul Farmer's Market is a great place for seedlings. Most of the farmers are happy to share advice, the plant variety is amazing, and the prices are reasonable.
3. Set boundaries and define responsibilities. If you have the space, set aside a few feet for your kid(s) to have their own garden. A tomato plant, and a row of radishes can give your little one a good start. If your child is still learning to identify weeds, and their watering sometimes reaches flood stage, then this gives them a place for their own experimentation. Depending on how old they are it is helpful for children to take responsibility for at least some of the gardening duties. That strawberry they pluck will taste even sweeter when they know how much work went into growing it!
4. Grow Big! Almost all children are enamored with huge things. Have a few feet to spare on a south facing wall? Sow some Mammoth sunflower seeds that will soar to 10 feet by summer's end. Grow pole beans into a giant tee-pee or an archway for kids to walk through. Feeling even more ambitious? Giant pumpkins can get so big they can be used as boats! For something a little more reasonable, zucchini are amazingly prolific, and an 8 pound zucchini is just the right size for a child to proudly heft around the garden.
5. Enjoy the Harvest. You've worked hard to grow these plants, now it's time for everyone to enjoy them! Get some baskets, explain the difference between ripe and unripe vegetables, and let the kids go pick. Bring some salad dressing and have a salad picnic, or bring your veggies inside and bake a garden pizza. You'll be amazed that even veggie-phobic children will eat healthy foods that they've been involved in growing.