Growing your own food has not only nutritional benefits for your family, but a pleathera of life lessons, and amazement for young children. Planting our own seeds and growing a garden is a family affair. It provides us with wonderful healthy produce all summer long, as well as enough to can for the winter. The kids benefit in so many ways from being a part of the gardening process from start to finish.
When our first baby arrived, I began to look at how our family eat very differently. It was never really something that I thought that much about until I had a precious little life that I was now responsible for. Somehow, when I was working and pregnant I didn’t have time to think or worry about what we were putting in our mouths. As soon as I had a child I did a complete 180 and realized that not only what I was feeding him was a big deal, but our health as a family was too. I began gardening when he was very small in an effort to have organic and nutritious food for all of us to eat. I by no means have a green thumb, at all, and knew very little about how, when and where to plant things. Our first garden was not very successful as having a newborn and working full time took president of tending to the garden. We grew mostly weeds and maybe a few pumpkins and cucumbers. Disappointing, but a valuable lesson. Had I not made the attempt I would not have learned and done better. The following year was better. I planned ahead, and made the garden more of a priority. We successfully grew carrots, kohlrabi, tomatoes, and much more. It was at this point that I realized how valuable our time and effort was for my son. He was always right there in the garden next to me. He loved every second digging in the dirt and was amazed with the first vegetables to grow. All I could think of was how much wonder and amazement the whole process must have held for him. He would run out to the garden and happily pick tomatoes right of the vine and sit on the deck swinging his little feet and eating the juicy red treat as if it were an apple coated in candy! What an amazing sight! That was the moment that I decided that gardening was well worth the trouble.
Fast forward a few years, and he still does the same thing, only with his little sister by his side. Last years garden was such a success that the kids and I made a vintage looking DIY Farmers Market sign for the entrance. You can also see how we made the DIY farmers market sign tutorial here if you would like to make one for your own garden. The kids have always been an intricate part of growing and caring for the garden. Last year was the first time that we attempted planting seeds to prepare our own seedlings for the garden. I normally just planted seed straight in the garden or bought seedlings from a local green house. Growing seedlings is a great way to save money, and an even better experience for the kids. Learning about how seeds grow and what we need to do to care for them is a great lesson in responsibility and the science of how things grow. They are never too little to start learning about either of those things. In prior years we have used egg cartons to grow seedlings, but sprang for some biodegradable seed starters this year because we had a gift card from our local hardware store thanks to some great friends.
Every step of growing seedlings is an adventure for the kids. From picking out seeds at the store to transplanting plants into the garden the kids are involved. First we piled in the car with our list of things that we needed for this years garden. I had already made a plan for the garden and knew how many rows of each plant we wanted. I try to stick with fruits and vegetables that I know we will really use and that we all enjoy. No sense in growing something that we won’t use (i.e kohlrabi from our 2nd garden). The kids enjoyed helping to put the seeds of choice into the basket at the store. Once we had our supplies we headed home to start planting seeds.
They each got a couple of containers to plant in and we began planting. I filled bowls with soil and let the kids use measuring cups and spoons to fill their containers. This step is fun for them and gives me a chance to prepare everything else as they are busily playing in the dirt. If there is one thing I have learned when it comes to gardening with kids, is that they move fast and being prepared before they are involved is important. I use Popsicle sticks to label the seedlings. The kids put them in the pots as I write on them and as the seeds are placed in the soil. I also label the actual pot using permanent marker because the sticks never stay where they belong, never.
We then take turns planting one type of seed at a time. This step is best done supervised so that there aren’t 20 seeds in each pot. Last years garden taught me a lot about planting with toddlers. I would plant a row of seeds, then another, and by the time I was done the marker sticks were all in the same spot, leaving me confused and unorganized. I actually planted something right over the top of our carrots, because I had no idea where they were. We got two veggies growing poorly in the same row. From that point on I made it a necessity to mark everything really well and make sure the kids understood how important it was to know where everything was. They are getting older now, and are much better helpers than last summer.
They did a fabulous job this year, being patient and following directions. Once everything was carefully marked and organized we put the plants in a window seat in the house that gets lots of sun. This time of the year it becomes our make shift green house. The kids are in charge of checking on their plants and watering them when needed. The first couple days are always fun as they wake up and run straight to the window to see if anything has grown yet.
The absolute best way that I have found to keep things clean and watered well (but not too much) with the kids are these awesome little drinking cups. We were given these as a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law and they couldn’t be more perfect as mini watering cans for the kids and their seedlings. They are called Sip-A-Mugs and are basically a covered cup with a straw attached.
They are so easy for the kids to hold and pour without drowning the plants. The water comes out of the straw at a slow and steady pace perfect for the kids to water each little plant perfectly. I have tried watering cans, and we end up with pools of water and a general mess. I love these so much for the kids. They can be run through the dishwasher, and are a great mess free solution to the kids helping water plants. My sister-in-law said she found them at Walmart for about $1.00 each, but I have seen them at K-Mart as well for $1.50. Way cheaper than a watering can! The first day that the kids see their plants sprout is always an exciting time. They run through the house excited that they have grown something on their own. We always talk about how they are helping the plants grow strong by watering them and investigate how each plant looks different. When it comes time to plant the seedling in the garden this year, you can be sure that they will dig each and every little hole, and proudly transplant their plants into the ground.
As the years have past, through trial and error I have learned more and more about the best ways to plant, water, and care for the garden. I started out knowing nothing about growing our own food and have progressed over the last few years to having more than enough fresh produce all summer long. I have learned to blanch vegetables, can vegetables, and can our own amazing salsa and spaghetti sauce using all vegetables from our garden. It is a considerable amount of work, but the benefits are priceless. Every moment that the kids and I are outside together working in the garden is a little slice of heaven, and I love that they enjoy the fresh natural foods that are a product of our hard work and planning. If you are going to garden and have kids, get them involved and make it fun. Let them paint pet rocks to hide amongst the plants. Help them learn and appreciate where their food comes from and give them the joy of growing and eating something that they planted. Star as big or small as you want. Just a couple of flower pots with planted vegetables can yield a great experience and awesome produce. My best advice is to be as organized as possible and do the best you can with what time you have to devote to it. Learn as you go and don’t be afraid to try new things. If you would like to start a garden, have a plan and be prepared, have patience with your kids and remember that there is nothing more rewarding than spending time with your kids and giving them knowledge that will last a lifetime.
You can read all about making Rockin Pet Rocks For the Garden here – A great activity for the kids and adorable decorations for your garden!