Growing the Garden Together
Now that it’s summer, I’m finally (mostly) done seeding and nurturing these tiny little plants, making sure none of my peppers or tomatoes gets hurt or hurts itself. I think this is my favorite part of gardening, just watching the plants as they constantly develop (much like my children), putting forth little peppers and hard round green tomatoes that gradually grow and ripen each day.
Although I do most of the work and heavy lifting for our modest backyard vegetable garden, it has been such a pleasure (yet sometimes a challenge!) to get my children involved in the process with me. No matter how old your kids are, or what phase of the garden you’re in, there are some really easy and simple methods I’ve tried to engage my kids in caring for and learning about where their food comes from. Plus, it’s helped me get them to actually eat their veggies!
(artsy picture from nzgabriel)
Make it Fun
Adding creativity to your garden is important. You can let your children name your new plants and create small signs for them by using popsicle sticks and permanent markers. One idea is to give all of one vegetable a name that starts with the same letter; for example, all the tomatoes could have T names. Your child will look forward to taking care of Timothy, Terry, and Tom the tomatoes. If you need more of your own specificity (if you’re like me and you have lots of different kinds of tomatoes), you can give each Timothy, Terry, and Tom a last name that will tell you what type of tomato it really is.
Add Some Flair
A bright and colorful garden will certainly be more likely to draw your child’s attention than a dull one. Paint the fence around your garden all sorts of colors and add some fun decorations, like a windmill or garden gnome. You can even buy an unpainted garden decoration from your local garden store and have your children decorate it. By adding colors and interactive elements, your kids can go out and play with the windmill or larger-than-life stone frog even if the plants haven’t done anything particularly exciting recently.
Dress the Part
Go shopping with your kids and let them pick out their own garden boots, rakes, shovels, and gloves, or get creative and make your own with your child’s personality in mind. When it becomes time to work in the garden, your little one will be excited to get outfitted in their own gardening gear. (Even dogs get dressed up for yard work!)
(beekeeping dog photo credit Josh Kennett)
Give Them a Project
If your child is old enough and ready for the responsibility, giving them their own project to focus on, like taking care of all the pepper plants, is a great way to get them invested in their new veggie garden. Let them know that it’s their responsibility to water and take care of these peppers so that they grow big and hearty. Give them tips along the way, of course, and be there in case they need your help, but let them do all the work themselves so they can really see the impact they’re having on growing these plants. My youngest isn’t quite old enough for this, but my 8-year-old boy’s potted tomatoes are doing very well!
But Be Safe
As with any activity, it’s important that you supervise your children while gardening at all times. Make sure that they aren’t getting ahead of themselves by carrying shovels that are too big, trying to lift something that’s too heavy, or making a swamp of your yard with the hose. Also be aware of what you’re putting into your garden that might get onto your children’s hands or even into the food you grow! Garden pests can be tricky to get rid of, and it’s convenient to turn to store-bought pest control methods. Regardless of whether you use a commercial slug-killer or choose instead to use saucers of beer embedded in the ground (a surprising and surprisingly effective solution!), make sure you are aware of what your children might be handling.
Share Your Spoils
When it’s (finally) time to eat, make sure your kids taste a little bit of everything – they’ll probably be excited to taste what they’ve grown, and they might change their mind about liking some veggies! Have them help you prepare a salad or a stir-fry using the bountiful harvest. Also, the next time you go shopping for seeds to grow, make sure you involve the little ones. This will ensure that you’re planting veggies they like while having them involved and hooked from the get-go.
Gardening is a healthy and active project that your children will enjoy right along with you. It might make for a bit more work, but it’ll also be a LOT more fun. So what are you waiting for? Go out there and get your hands dirty!
(Preposterously adorable little gardener from Monica R)
About the author: Maya Rodgers is an avid amateur gardener and is so excited for her tomatoes and peppers to get ripe this summer. When she isn’t gardening and watching her kids grow, she tries to keep pests out of other people’s homes and gardens as a pest control consultant, whether it’s elaborate bed bug treatment or straightforward slugs and beer. To learn more, connect with her at http://www.petsandpests.com.