Veggie U believes that more than just plants grow by helping kids nurture a garden. By cultivating their curiosity about plants, you can help your child develop a love of nature and learn about the environment and the important relationship between plants and people. And gardening is a great way to get kids outside and to spend time together as a family.
There are a few things to consider when starting a new garden. Make sure that the chosen spot gets enough sun and is near to a source of water. The garden should be located where it is easily accessible to the child and can be admired by visitors, too. And if you’re starting a garden that will be maintained by kids, keep it small. About a foot square is easily manageable for most children (and their parents!).
If an in-ground garden is not an option, gardening in pots and containers can be just as fun! Just about anything that holds soil and has good drainage (a few holes in the bottom) can be used as a pot. Just make sure the size of the container is appropriate for the plant, a large one for a tomato plant, smaller ones for herbs. Fill your containers with a quality potting soil, add some compost, find a spot that receives six or seven hours of sunlight and get growing!
There are few things kids love more than getting their hands dirty. Learning about the soil in their backyard is the first step to making a healthy garden. Have them describe the soil’s color and texture. Is it sandy, or is it sticky clay? Dig a hole, fill it with water and watch it drain. If it disappears quickly, you have a sandy soil. A hole that drains slowly indicates the presence of clay. For either type of soil, adding organic matter (compost) to the garden is a way of feeding the soil and getting everything off to a good start. Explain that plants, just like people, need to eat and drink. Healthy soil grows healthy vegetables!
To a child, planting seeds and watching them grow is like magic. Children love to choose what to plant in their garden and should do the planting themselves. Of course, at Veggie U, we encourage the planting of lots of vegetables! They germinate quickly and can be eaten right from the garden. Encourage a child’s enthusiasm by planting seeds that mature quickly like radishes, beans, zucchini, pumpkins, carrots, lettuce, and peas. As a bonus, kids will often eat vegetables they have grown and would otherwise avoid.
Herbs are another great choice for a beginning gardener. They smell great and are interesting to taste. Starter plants of many different varieties are readily available from a nursery or garden center.
After the planting has been done, be sure to label the plants and planted seeds. Craft sticks (popsicle sticks) make great markers. Tending to the garden by watering and weeding are fun, ongoing activities that foster a child’s sense of responsibility and accomplishment. If possible, kids should have their own child-sized tools to use in the garden. Less expensive alternatives might include sturdy kitchen utensils for digging, measuring cups for scoops and a pitcher for watering.
Encourage your child to visit their garden every day. Something will always be happening! Searching for worms and bugs, measuring the growth of the plants, and tasting the veggies as they grow are some the activities that will keep kids busy while the garden grows. Keep a daily journal of words and pictures to record the garden’s progress. This is very popular activity used by Veggie U to keep kids engaged and interested. And it is really amazing how much the garden changes from seed to harvest!