Family Friendly Garden Planning

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  • Date: Friday, 31 March 2017

Has spring gotten your little ones in the mood to garden like the big kids, but you aren't sure how to keep them entertained without destroying your hard yard work? Are your babies desperate to cultivate their own green thumbs, but lack the patience and experience to truly build a garden? Never fear, we are here to help you incorporate your entire family into your spring planting. A well-planned garden can encourage your child's curiosity, teach them about responsible food sourcing, and help them understand the cycle of life. Even though little people have different levels of patience and interest, there are plenty of ways to include them without expecting too much. We've pulled together a list of well-suited fruits, vegetables, and flowers that will keep your young ones engaged, rewarded, and inspired by their natural environment.

As always, please exercise caution when using any gardening tools, insect prevention, or fertilizers--especially with kids around! It's a great opportunity to model responsibility and caution while teaching about the sometimes necessary hard work that goes into a job well done. Use your own best judgment about what jobs are appropriate for your kids, but don't hesitate to educate them about what you're doing and why certain tasks are better for parents. Make sure to equip them with gloves, sunblock, the appropriate tools, and safety gear--but don't be afraid to let them get dirty, too. Enjoy!

1. Radishes

These are the most immediately rewarding edible plants you can find. They are mature and ready to eat about 21 days after planting, having high yields, and can be used in many kid-friendly recipes. As a bonus, these make great between crop distractions for bugs and will protect your tomatoes, onions, and strawberries from chewing insects. Just don't let the little ones know! Plant radish seeds or starts in well-drained soil with plenty of nutrients, water regularly, and harvest as soon as they are mature. As a note, radishes planted in warm weather tend to be a bit spicier, so do a taste test before letting the young ones explore. After harvesting, take the healthy eating lesson indoors by showing your kids how to make a simple salad, soup, or casserole with what they've grown. Ask them how it feels to eat something they helped make, and have them share their creation with friends, neighbors or classmates.

2. Sunflowers

With minimal effort, your kids can grow a towering garden beauty in just about six weeks. These fast-growing symbols of summer need dirt, sun, and a bit of water--perfect for novice gardeners! They can enjoy the blossoms on the stems for several weeks or cut them into arrangements, and even dry the flowers to harvest the seeds for a tasty snack. Sunflowers are a great option for flower gardens since they grow tall enough to provide shade for more delicate plants and are a good draw for birds. If you don't have a dirt patch, don't be afraid to get the miniature variety for a patio container--the results are just as swift and fabulous!

3. Cherry Tomatoes

Does anything capture the flavor of summer quite like a sun-warmed tomato directly off the vine? Help your little ones learn to love the taste, feeling, and smells of the season by growing one of the most iconic warm weather fruits. The smaller varieties will do fine in dirt or large containers, and generally fruit within 45-60 days. Be sure to use tomatoes as an opportunity to explain why pollinators are so important, and show your kids how to co-plant lavender, bee balm, or dandelions to attract gardener's best friends. Tomatoes are a lovely metaphor to show how hard work, paying attention, and responsibility can turn into delicious results. Explain how we need to feed the tomatoes so they feed us by mixing bone meal, worm casings, and acidic food into the soil, and demonstrate how to keep water off the leaves when watering the plants. Cherry tomatoes are hardy enough to be given imperfect care by a little one but are a great way to show the magic of gardening. Once the plant begins to yield fruit, petite hands are best for harvesting. It's so fun to pick the tiny tomatoes, and even more fun to toss them into salads, slide them onto skewers for the grill, or pop them onto pasta.

4. Lettuce

What better way to inspire your children to eat salad than by having them select and plant their very own lettuce? It's the perfect way to put a nice shady patch of soil to use, and are just about error-proof. Help them dig deep enough holes and show them how to protect their crop from pests with light netting, and in just 25-30 days, you'll have enough to make a lovely meal! You can even include a few kale plants or some microgreens for variety.

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