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Gardening with young children

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:

  • Containers to use: yogurt cups, egg cartons, purchased pots or flats

  • Location: near sunny windows in warm rooms or under fluorescent lights

  • Media: find a good soil mix, preferably containing compost or you can mix your own!

  • Water: make sure that the soil doesn’t dry out, but don’t water too frequently either (usually every other day or every 3rd day works well)

  • Which plants?

  • 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

  • Tips for successful transplanting

  • Put plants out late in the day and water in thoroughly

  • Firm up the soil around the seedling

  • Many plants can be buried up to their first true leaves (tomatoes, peppers, especially)

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!

  • Keys to successful garden germination

  • Good bed preparation

  • Maintain soil moisture until germination (tough for long germinators – up to 14 days - like carrots, but easy for peas, radishes, and beans which germinate in a few days)

  • Which plants?

  • 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!)

  • pulling weeds

  • 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

  • Example: tomatoes with 1) raw with a little salt 2) in fresh salsa or 3) in soup

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