As the 2021 summer season approaches, I still wonder what safe activities there are to do with kids during this next phase of the pandemic. I am still looking for safe, outdoor, and (most importantly) fun activities for my kids to do this summer.
One thing we’ve always had on our property is a vegetable garden and it’s always also been the “kid’s garden” too. Over the years, we have expanded it and made more garden beds to accommodate a larger variety of plants. My kids are older now (6 and 4) and they can take on some of the gardening tasks themselves. This is especially great for me this year as I’ll have a newborn on my hands.
For those who have not ever had a vegetable garden, let alone done one with kids, where is the best place to start? How do you plant a vegetable garden with kids? What if you don’t have space for a full garden?
‘m here to give some tips and suggestions on how we got started. Plus, how we continue to make our garden an ever-growing summer tradition on our property. It’s an excellent way to have your kids engage in productivity at home while growing healthy, delicious foods.
What to plant in the garden with your kids
I’m not going to get into the very complicated parts of gardening. Still, there are a few terms that you should associate yourself with before getting started. For example, it’s crucial to know your hardiness zone. But what is your hardiness zone?
You can read more about what hardiness zone means here and even find out what your zone is. Basically, it’s a zone/number assigned to your geographic location. The fascinating thing about gardening is that every garden will be different based on where you live.
For example, I live in Vermont, USA. I know that my hardiness zone is 5a (which is different than our friends who live 10 miles up the road). This zone ID tells me that there are specific dates for when my garden will thrive, and there are very specific plants that I can grow. Sadly, I won’t have much luck with avocados or mangos, but I can grow pounds and pounds of green beans during the season.
Once you’ve determined your hardiness zone, evaluate the list of common garden vegetables and fruits you can grow with your kids. Make a list of the foods you know your family will eat. While growing radishes is very simple and fast, not all families love the spicy little root vegetable.
What do I need to start a vegetable garden?
There are websites and stores dedicated to gardening supplies. It will seem a bit overwhelming. But ultimately, you really just need a few things. Plus, you can probably find many of these things within your local community for free or cheap.
- Seeds: You will need to find some seeds. Before going to the store, ask a neighbor if they are planning on starting a garden. Perhaps you could share or trade seeds, or maybe they have some leftovers from last year. This is because you likely won’t need all of the seeds if you buy the packages at the store. When you’re just starting out, you won’t need tons of seeds if you want to experiment with different foods. You simply won’t have space (or time) to maintain all of those plants.
- Gardening tools: You might be tempted to buy the cute colorful kids’ gardening kits, but I’ve found that they are often poorly made and break after one season. Honestly, some of the best gardening tools I have are garage and estate sales. All you will need to start with are a few simple things:
- Shovels (large and small)
- Rakes (large and small)
- Gardening gloves
- Hose or watering can
- Soil: What’s the best soil for a vegetable garden? Dirt might be hard to come by where you live. I live in the middle of the woods and still find it hard to fill my gardens sometimes. If I’m ever in a bind, I always post to my local community forum before purchasing. I seek out anyone who has extra topsoil or planting soil that they want to get rid of.
Here are some other items that will make gardening with your kids fun and successful:
- Plant labels: DIY plant labels are fun to make and help the kids keep track of what is in the garden. We like to label and decorate popsicle sticks.
- Compost: My kids find composting fascinating. We have our own compost bin in the backyard, and they love seeing our scraps turn into something good for our garden.
- Sunscreen, hats, and long sleeves: We can’t forget the essentials to keep the kids safe.
- Picture books about gardening and how-to guides for kids: Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt is one of our favorites.
Best place to put a vegetable garden
There are many different ways and places to plant a vegetable garden. It will all depend on your unique living situation. Some of you might already have a garden in place; that’s great! That is exactly what happened to us. We had a garden bed made with some large pieces of wood and clean soil already in it. Now, every year, we add fresh compost and topsoil to freshen it up before planting.
If you don’t have a dedicated in-ground space, you can always use garden containers. We like to use containers like these nonwoven fabric pots for the simple fact that they can move around to various areas of our yard where we can get more sun. Plus, they are easy to store in the winter months.
But what if you don’t have a yard at all? A balcony vegetable garden and deck garden are just as fun for little kids. Remember, starting small is the way to go anyways. A patio garden shelf is a great place to start. Keep in mind that with such smaller gardens, you’ll have to stick with smaller plants (like herbs).
Other helpful vegetable gardening tips
- Start with an indoor herb garden for kids. I tried to keep this all relatively simple, but if it still seems a bit too much, start even smaller. My kids love finding small DIY herb planter pots or indoor herb gardens to work with until the weather gets nicer.
- Find a community garden. If you’re tight on space and time but are still eager to learn about gardening, see if there is a local community garden. These gardens are often made up of small garden beds that community members rent out. Usually, the other community members are eager to share their gardening experience and tips. It’s also an excellent way for kids to explore other gardens that have different plants.
- Make it interactive. My kids like to draw out a map of the garden before planting it. This helps them discover how many items we can produce and visualize it before they start sprinkling seeds everywhere.
- Visit a local farm or farmer’s market. Local farmers are always anxious to share their story and food-growing knowledge with young ears. Don’t be afraid to ask your local farmer about tips on starting a vegetable garden with your kids. They are the professionals and know what will grow well in your area.
- Keep a journal. Give your kids a blank journal to draw the plants or write different things they have learned along the way. Encourage them to write about what works and what doesn’t work in your specific garden.
Remember to have fun
I should note, there are going to be some bumps in the road. Some seeds might not sprout, some might get overwatered (or underwatered) and die, and some might produce some whacky results. It’s important to set realistic expectations and focus on the fact that your garden is a fun learning space for you and your family.
I’ll finish with a funny story from last summer regarding a “gardening fail.” It wasn’t so much a fail but a lack of planning towards the end of the season. We love to plant ground cherries. They are like tiny cherry tomatoes, but they taste like pineapple. They are covered in a husk that you have to peel.
We started with one plant, which yielded more than enough. We could pick pints by the day and we would be lucky if they even made it inside before we ate them all. Towards the end of the season, we kind of let the plant grow and neglected to clean it up. We ate what we wanted and left the rest of the berries for the chipmunks and birds.
Well, even they couldn’t eat them fast enough because the seeds from the fruit remained in our garden and the next season we had probably 50 plants ready to bloom! Even after thinning them out, we were still left with at least 10 plants—far too much for us to keep up with. So the chipmunks and birds were happy once again.
We learned our lesson on cleaning up plants that can self-seed. Regardless, every year we have a blast planting our garden with the kids. The kids love going out to pick fresh tomatoes for dinner and snack on green beans while playing in the yard. It’s truly one of our favorite things about summer, and we hope that you agree.