By Eve Adamson, welcometothetable.coop
There’s something about growing things that appeals to kids, and several casual studies suggest that when kids grow their own vegetables, they are more likely to eat vegetables. It was certainly true in my case. Decades later, my own son, who at 14 remains suspicious of most green things, finally became more open minded when his summer camp grew a vegetable garden.
If gardening is the way to get kids to eat more vegetables (not to mention spend more time with you), then why aren’t we all doing it? Even if you only have a small backyard plot, or room for a few containers on your deck or porch, you can get growing together. Gardening with your kids gives them many gifts. They learn where food really comes from. They learn how to work together with others toward a common goal. They learn practical skills. They learn how fresh food tastes. They learn the feel and smell of wet dirt and mulch. And they learn that they have the power to take something as small and full of potential as a seed, and nurture it until it becomes everything it was meant to be. Just like you are doing with them.
Here are some of our favorite fun gardening projects to do with kids:
Start your seeds and recycle at the same time. Toilet paper tubes are easy for small hands to manipulate. Plant tomato, pepper, pea, or bean seeds in tubes filled with potting soil, in early spring. Prop them upright in a tray or flower pot. When the seeds sprout, pop the whole tube into the garden after the soil is warm.
Salad in a Box
Any window box, bucket, basket, or other container with drainage at the bottom will do. Fill it with potting soil and plant a variety of lettuces and spinach scattered over the top. Press into place and water lightly. Keep the soil moist. When the greens sprout, trim off a few leaves each day to include in a salad. For kids who don’t like bitter tastes, butter lettuces are a good choice.
If your child has a daring palate, try growing mushrooms. Many companies sell mushroom growing kits that make it easy to spawn this fascinating fungus in a box at home.
A round container or a small circle dug out of your sod can become an herb circle. Plant basil, lavender, tarragon, thyme, and edible nasturtium flowers in concentric circles. Your child can sample the different smells and tastes, and help you decide which herbs to add to which foods.
Flowers & Fruit Garden
For some kids, fruit is an easier sell than vegetables. Try planting watermelons, cantaloupe, or honeydew melons, interspersed with native wildflowers, for a pretty and gastronomically satisfying garden experience.
If you have the space, give your child a magical-seeming, ephemeral playhouse. Any thin wooden pole or bamboo rod will work. For each teepee, put five or six poles, about 5 to 6 feet long, in the ground in a circle, approximately 3 feet in diameter. Prop or tie the tops together. Plant pole bean seeds around each stake. Water and mulch, then watch as each teepee leafs out, creating a private space just for small people.
Salsa Garden, Pizza Garden, or Spaghetti Garden
Devote your garden plot to a food theme kids can relate to. For a salsa garden, plant tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, onions, and cilantro. For a pizza garden, plant Roma tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil, spinach, or whatever else you like on your pizza. For a spaghetti garden, try tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano, and thyme.
Two or three pumpkin plants will sprawl and spawn just what you need for Halloween crafts as well as pumpkin pie, pumpkin butter, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin puree you can add to applesauce, smoothies, or even chili. Marigolds nestled between the vines make a prettier plot.
Find more ideas for gardening projects with kids and recipes for your harvest at welcometothetable.coop!