Sowing the Seeds:: Tips for Starting a Spring Garden with Your Kids

Sowing the Seeds

When I was a kid, my family lived in a small, modest house. Your typical starter home. Nothing fancy. But our backyard was amazing. The house sat on a quarter acre of land, which was mostly all backyard. To my five year old eye, the green grass seemed to stretch on forever, and the tall pine and oak trees towered above me, impossibly high. This yard was perfect for games of tag, chasing our two labs, and just about any sports game my brothers and I could think of. But best of all, my mom had plenty of space for backyard gardens. 

Every spring, my mom would plant rows of tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, and cucumbers. Those were her staples. Then, she would experiment with carrots, potatoes, onions. One year, she tried beets, Swiss chard, and strawberries. Not everything would grow to her satisfaction, but she was never discouraged. Every spring, my dad would till the garden, and away she would go. 

And I absolutely loved helping her. 

Cultivating My Love of Gardening

When I was a kid, eating veggies was an absolute chore. I didn’t like much of anything, except cucumbers and tomatoes, and occasionally green beans. But when I was able to plant and harvest my own vegetables from the garden? Oh boy, I was excited to try any and all variations! Growing my own small pickling cucumbers was so much cooler than picking out the big waxy ones from the grocery store. Biting into bright red strawberries, straight from the vine, tasted worlds different from the berries in their plastic containers. Zucchini and yellow squash, sauteed in a little butter and salt, was the best side dish for a summer afternoon. And bright orange carrots, freshly pulled from the earth, smelled so sweet and fresh, it was hard to resist biting into them right there. 

My mom encouraged my help and my initiative in the garden, and truly, gardening was how I learned to love eating the rainbow. As an adult, I dreamed of cultivating my own garden and a love of veggies in my own children, but never found the time or initiative. However, while our house was being renovated after Harvey and we lived with my parents, my then 1.5 year old son was able to watch my mom begin her spring planting. She no longer has the big garden space, but she utilizes large whiskey barrels to continue her love of gardening. She patiently showed Thomas how to plant the seeds, encouraged his participation in watering everyday, and taught him how to tell when each plant was ready to harvest.

And to my surprise, he loved it! He ate every veggie she grew that spring and summer {what 18 month old loves to eat kale straight from the stalk?!} So, last spring, I decided to start our very own garden, where my son could plant what he wanted and enjoy the fruits, or rather, veggies, of his own hard work. 

Reaping the Benefits

The verdict? Successful. My son, and my husband and I, loved eating fresh fruits and veggies, and it was fun! However, the results were not the original, idyllic gardening situation I had originally imagined. I came away with a few tips to help me, and hopefully you, in beginning a garden with your kiddos. 

  1. Start small. This is probably the most important. Don’t go buy every fruit and vegetable you see. You may be pumped to get started and plant all the things, but when life continues on, you’ll get overwhelmed with watering, weeding, and maintaining your garden. Your original hard work in preparing and planting your garden will be for nothing. And while you’re starting small…
  2. Choose plants that are easy to grow. If this is the first time you are gardening, do not choose plants that are temperamental. Choose plants that require minimal effort on your part. Check out gardening websites {I like a month by month gardening list like this one} to figure out which plants grow best in your garden. Look at sun exposure, soil type, watering requirements. If you’re buying from a nursery, utilize the experts there to help you choose simple plants. Don’t overthink it though. The point of the garden is to learn and have fun, so my best advice in selecting veggies is…
  3. Start with veggies that you like. I know, this sounds like common sense. But I was tempted to try planting all the things that I wanted my family to eat- kale, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, beets. Instead, I focused on my staples, the things I knew my family would eat:: cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, strawberries, and cantaloupe. Let your kids’ preferences guide your choices. Better yet, take them with you to select your plants. My son was familiar with the plants we chose and therefore, excited to be involved in planting them and motivated to care for them to see results. 
  4. Experiment with your harvest! My tomato and eggplant plants produced about 5 fruits each the whole season. My strawberries died out quickly because I planted them too late. But my cantaloupe vines produced over 50 melons and my two small cucumber plants produced over 400 pickling cucumbers! I was soon over snacking on sliced cucumbers, so we experimented. We ate them in salads, pickled with tomatoes and onions, braised, blended into soup, and straight up pickled and canned. Plants are unpredictable and you never know how they will do, but if your harvest is abundant, don’t be afraid to try new ways to eat them! My son was surprisingly receptive to my experiments because he was invested in the process. And finally…
  5. Be aware of your season of life. This is right up there with start small. Last spring, I planted my veggies straight in the ground. This process involved preparing the soil, weeding and watering, and continuous maintenance of the garden area. It was fun, but time consuming. This spring, I’m expecting a baby at the end of March. Realistically, I’m not going to get out in the increasing heat to prepare and weed the garden all season, so I’m going for container gardening. If you’re in the midst of a busy season of life, go for a few pots of herbs on your window sill or a whiskey barrel or two of your favorite veggies. If you’re willing to invest a bit more time and effort, planting directly in the ground often yields better results {and is cheaper, as you don’t have to purchase containers and soil}. 

If you’ve been looking for the opportunity to start gardening with your children, now is the time! {No, really. Now is the time, because it’s spring time.} Choose a section of your yard or grab a bucket. Pick out seeds from your local nursery or just throw down some seeds from your favorite fruit or veggie. Weed, water, and watch it grow. Happy spring planting!


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