Now that I am an adult, I’ve been herb and veggie gardening for several years. Every spring, I look forward to planting a few items so that I can watch them grow, gain pride in my achievement, and most importantly, save money on fresh produce (because, let’s be honest, we can’t always go to the farmer’s market!)
When Andrew was born, I knew I couldn’t wait to share my childhood gardening experiences with him. Last year, he was still a little too small to “get” it, but this year, he is so receptive to it and interested, and I hope that his interest continues to grow over the years and he gains a sense of pride and accomplishment like I did.
Three weeks ago, we planted some tomato and pepper seedlings that my parents brought back from their favorite garden center, and Andrew and I planted them together. Andrew watched and “helped” me put them in the dirt, and each day he walks me over to the little garden and points out the “mato” and “peppa.” Just recently, we got three blooms on the tomato plant, and he asks about that too. I am sure to tell him that the flowers will make tomatoes, and that once they are ready, we will eat them. I’m not sure that he understands 100%, but I am aiming to build a foundation to teach him sustainability and explain to him where his food comes from.
For kids, gardening is FUN while also being educational. In order to make the experience more fun for Andrew, I got him a simple “kid sized” set of plastic gardening tools from the dollar store. If your child is a little older, you can even get children’s versions that are great at places like Home Depot, Lowe’s, or even Target and Walmart. Andrew loves “digging” with his plastic shovel and uses his little watering can every day! I know that my little boy isn’t the only one who likes to play in the dirt. Something as simple as putting seeds in a yogurt cup full of dirt can be a great activity with your child, and a few days a week, you take time to water the plants together and watch them grow!
Even if you don’t have a huge yard or lots of space, you can still have a veggie or herb garden. Our garden is a 3×3 plot that my husband allotted. Let your child have their own “pot” or space that they can care for. You honestly do not need much space! Once, I used 5 gallon buckets to plant my garden in: on the top part of the bucket, I planted herbs, in the bottom, I made a hole and planted tomatoes and peppers. Believe it or not, it was successful! Two summers ago, I harvested enough cucumbers and basil that I had 3 large freezer bags full of pesto cubes, and I ate cucumber salads for two months straight. We grew parsley and some cherry tomatoes, too, but sadly, the birds would often get my tomatoes faster than I could harvest them! My point is, you don’t need any fancy equipment or even a big plot of land. You can grow your own herbs or veggies in pots if you want.
Starting a garden can be simple. For the herbs in our garden, we bought seeds at the dollar store (Dollar Tree sells seeds for $1) for cilantro, parsley, dill and basil. Since Andrew has yogurt nearly every day for breakfast (it’s great for sneaking in vitamins, y’all!), I saved several of those cups, and we planted 3-4 seeds in some potting soil in each cup. Once those seedlings are large enough, we will move them into pots so that we can have a little container herb garden. This is super easy for anyone to try, and believe it or not, basil and cilantro are fool proof herbs that will grow like crazy during the summer as long as you keep them watered and in full sun. You can also grow green onions simply by taking a bundle that you have purchased at the market, cutting the white bottoms off, and planting them in the ground. You can continually harvest the green onions, and they will grow right back!
If the idea of growing your own food is a bit daunting, perhaps consider a pot of flowers to care for with your little one. A great idea would be to find a flower that attracts butterflies or hummingbirds. (Penta, Purple Coneflower or Milkweed are all great). Let your little one care for it by watering it, and then keep your eyes peeled for pretty butterflies and hummingbirds!
Have Fun and Learn!
Curious about what plants are easiest to start with a little one for the maximum results? In my experience, basil, cilantro, green beans and tomatoes are all pretty easy to get started and generally produce results well. These plants are all hardy and will still give you fruits and herbs to harvest all summer long. No matter your child’s age, be sure to tell them about seeds, dirt, sunlight and water and how it helps the plants grow. If you can check books out at the library or use online resources to help teach them, do so! You will be amazed at what they can learn!
Once your herbs and veggies start producing, you can teach your little ones about where their veggies come from and most importantly, let them help you in the kitchen. It is almost guaranteed that if your kids helped in creating their dinner, they probably will eat it! If you get a lot of tomatoes, cilantro, and basil, you’ll be able to make the freshest salsa and caprese salads around AND your child will have helped you in the process. How’s that for an accomplishment?
If you are still not sure if you have what it takes to start a garden, there are lots of resources available online as well as locally. NOLA Baby & Family recently ran a feature that included a list of local kids’ gardening programs you can check out. And Jennifer just told me about Longue Vue’s Kinder Garden (ages 18M-3 year) program so I can’t wait to hear about her experience and give it a try with Andrew. City Park’s Growing Gardens (ages 6-9) is also a great program for older kids to learn about what it’s like to be a gardener, try new foods, and even bring fresh fruits and veggies home! This program is offered two Saturdays a month at their botanical gardens.
If you aren’t sure about what to plant and where, the LSU Ag Center site has great information throughout that is tailored to gardening in our area. I have referred to their Planting Guide frequently over the years when I wasn’t sure what was the best plants for my needs. Their 4-H Site for kids is also a great interactive resource for your child to use and learn!
If you are looking for general information on gardening projects with your kids, there are also great online resources at Kids Gardening, Gardening with Kids and School Garden Wizard. All of these sites offer gardening guides, projects, and learning activities for growing fruits, veggies and even flowers.