I have two persistent challenges with my kids (well, more like two hundred, but only two that I’m willing to cop to today): getting them to eat good foods, and getting them to unplug and go outside.
Turns out these two problems, which look different on their faces, might have the same solution – and it’s right outside my back door.
Angela Sydnes, of Grow Inspired, joined us in The Motherhood, along with Cynthia Oberdier, Tracy Michele, Fran Fainman, Bean, Stephanie Girgen, and Rain Zeccolo to talk about growing edible plants, and getting our kids involved.
Some of you may be master gardeners already, and your toddlers are probably out back now preserving strains of heirloom tomato seeds as we speak. I am not quite a master gardener, by which I mean that I can kill a plant at twenty paces just by looking at it. So I really appreciated the panel’s advice on getting started.
Cynthia emphasized the importance of research: know what you want to grow, and how much room you have to work with. Tracy Michele chimed in on the importance of good soil, and knowing the pH of your vegetables and making sure your soil is right for them. And Stephanie reminded us that we don’t have to garden perfectly, we just have to garden. Get some good compost, mix it in with the top 6-8 inches of soil, and go.
If you do start from seeds, and you have little hands helping you, Bean recommends large seeds like peas, beans, and squash. Fran seconded the motion on squash, because it’s beautiful and easy to grow.
Rain offered that microgreens and cherry tomatoes are favorites of kid gardeners, as are herbs like chives. Herbs have the added advantage of being container friendly and usable in a wide variety of dishes, so kids get the pride of being able to contribute to a lot of meals.
Kids tend to like to eat what they grow, and Stephanie suggested growing what they like to eat: a pizza garden, with a Roma tomato plant, a green pepper plant, and some basil.
The panel offered creative suggestions for getting the kids out there in the garden in the first place. Angela recommended quick-sprouting seeds like radishes for instant gratification, and having a special space where the kids have their own tools, and can dig as much as they want. Stephanie says her little girl has her own tools that match mom’s (but not gloves–pointless, and “dirt doesn’t hurt”).
Rain said that theme gardens are great; in addition to the idea of a pizza garden, a salsa or tea garden might appeal. She also recommended getting older kids involved in the planning and mapping of a garden, especially if they like to draw. Tracy Michele also offered the idea of seasonal gardening in crates: microgreens and beans in the spring, for example, and Mediterranean herbs and eggplant in the summer.
Some of us have less-than-ideal spaces for our ideal gardens. If lack of space is a limitation, grow up – literally up. Many kid-friendly plants can be grown on trellises or fences: peas, beans, cucumbers, and even pumpkins. Too much shade? Stephanie suggested that “veggies grown just for their foliage, like lettuce, kale, spinach, can take more shade than veggies that need to flower and fruit, like tomatoes.” Angela also pointed out that many herbs grow well in shade.
Fran reassured us that “anyone can grow anything,” and the panel unanimously recommended herbs for those of us who consider ourselves black thumbs. Angela advised that over- or under-watering is an area in which people struggle, but that good fertilization and plenty of sun help. Fran recommended growing herbs with similar growing conditions together, and Angela offered this helpful information for growing cilantro in containers.
But Stephanie gave perhaps the most reassuring advice of all: ‘Gardening is all experimentation, really, even for seasoned gardeners. Mother Nature’s really the one in control, after all.”