The garden connection

From the first sweet peas and strawberries of spring to the warm, juicy tomatoes of July and August, the garden my mother and father kept when I was growing up was a three-season focus for our family. My parents really involved us kids in every part of the gardening process. We even each got a little plot to plant whatever we wanted (I was a big fan of sweet peas). While the memories were not always fond (the dreaded task of picking fat, green hornworms off of tomato plants — yuck!), working in the dirt became such a part of me that starting a garden the moment I had access to a tiny yard was a no-brainer.

The benefits of involving my daughter in our garden was not something I totally thought through, but over the past three years I’ve become convinced that it is a big part of why she is so fond of her veggies. When my daughter, now 3, was little, we would pluck cherry tomatoes off of plants and pop them in her mouth. It wasn’t until she was about 2 that she could really “get involved” — and boy, did she ever! She wanted to dig, put in the seeds, pull weeds and eat EVERYTHING! I felt like it was then that she really started to understand that things we eat don’t originate in grocery stores. I actually started getting a little worried — every time we encountered an interesting plant, she asked if she could eat it!

The garden has also provided us with a context for discussions about insects, birds, pollination, and so on. It was so neat to show my daughter some ladybugs eating aphids off of our tomato plant. Our garden is always buzzing with activity, and you never know what you will see — I was both horrified and fascinated last summer when we found a giant praying mantis feasting on a live bumblebee!

A few garden tips:

  • Planning your garden is a cozy activity you can do with your child during the winter months. Start by discussing what you actually like to eat and let that guide what you choose to grow in the garden. If you have a sunny window, you can even start some types of vegetables indoors to get a jump on the season.

  • Let your child own a part of the garden. As I mentioned, growing up we each got a little section of the garden in which we could plant and care for whichever type of vegetable we were interested in. When my daughter gets older, I will definitely do this with her, as it taught responsibility and really got us invested in what we were growing. To further enhance the experience, you might consider helping your child find some recipes that feature their chosen vegetable, cook one together, and serve it at dinner!

  • Take the time to put a TALL fence around your garden if you live near a wooded area – I love the deer, but they can ravage a garden in 15 minutes.

  • Consider finding some smaller tools so that your child can “help” you dig and rake in the garden.

  • If you don’t have room for a garden, invest in some attractive pots. Pots make a great home for herbs, determinant tomatoes (look for “bush” variety), peppers, potatoes and even bush cucumbers. In many ways, they are easier than an “in-ground” garden; you can control the soil quality and move them around if you find they are not getting enough sunlight. Containers also can be easier for toddlers to work with because there’s no danger of accidentally trampling plants. Just remember to water regularly, as potted plants lose moisture quickly.

  • Not everything I plant thrives, and that can be disappointing to a little one. However, I have found a couple of “sure bets” — basil, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, jalapeños, green onions, and garlic (be sure to plant your garlic in October or very early spring). Strawberries are also a pretty surefire choice, but you have to be vigilant about picking them, as the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks are also fond of them!

  • Don’t forget the artwork! Whether your garden is neat and tidy or on the wild side, the natural beauty of a garden can help get the creative juices flowing. Here are just a few ways you can incorporate art projects into your garden:

    • Ask your child to draw a picture of how he or she envisions the garden.

    • Create a personalized stepping stone with your child.

    • Make pest deterrents such as mobiles, chimes, painted wood sculptures or a scarecrow. Shiny tin cans, shells, popsicle sticks and old clothes are all great materials that can usually be found around the house. If your project requires paint, just check to make sure it is weather resistant.

    • Make markers for each of your vegetables. Your child can paint rocks, tin lids, popsicle sticks, wooden spoons or shells. You can find many creative ideas online.

    • Decorate your pots by gluing on shells, stones, macaroni, popcorn seeds, and so on. Painting a terracotta pot is a little problematic if you want to use it for planting edibles because you would need to seal it on the inside and out, and the chemicals might leach into the soil.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.