My husband and I have always loved gardening. But it wasn’t until last year when we built our big, fenced, raised-row garden that we really got into it. Our garden has eight rows, each between 17-29 feet long and 18″ wide. Big might actually be an understatement.
We learned a lot of tips and tricks throughout the spring, summer, and fall last year that we’re excited to implement this year. And now that we feel like we have a good handle on what we’re doing, we are excited to get our kids even more involved in the process.
Gardening with kids might sound like a challenge (and sometimes it is). It’s really rewarding and fun to teach them about how fruits, vegetables, and flowers grow, and what it takes to help them grow their best.
This year as we’ve started preparations and the planting process, we’ve been trying to involve our kids as much as possible. And if you’re like us and want to include your kids in your garden, I’ve got some tips to help you out all along the way!
1. Let them help choose what to plant. We took our kids to the nursery in February and let them pick out a few things they wanted to plant. They chose some striped zinnias, broccoli, baby carrots, and corn. It was fun to show them all the different things we could plant, as well as how many varieties of each fruit and vegetable there are!
2. Show them the seeds and how you plant them. When you’re getting the seeds out, show your kids what the seeds look like. Some seeds are tiny and barely visible (like poppy seeds or celery seeds) and some are much bigger (like beans, peas, corn, or pumpkins). It’s fun to show them that just like the fruit of each plant is different, so are the seeds. And tell them that different seeds need to be planted at different depths, too! Some need to be planted an inch down, and others just need 1/4″ of soil on top of them.
3. Actually let your kids plant some of the seeds. I’d recommend letting them plant some of the bigger seeds. If you make the holes and let your kids drop in one seed per hole and gently cover them, they’ll be so excited that they got to help you plant!
4. If you start your seeds indoors, keep the seedlings somewhere out of reach. Since the Twin Cities have a relatively short growing season, we started about half of our garden indoors (in kids’ yogurt cups!). We used clear plastic storage tubs to make simple little greenhouses and stored them up on a folding table in the brightest room in our house. Fortunately, we were able to use a baby gate to keep the kids (mainly our two-year-old) away from them. You can also put them in a room with the door shut and use artificial light. Or even get a portable greenhouse and set it up somewhere your kids can’t get to.
5. Let your kids track the growth of your plants. One thing my kids love is seeing how much our plants are growing. They’ve quickly noticed that not all plants grow at the same rate. We planted our celery seeds in the beginning of March and our broccoli seeds in the beginning of April, and our broccoli quickly grew taller than the celery plants! You can have them actually measure them, or even take pictures and put them together in a slideshow so they can see a little time lapse.
6. If you’re going to have them help transplant seedlings you started indoors, don’t let them do it alone. Baby seedlings can be pretty delicate. It’s easy for kids to unintentionally harm them when getting them out of the containers or putting them in the ground. Show them how to be gentle. Maybe let them dig the holes for each seedling and help water them right after they’re planted.
7. Let them water the plants. Watering is a super easy thing kids can do in the garden. Get a sprayer head for your hose and then show them how to use it to gently water your plants. Super easy and it can be a daily chore for them!
8. Don’t let them weed the garden unless plants are well established. Weeding the garden when the seeds are still sprouting or plants are pretty small is pretty risky with kids! I would recommend waiting until your plants are well-established and several inches tall before you let kids weed. And even then, make sure they’re supervised.
9. Set some garden rules. Our kids aren’t allowed in the fence on their own, they aren’t allowed to step on the growing rows, and they aren’t allowed to run in the garden. Depending on the size of your garden, you might come up with some different ones.
10. Get your kids their own gardening tools and gloves. A few years ago when we had a tiny little garden box, we got our older two kids their own set of gardening tools and gloves. They’re everywhere in stores this time of year, and they make your kid feel extra special when they have their own mini tools and gloves like Mom and Dad. And bonus, less time scrubbing dirt off their fingers when you go inside!
11. If they’re very young and you just want to get them started, give them their own space, either in the garden or somewhere else. Our kids have their own little “garden” (a metal feed tub from Fleet Farm) where they are allowed to plant anything they want. It’s a great beginner garden. It is also an easy way to teach them the basics of growing plants before getting them started in the big family garden. You can even set aside a row or a corner of your garden that’s just for them!
12. Teach them what ripe fruit and vegetables look like so they don’t pick them before they’re ripe. While we’re on the subject, teach them how to pick ripe fruit and vegetables. And make sure they do it while supervised. Kids often get excited when they hear they get to pick things from the garden. They often end up picking anything they see (especially peas and raspberries).
13. When you use fruits and vegetables from the garden in your baking or cooking, let your kids know. Or better yet, have them help you! My kids are always more inclined to eat healthy things if they’ve helped make it from the start.
14. When it’s time to clean up the garden and put it to bed for the winter, have your kids help! My kids loved pulling plants up out of the ground last year after we’d harvested everything!
Gardening with kids is so fun and rewarding. I hope these tips help lots of other families who are into gardening! No matter the size of your garden (whether it’s a patio garden or takes up half your backyard) or your gardening skills, you can use these tips to involve your kids and teach them how fun it is to garden!