Now that spring is finally here, we’ve been talking about what we will be planting in our raised garden beds this year. Growing things seems to be in our DNA here in Iowa and what kid doesn’t love to play in the dirt? Whether you are a green thumb or a novice, with little space to spare, you can grow a garden with your kids and have fun doing it! Here are a eight EASY steps for your family to help you get your garden growing.
1. Gather your resources.
Having your kids look through a few gardening books or perusing some on-line resources will help to inspire them and educate them about what will typically grow in our zone. You can head to the local library to check out a few books or some of our favorite on-line resources are Kids’ Gardening by Better Homes & Gardens, Square Foot Gardening Foundation, and Yard and Garden Online by ISU Extension.
2. Make a plan.
This doesn’t have to be complicated, but it’s good to have an idea of what you want to plant and where you’re going to plant it. I have the kids sit down with a piece of paper and lay out our garden. We somewhat stick to the “square foot” gardening rules and lay out the garden in a grid. If you’re using pots, it might be as simple as deciding how many pots you have and what will be planted in each.
Also, let the kids be creative in what they choose. We don’t have much space, but I’ve let the kids grow corn, watermelons and pumpkins. All things that need a big area to grow. It’s a great learning moment, realizing not all plants can grow in small or shady spots. In addition, it’s fun to come up with a theme like a “salsa garden” or “pizza garden”…whatever gets your kids excited to help plan the garden.
3. Go seed and plant shopping.
If you don’t already have a stash of seeds, this can a fun opportunity to go to your local garden center or nursery to seed and plant shop. Of course you can shop on-line, but we always enjoy our outings to the local nursery. The fact that they have a kid’s area and FREE popcorn, doesn’t hurt! Kids can touch and look over what they’re going to plant and if you have questions or concerns about what they’re picking out you can ask a gardening expert at the store.
4. Gather your tools.
Buy some basic gardening tools, such as a shovel and spade, for you and kid-sized tools for your children, or borrow from a neighbor or friend. When my son was about two he got the cutest little wheelbarrow and garden tools for Easter. OMG…he was so excited to help out in the yard with them! Now that he’s a tween, sigh, not so much. My daughter, on the other hand, is super in to gardening and loves having her own tools to dig in the soil. So, if you can afford it, I highly recommend providing your kiddos garden gloves, a hand spade and even a hand trowel.
5. Prep your site.
You want to start with a clean slate, so you’ll need to clean out any debris and pull all weeds before planting. Once you have cleaned everything up, you may need to add soil, compost or fertilizer. You might want to take a sample of your soil to a gardening center to determine if you need fertilizer or soil amendments.
You’re working to create a “blank canvas” for your garden. If you prep the garden well, there hopefully should be less work during the growing season and a better chance you’ll harvest more veggies.
Let the kids get dirty and take ownership of the garden by participating in planting. Be sure to follow the packet instructions for your seed, seedlings or plants. Last year I let my daughter and the neighbor girls loose and pretty much let them plant the garden on their own. (They range in age from 7 to 9). It was by no means perfect…we had a bumper radish crop and about four carrots…but they had a blast planting!
While planting, I think it’s fun to take a moment to look at the seeds and have the kids note the size, shape, color, etc. of them. It’s also fun to hand them a few seeds and see if they can guess what vegetable it will grow into.
Water the plants, pull weeds and watch your garden grow. My kids love to water, because they love to run the hose, and spray each other, the dog and sometimes me. It takes a bit more persuading to get them to pull weeds, so I suggest making a contest out of it. Challenge them to see who can pull the most weeds and then it won’t need to be done again for a while.
Harvest your crops, pick your flowers and enjoy! There’s nothing better than watching a kid get excited to pick vegetables they’ve grown themselves. And, actually want to eat them too!!! That’s what it’s all about, right? Helping them to learn where healthy food comes from. (And, that it can be a bit of work, but fun at the same time;)
What will you grow in your family garden this year? Let us know in the comments section below.