Gardening with littles can seem a bit intimidating (you have so little time as it is when kids are young!), but also really worthwhile. Everything that goes into growing food are such natural activities for little people. Playing around with dirt and water, watching seeds magically sprout, and then magically form leaves and fruits and roots, yanking weeds, playing with wriggly worms, etc. And the most magical part of all is watching your kids happily crunching away on raw veggies straight from the garden. I talked with a Mom's group recently about some considerations for gardening with young kids and I wanted to share this information here as well. My best short advice is to start small with just of couple of things you know you like to eat and that will be relatively straightforward to grow. Once you've seen success, you'll be ready to plan for more the next year. Or if you find that gardening isn't for you, we'd love to have you as a CSA member or see you at our farmers' market stand :)
Start seeds indoors for your best chance of garden success
Starting plants in small containers indoors to later plant out in the garden gives you so much more control vs. trying to germinate everything outside. It's pretty easy and fun to start seeds on your own, but you can always buy seedlings from your local farmers' market or garden store. Here are some ideas and considerations if you decide to start your own:
Cool weather veggies (all 4-5 weeks from seeding to transplanting – can start TP in April): lettuce, cilantro, broccoli, kale, swiss chard, beets
Warm weather veggies (can start TP in mid to late May): tomatoes, peppers, eggplant (8-10 weeks from seed to TP), zucchini, cucumber, melon (3-4 weeks from seed to TP), basil
Seeding directly in the garden
Some plants can't be started indoors and should be seeded directly out in the garden. Typically these are fast germinators and the seeds are large, which makes the job of seeding a little easier. These vegetables include some big favorites among the 5 and under crowd (peas and green beans!), so definitely don't discount these ones!
Cool weather crops: peas, radishes, spinach
Warm weather crops: green beans, edamame, carrots
Where to get your seeds?
You should start with high quality seeds for the best outcomes - good germination and healthy seedlings. We like Johnny’s Selected Seeds and High Mowing Organic Seeds, but there are tons of other sources, especially for the home gardener. Buy organic seeds when you have the option, because these seeds were raised in a way that is similar to what you'll be doing.
Types of home gardens
Raised beds: Raised beds basically involve building up the garden soil bed 4 or more inches above the surrounding soil. This can be done in the absence of 'supports', as we do in our 100ft farm beds, but often home gardeners choose to support their raised beds with wood, bricks, stones, or whatever works. Raised beds give your crops good drainage and are really key in a climate like ours where we tend to get a lot of rain, often in short periods. You can build up a really nice garden soil by layering lots of organic matter (leaves, compost, straw, etc.) into your beds. It takes a little time to digest these components down to good soil, but is worth it for the fertility and bountiful harvests you'll realize!
Containers: If you are short on space and/or time and just want to try growing a couple of things, containers are a great way to get started. Any large garden pot will do, but make sure you start with really high quality soil - even pure compost. The most difficult part of gardening in containers is that they dry out really quickly, so you need to be vigilant about watering. Certain crops do better in containers than others (herbs are typically quite easy), but you can get creative if you are motivated. Tomatoes and peppers can do well in containers, but may need some additional fertilization in the form of compost or composted chicken manure (Chickity Doo-doo)
How to involve kids in the garden
most kids love to just be outside digging in the dirt while you are doing the 'real' work
planting big seeds like peas, beans, even potatoes
watering (but not too much!)
picking ‘worms’ off of kale and broccoli
harvesting - pulling or picking ripe fruit/vegetables for younger kids, snipping greens or herbs for older kids
composting kitchen scraps with a worm bin
Our favorite veggies for little ones and ideas for preparation
peas, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans, kale, broccoli, carrots, herbs
A lot of kids love to eat veggies raw straight from the garden
Try putting together a taste testing of 1 vegetable prepared 2 or 3 (or more) different ways