Summer is the perfect time to introduce kids to gardening. Vegetable gardens teach them about the relationship between the food we eat and where it comes from. Here are 4 ways to teach every age group about the fun of growing fruits and vegetables. You’ll discover that it’s easy to add a garden for kids.
Skill level: Easy
Time to complete: Ongoing; as much time, or as little, as you want to put in
Learning the basics: Ages 1-4
You don’t have to spend much to get the smallest green thumbs interested in gardening. Start anytime in the growing season by letting your child pick out her own inexpensive annual at the Garden Center. Help her plant it in a pot or in the ground, then give her a small watering can so she can help take care of it. Steer her toward varieties that bloom over a long period, such as lantana, geraniums (Pelargonium), or petunias. Scented herbs are also appealing.
If you spend time with children in the backyard, they will naturally start asking questions about what you’re doing. You can pique their curiosity by exploring plant shapes and colors. Let them gently touch leaves and flowers. Soft, fuzzy lamb’s ear (Stachys) makes a nice contrast to the large, rough leaves of maple trees. Help your kids count the plants in your yard that have sweet-smelling flowers, or count and leaves. Show them worms and insects, like ladybugs, that help a garden grow. Talk to them about not eating any leaves or berries without checking with a parent first, since some plants, or plant parts, like holly berries, are beautiful but poisonous.
Plant a bean teepee: Ages 5-8
Add a special hiding place in your garden for kids. Place tall bamboo stakes in a circle, spacing them evenly and sticking one end of each pole into the ground, to make the structure stable. Gather the stakes at the top and bind them with strong twine. Leave an opening about 3 feet wide, so kids can easily access their secret hideaway, and cover the bare ground inside the circle with straw or mulch, available in The Home Depot stores.
Now you can plant 2 or 3 seeds of fast-growing vines around the bottom of each stake. When the plants sprout, train them to grow up the stakes. Try edible plants like pole beans or scarlet runner beans, which produce brilliant red flowers all summer. When the beans appear, your kids can harvest them for eating.
Plant a pizza garden: Ages 9-12
Create a backyard pizza garden, planting in a big circle with different wedges, each devoted to different types of tomatoes that can be used for making pizza. Add herbs for pizza, too, such as thyme, oregano, basil and parsley. Look for a wide variety of Bonnie Plants, available at The Home Depot near you. You can start your pizza garden in late spring to mid-summer, at moderate expense. Start with plants in 4-inch pots, and your garden will be ready to harvest in a few weeks (the tomatoes may take a little longer).
Plant a vegetable garden for charity: Ages 13 and up
Either lend a row in your own vegetable garden or create a raised bed just for your teen. You can start from seeds in the spring, or, if you’re planting later in the season, start from potted plants. Sell produce to neighbors and classmates to raise money for a local charity. Contact your local food bank to see if they accept food donations, or join the national cause “Plant a Row for the Hungry. Heavy producers, like tomatoes, bush beans, yellow squash, and zucchini, will yield plenty of food to share.