Even though I am by no means an expert, gardening is something I truly enjoy. Naturally when I had kids I looked forward to sharing this love with them. The first spring after my son was born I was able to have a garden. When he got to be a toddler it was hard to keep him from demolishing any progress. When we had our daughter it was even harder to keep up with. Throw in our pets and a neighborhood full of rabbits and it felt darn near impossible to grow anything. Over the last few years I have learned some things by trial and error. Now I have a few tips that may help you make gardening with young children and toddlers more successful.
1) Expect to get dirty.
Not every day is going to be dirty. Some days seeds or plants just need watered or checked on. The dirtiest days are when you are prepping a garden spot, planting, or weeding. So I do those things on days when everyone needs a good scrub down. That way I expect and accept everyone to be filthy and don’t fight it. In fact I encourage my kids to get as dirty as they can on days we are prepping or weeding. It seems to directly correlate with how much fun they have.
2) Expect casualties.
It sure is disappointing when you have cared for a plant over time and then find it has been torn from the ground before it is ready. With small kids though, at some point, this is going to happen. I have learned we cannot grow flowers in the backyard where my kids play AND expect the flowers to go unpicked. THEY JUST CANNOT HELP THEMSELVES. The flowers are too pretty for them to resist.
One year when we were getting our garden plot ready, the kids helped me prepare the ground. We hoed and removed all the grass and weeds. I was so proud of us. As the seeds we had planted started to sprout, the kids pulled those up too. They thought they were “helping”. We didn’t grow much that year. They were a tad too young to follow my direction and understand which sprouts to leave alone. This led me to discovering tips #3 and #4. . .
3) Grow plants that are prickly.
I don’t only have to contend with 2 tiny people trying to pull up the fruits of our labor. We have 2 goofy miniature dachshunds who think our garden is their best frolic spot and a neighborhood full of rabbits who are constantly snacking.
I found that the best things to grow have prickly plants. Not that the vegetable is prickly, but the plant itself. This deters little hands and feet and mouths from grabbing or trampling the plants. What has worked best for me is summer squash, zucchini, and okra. Plus okra is super hearty and grows well in our clay rich, Oklahoma soil.
4) Plant herbs out of the way.
If you are just beginning to garden or beginning to garden with your kids, non-wood herbs are the best way to get started. Basil, cilantro/coriander, chives, parsley, and dill are what have been most successful for us. These are easy to grow and produce a lot.
One year the kiddos and I tried planting these herbs in big pots. Then I put the pots out of reach until they needed water. Also, last year instead of planting flowers in the front flower bed we planted herbs. The kids helped me plant the seeds and water them everyday. It is not a spot where the kids are ever left alone or our dogs can get to. Planting in the pots and in the front worked out perfectly. The herbs grew very well, and it was much easier to control.
5) Let the kids help with planting and watering.
I got my kids their own little gardening tools and watering cans. Having their own gardening supplies has helped them to own part of the process. They use their tools to help plant seeds. We check on the soil everyday. When it is dry they make trips with little watering cans to water the plants. I am more weary about them helping with weeding and harvesting. They do “okay” with that now, but I cannot turn away for second.
6) Keep it simple.
If you are just starting to garden or garden with kids I suggest keeping it small and simple to start. Then you can build on what you do and grow each year. For us right now what works is having herbs in pots, planting herbs in the front flower bed, and clearing a small spot for a few rows in the corner of the yard for vegetables. This little bit still produces a lot of food and gives my kids a routine of something to care for. Plus it is a lot of fun and feels manageable.
Since I am a novice, do you have any gardening tips or tips for gardening with young children to share? I would appreciate any help I can get!