Typically I don’t encourage my kids to get dirty, muddy, grubby and sweaty. But when it saves me money and helps them eat their vegetables–I’m all for it! By lending a few helping hands to our annual garden planting, my kids gain so much more than just dirty fingers. They learn about different plants and how they grow, they gain responsibility, and they think it is so amazing to eat the fruits of their labor… even if they are vegetables!
Once the frost and cool temperatures have gone for good (usually anytime after Memorial Day), our garden adventure typically begins with a trip to a small, local, greenhouse. Our favorite is Floral Acres in Antioch. The florists always answer my mile long list of questions, give my kids free flowers, and carry my purchases to my car for me. Their plant variety is diverse and unique, and my kids love smelling the different herbs and flowers. (The resident doggy, Bandit, is another plus!) Some of our favorite varieties to take home are Roma and Brandywine tomatoes, sweet peppers, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower and lots of herbs like basil, rosemary, and even edible flowers.
Once my kids have chosen their favorite flowers (and I have a box full plants), we head home to play in the mud. Since I’m a little type A, I give my kids their own containers to plant the flowers and herbs in. You can use old sand pails, cottage cheese containers, or even old jars. It is important to put a layer of packing peanuts or rocks in the bottom of the container to allow the water to drain. Then we add dirt (we use the organic sand/dirt/compost from Thelen’s in Antioch), our lovely plants, another layer of dirt, and a healthy sprinkle of water. This year we also have planted some seeds in containers so that my kids can experience the growing process from the very beginning. And yes, my daughter just threw a handful of seeds in her pail of dirt and covered it up… here’s hoping they grow! I also have a larger plot of earth in the backyard that is tilled into rows for my vegetables.
Then begins the long wait for the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor. While seemingly tedious, the ‘patience’ phase does teach kids about responsibility and persistence. My girls each have a watering can, and they love slopping water all over my porch to water their little pots. As far as my garden goes, we have permanent soaker hoses snaking through the plants that is on an automatic timer. These days my mom-brain can’t remember to keep one more thing in this house alive!
Finally the day arrives when our little plants become cauliflower and zucchini. It’s a daily treasure hunt to search through the leaves and vines to discover what the garden has given us each day. Suddenly broccoli and eggplant are exciting to eat because we have grown and picked them with our own hands. Not to mention how much time and money we are saving when we can ‘grocery shop’ in our own backyard–all of which is totally worth the dirt, mess, and bit of extra laundry.
What are your family’s favorite gardening activities with children?