One of the best ways to encourage your kids to eat more vegetables is to grow them yourself! This can be a great hands-on activity for kids of all ages – and it’s something to start thinking about now. If you want to try gardening with your kids, make sure you have these materials:
You’ll need willingness to try… and a willingness to fail.
Gardening is really just trying to set up conditions for a plant to thrive and then relinquishing control. If you’re willing to do that, you’ll be okay when your toddler uproots your kale starts. (I’m preaching to myself here.) Few things are more rewarding than seeing a plant take off and enjoying the fruit of your harvest later!
An understanding that the weather can be unpredictable is mandatory.
If you’re new to gardening, I recommend starting with pots so you can respond when it becomes clear that your veggies aren’t getting any (or too much) sun. If a stretch of bad weather looms, you’re able to go full-on helicopter parent and move pots inside or under cover. Or, if some horrendous hail storm happens – and it sadly happens here with discouraging regularity, usually in late spring – starting over isn’t quite as overwhelming as replanting an entire yard of raised beds. (Don’t ask me how I learn this year after freaking year.)
Recruit your helpers.
Never plant a larger garden than you can willfully (and joyfully) maintain. There are so many ways to include your kids in the planting process and of course later when it’s time to water and harvest.
- If your kiddo is young like mine, you can dig the seed trench at the proper depth and lay out the seeds, then ask for their help covering the seeds with soil.
- If your child has good dexterity and fine-motor skills, you can also work on learning units of measurement, spacing the seeds out. You can make seed tape using a strip of newspaper or toilet paper folded in on itself and a paste of flour and water to act as the glue to keep the seeds properly spaced inside.
- Your kids can also help with mixing up the potting soil and compost and filling the pots, of course.
- If your child is older, they can use a ruler to determine the proper seed planting depth (usually between ¼ and ½ an inch, sometimes deeper) and seed spacing. If you’re planting in a pot, use the minimum spacing suggested on the seed packet, and give the veggies that much room on each side.
A convenient water source is an absolute necessity!
Don’t arrange your pots beyond your hose’s reach, or where you’ll have to lug a heavy watering can, etc. If you want your kids to help water, consider using smaller watering cans they can easily maneuver so plants won’t be drowned out, either. Small plastic pitchers or water bottles with a few holes punched in the lids are the perfect size to minimize messes and accidental plant drownings.
Get decent pots but the BEST soil.
If you’re going to spend money anywhere, spend it on the dirt. Find good, quality screened soil with organic matter (compost) – not dirt from your yard. Colorado’s soils are notoriously poor and sandy at best. I recommend a brand called Fertilome that you can often find in independent garden stores. The big box retailers like Lowes or Home Depot will carry brands like Miracle Gro. You can add a little compost to these soils if needed, but never more than a third of the pot. More compost or fertilizer is not better for the plants.
As for the pots, go simple. Your pot MUST have a drainage hole. If it doesn’t, don’t buy it, because no amount of Pinterest tricks or rocks in the bottom will keep your plant alive. Or, if that big glazed beauty is your soulmate, consider drilling a hole in it if the material can handle it. Plastic pots are great because they’re less heavy (especially with all the soil added). Terracotta allows the soil to dry out quickly and doesn’t like the cool night temps; any decent freeze can cause a terracotta pot to break. They also don’t stand up well to the danger of an overzealous toddler.
Depending on your level of commitment and desire for color coordination, you can find pots that suit your needs. I’ve found great pots at TJ Maxx and Marshalls, not to mention stores like Goodwill or the ARC. Costco has great composite pots. And local garden stores like Phelan Gardens on the east side and Good Earth downtown have amazing assortments of ceramic pots in all colors and sizes, not to mention knowledgeable staff and lots of seeds! Just remember that growing vegetables (and fruits) requires a large pot, so don’t skimp on the size.