“We seasoned our dinner with herbs from our garden, and topped off our salad with our homegrown tomatoes,” the neighbors said. Not us! Steak on the grill and frozen french fries over here! I tend to think I don’t have the skill — or the time — for a fancy, productive garden, though I do think gardening with kids is a great experience, and one I try every year. I used to think about it a lot, envisioning us creating a specific section in our yard for a garden, letting the kids help choose what we’d grow, wondering how we’d keep bunnies and deer and squirrels away, watering and weeding throughout spring and summer, and then picking our veggies together, marveling at the wonder of it all. But, realistically, with my full-time job, our general lack of skill in landscaping and keeping plants alive, and my silly monkeys anywhere in the picture, it wasn’t going to happen. I’ve found a simpler way to tackle gardening with kids, though — perfect for spending time together, learning, teaching responsibility, and being proud of what we grow. Here are xx simple steps to simplify gardening with kids for you . . . including a few that should make you smile.
- Buy planters (or reuse some from a past year) and potting soil. Planting in pots seemed much simpler to me than designating part of the yard as the garden. Less prep work, less maintenance, less weeding, and easy to clean up and put away at the end of the season.
- Decide what to plant. I like to bring my boys to a nursery with me, so they can each select something special to grow. I think if it’s something they choose on their own, they’ll be that much more committed to watering it, and ultimately more excited to eat it! Over the years, we’ve moved from planting seeds to transplanting seedlings — it gets us a jumpstart on the growing!
- Search all over for the gardening shovel. You know — the one legitimate gardening tool you own, the one you haven’t used since you planted last year’s garden. Realize the kids left it across the street when they were digging for worms with friends. Ask them to go get it. Listen to them swear they looked everywhere and it’s not there. Realize it doesn’t matter because they’re going to use their hands anyway.
- Get everyone excited because this is an annual tradition you do with the kids. One kid will fight you and say you’re mean and that he’d rather just go play. He suffers through one photo (for the blog) and then you decide it’s not worth the battle, and you let him go play. So this year, I guess I’m gardening with two kids rather than three.
- Watch the boys fight over the big shovel and argue over who will put the potting mix into the planters.
- Fill the planters with soil. Note that this may be just as frustrating as baking with kids, and watching the flour and sugar land all over the counter.
- Dig small holes to put the plants into. This is the part that would have been done with that fancy gardening shovel if it had been found.
- Ooh and aaah at the root structure as you’re transplanting the little plants from the containers they came in to the planters. Talk about what the roots are for, how they work, how cool they look. (CHECK! Learning opportunity success!)
- Fill in the soil around the plants. This is most fun, and actually easiest, if done with the kids’ little, curious hands! (dirty hands = a day well spent)
- Water!. Watch the boys fight over who will fill the watering can, and then watch said watering can overflow. It is now so heavy nobody can lift it, so dump some water out onto the ground to lighten it up. Next, provide guidance so the kids water the plants enough but not too much. We’ve had years the plants end up flattened by their first, ambitious watering experience.
- Answer 23 times “when will the vegetables grow?” Maintain patience while doing so.
- Establish a routine. Water every day! Watch the plants grow! At least one of my boys waters the garden with me every day, as we check on the progress of how the plants are growing.
- Enjoy! We get so excited when a cucumber finally grows, or green beans appear everywhere. Teach the kids when to pick the fruits or veggies, and then enjoy them as a great snack or part of a meal.