Gardening with Kids: 5 Foods You Must Try!

The amazing thing about gardening at home is that your kids will shock you with how much produce they will consume, straight off the vine.  Once you get it inside, wash it and put it in a lunch box, all bets are off.  But while they are standing there, half-naked in the garden, harvesting gorgeous little tomatoes, they can’t resist devouring half of what they pick.  Watching my kids eat “sooger nap peas” fresh from the garden just about makes my whole summer.

“Soogar nap peas” fresh from the garden.  Photo credit: LJR Images.

We don’t have any particularly green thumbs in our house, but the fantasy of what our garden could be is so strong that we have been attempting to garden for years — in pots, plots, the yard, and window sill.  Through trial and error, we have discovered five super simple things that our kids love to cultivate with us.

TOMATOES  

We grow all kinds, but the kids’ clear favorite are the cherry varieties.  Last year, the sungolds were the best.  The year before that, the sweet cherry 100s won the day.  The year before that, it was the yellow pear tomatoes.  Just grab two or three varieties (plants, not seeds) and plant them all.  The kids had a tomato and lemonade sale last summer that was a big hit with the neighbors.

Step right up!  Photo credit: LJR Images.

 SUGAR SNAP PEAS 

Sow in spring, just after last frost, and harvest in morning.

These are quick to sprout and early to mature, so you will be eating them long before your tomatoes come along later in the season.  We like to get the climbing kind, not bush beans.  Watching them snake their way up a trellis is half the fun.  These are best grown from seeds.  Sow them deeper than recommended or the bunnies and chipmunks will eat the seeds.  We grow them mainly to eat in the yard, so we almost never cook them.  We do have one pretty fabulous salad suggestion with snaps, radishes, sumac dressing and feta, but let’s be honest.  Our kids are more likely to start spontaneously cleaning than eat this salad.  Because it’s not all about the kids, try this salad.

Our favorite way to enjoy our tomatoes and basil.  Photo credit: LJR Images.

LETTUCE 

We usually pick up a few plants on our first run to the green house in the early spring.  We get them in the ground early and try our luck with the frost.  At the same time, we plant a couple of rows of arugula and spinach seeds.  We “thin” these by eating baby sprouts and greens every few days after they get started.  Our kids blow our minds when they eat greens from our garden, because lettuce was on the “never would I touch that in my wildest dreams” list before we started growing our own.  Now, they just nibble a bit here and there, but it’s a start.

POTATOES 

Who knew growing potatoes was fun???  We buy the spuds at our local garden store and plant them after the last frost.  They grow big, beautiful, full plants relatively early in summer before they become obnoxious, gangly, and start to fall over.  We refuse to stake them, so we ultimately end up mowing them a little bit by accident when we do the lawn.  When the plants start to die (which is normal, it has nothing to do with our mowing habits), we freak out and think all is lost.  Then, we start digging and uncover little golden globes of awesomeness in the dirt.

Finally harvesting the pumpkins in September.  Photo credit: LJR Images.

PUMPKINS

 Plant late May or seed inside 2-4 weeks before last spring frost.

Last fall was our first success with pumpkins, so don’t give up if they fail at first.  We had two gorgeous green (but ripening to orange) pumpkins, a little smaller than soccer balls.  They were even candidates for carving in October!  Pumpkins are tricky because of the declining bee population, so you may have to help with pollination.  What an awesome lesson for the kids, right??? Just google how to pollinate pumpkins, and go for it.  (Of course, this is also a great reminder that you can plant a pollinator garden with your kids as well, which is a story for another post.)  Pumpkins need a lot of space, but if your backyard is miniscule (like ours), don’t let this stop you.  Our one plant is in an area about 6’x6′ and it gets lots of morning and mid-day sun.

A few other things we do?  We love to grow scallions, herbs of all kinds, and jalapenos.  We attribute a good deal of our success to the compost we work into the garden each year.  We have a bin, and we buy worms.  Freaked out? Then just buy some good dirt at the garden store.

Hard-Bargaining Gardeners.  Photo credit: LJR Images.

Worried about not having enough space to garden?  We have several different areas in our backyard that we use for veggies.  We mix in flowers, especially marigolds, because they are attractive to pollinators while allegedly deterring some garden pests.  As long as you have some good sun, you can plant anywhere.  You don’t need to section off a giant rectangle with perfect 90 degree angles.  But, in case you’re wondering, we do have a cool planter and we also had a raised bed with paver edges put in a couple of years ago.  Still, much of our garden grows along our back fence without anything fancy.  Okay – maybe a little bit fancy — we picked up two of these trellises for our sugar snap peas.  And our tomatoes grow so high that we are always on the lookout for new ways to manage/stake them.  Give us your suggestions.

Happy gardening!

About the Authors
Dani & Cindy are two moms in Massachusetts.  They have never blogged before, so give them a cheer and a like.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Parent Talk will be partnering with Needham Community Farm to offer classes in the Spring.  Check the Parent Talk events calendar for updates!

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