Creating a Green Kids' Garden

by Julie Snyder

Create a kid gardenGrowing plants gives kids an excuse to play in the dirt. It also offers great opportunities for exercise, fresh air, and good food. Growing produce can expand a child's choice of foods; after all, if you plant it and tend it, then certainly you should eat it.

Working in a garden plot reconnects a child to the land. Today's time outside might involve digging in the dirt, watching a lizard or brushing the dirt off a carrot and munching it. Kids come to the garden wired. They calm down as they work in the soil.

As you toss around the idea of a vegetable garden, your thoughts might revolve around the economy. Growing your own food can conserve resources like water and fuel. It can lower your food costs. It can improve your health.

Going green, even more than just the color of leaves, could have taken you down the garden path. You wanted to control the types of plant foods and pesticides. Maybe you'd rather use natural plant foods like worm poop, fish emulsion or composted manure. Your priority might be controlling bugs with crop rotation or companion planting Your concern could be GMO seeds. Turning over the soil, planting carefully chosen seeds and tending your plot naturally makes gardening a rewarding endeavor.

No matter how the gardening bug caught you, it's time to pass your passion on.

Get Your Kid Hooked on Gardening

Bring out the most effective kid bait -- your enthusiasm! Look through books and catalogs. Explore those tiny creatures together. Examine the wonders of plant life. You might wonder how. Don't worry; I have a few tips to lure your child to the garden and keep them coming back.

Start 'em early: Backpacks and slings aren't just for hikes. Bring your baby along as you pull weeds and water. Share the fruits of your labor if your little one has started solids. Who wouldn't love a fresh, juice strawberry right off the plant.

Involve kids from the start: If you start your seeds indoors, let your child play in the dirt, fill the pots and plant some of the larger seeds. If you plan to buy plants, make a trip to the plant nursery. Together, pick out plants for both your gardens.

☸ Kid tip: Save your eggshells. Fill each half full of moist soil. Place two seeds in each eggshell. Finish filling it with soil. Press down gently. Store it in an egg carton. You might need to add water every two or three days. Once your seeds sprout and have two or three leaves, take them to the garden. Dig a hole just a little deeper than your eggshell. Crumple it a tiny bit and plant. The eggshells turn soft and decompose in the soil so your plants roots can grow right through it. At the same time, the eggshell helps provide food for your plant.

Kid-sized tools and gloves: Once your toddler shows an interest in the garden provide a pair of kid-sized gloves and appropriate-sized tools. You mini-gardener can work alongside or in a garden of their own. You'll want to add sun screen, hats and sunglasses on your list.

Plant a strawberry bed: Use everbearing varieties for fruit all season. Kids can spend hours hunting for strawberries, while you can work on some of your more delicate gardening tasks.

Add outdoor toys: A sandbox or small playhouse make the garden a friendly place. Hang an easel from the fence or a kids' table and chairs nearby.

Just get dirty: You had a bath planned this afternoon anyway, so soak down an unplanted part of the garden and build mud pies or

Make gardening a daily activity: Kids thrive on routines and by spending time in the garden each day, your patch will soon be beautiful and bountiful.

Your Options

You don't need a huge space to get started gardening. A deep pot can be a home for lettuce and herbs.

You might want to take the garden one step further. Plant in a deep window box. Now there's root space and room for carrots, tomatoes and compact vines.

A raised bed can define a child's area. Now you can add a few more things. Do keep the space small and simple. A good rule of thumb is one square foot of garden for each year. Your 4-year-old can tend a 2' by 2' foot garden. Your 6-year-old should do fine with a 2' by 3' or 1' by 6' patch.
a small veggie garden

Get Ready to Garden

Gardening teaching kids about soil and plants. You can add other lessons like "what's a good bug?" or "which plants like to be friend?"

Prepare the Bed

First, cultivate the soil. That means you remove all the weeds and break up the dirt until it's nice and soft. Plants like soft dirt. It's easy for their roots to grow.

Now, form a neat row of dirt piled just a bit higher than the ground. You can enclose the raised bed with wood or bricks. Raising the garden a few inches gives plants more space for their roots and allows the water to drain. Plants don't like to leave their feet in the water.

Next, amend your soil. You can make the dirt better by adding compost. Last year you might have put the old plants, leaves and food scraps in a pile. Over the months, bacteria ate the old plants and leftovers and left behind food for the new plants. If you didn't make a compost pile, you can buy bags at the nursery. Stir the dirt and compost together. Now you're ready to add seeds or plants. You might give the soil a boost with castings from your
worm bin.

Choose your plants

Start with a few varieties that grow quickly like radishes, carrots, beans, pod peas and onions. Tomato plants add instant satisfaction. Although slow to mature, the blossoms and little tomatoes set on quickly. Draw a row with a hoe and have your child add seeds, spaced 1/2 to 1 inch apart. Cover and pat them down, marking the ends of each row. Plant onion sets 3 to 4" apart.

☸ Kid tip: Did you plant beans out in your garden? Save two seeds. Set those on a damp paper towel. Place the towel along the side of a glass jar so you can see the seeds. Add about 1/4" water to the bottom. Now set your inside garden by a window. Check every day. If the towel is dry, add another 1/4" water. In just a few days you'll notice your beans begin to germinate. They split, then send down roots, and finally leaves grow. Your seeds outside will be doing the same thing! Now you can see what's happening without digging up your plants. Because outdoors is cooler, you garden might lag a day or two behind your jar garden.

Tending the Crops

Garden etiquette: Even toddlers can learn the "playground rules" of the garden, such as where to walk. Other chores a tiny tot can take on include watering from a small watering can and holding the basket while you add the tomatoes. They're apt to be quite proficient at sampling that same tomato or a fresh green bean.

Watering: Depending on your natural rainfall and temperature, your child might need to water every day or as infrequently as once every couple weeks. Which do you think would most appeal to your gardener -- a set of ditches, a watering pot or a sprinkler?

Weeding and chores: At first kids tend to play in a garden, grazing on produce, exploring and digging. With their own small space and a bit of encouragement, the daily trek to the garden becomes a time of tending. Your child's growing two gardens. One you can see through the window. The other's growing inside -- patience and stick-to-it-iveness!

Your garden's in and thriving. Are you ready for a harvest party!