Gardening is a beautiful, and delicious, activity for kids and a great way for them to learn to appreciate veggies. Here’s a list of the best veggies to get into the ground in early spring and tips on getting the kids involved.
If the forests are the lungs of our lands, as Franklin Roosevelt eloquently put it, then consider gardens to be little sighs of joy.
Gardens bring light to cloudy mornings, comfort at quiet moments and happiness to the table. When grown as an activity with the kids, gardens also yield a year’s worth of memories, delivered in Technicolor brilliance from a vase or a plate.
Indeed, not only is it true that a little dirt never hurt anyone, but in the case of gardening, a little dirt can heal a lot of small daily woes. These woes can range from too much digital screen time to childhood veggie suspicion. Getting the kids to help in the garden is a long-term, practical way to introduce them to new veggies and nurture a respect for them. Kids may even learn to (yes!) like them.
Treasure Chest of Encouragement
As explained in “Rodale Organic Life”: “Your garden is your treasure chest; you and your young gardener – exploring together – can discover its priceless bounty for an afternoon’s delight or for a lifetime.”
That lifetime of loving the soil can begin today, in early spring. In many parts of the country the ground is soft enough to turn and take seed. Where it is not, seeds can be started indoors in small pots.
The trick is ensuring the kids have positive experiences – we don’t want them to get discouraged. That means planting a mix of fast-growing and slower-moving veggies, so the kids can measure success. It also means teaching them about the importance of sun, water and certain insects.
Another trick to success is starting a garden at a manageable size, with just a few varieties. You and your little gardeners can add more once you see how the plants come in.
Choosing Your Seeds
It’s important the kids feel invested in the garden, so ask them to help choose which plants to grow. Following are some early spring veggie suggestions:
Lettuces: Mixed salad greens like the hot sun, but they do not require it all day so pick a place with partial shade. They also grow rather fast, which is rewarding for the kids. They can enjoy them into the fall.
Peas: If planted in April, green peas and sugar peas will be ready to eat in May, according to Urban Farmer. Few veggies are as much fun to pick and eat right off the vine, or to shuck at the table.
Pole beans: Since they grow on a vine, pole beans free up space and add a dimension of interest. Be sure the air temperature is relatively warm when planted, and sow a few varieties over a period of days, for a continual crop.
Peppers: It’s best to start peppers indoors and then replant outside when the chance of frost is gone. Peppers do not take up a lot of real estate and can produce in high numbers, so they’re a good bang-for-buck veggies.
Carrots: This is a veggie that teaches patience and rewards it richly. Plant carrots by April and you’ll have a crop in early summer. There’s something exciting about pulling on carrot greens and seeing what comes out of the ground. Sometimes the carrot grows into two, like a pair of legs!
Spinach: This is a cool veggie, literally. Spinach likes lower temperatures so you can plant it as soon as you want. It will produce for you until it gets hot out, so be sure to harvest it before the temps rise too much.
Beets: If you get the beet seeds in the ground by April you should be enjoying them by early summer. And don’t forget – the greens are good for eating, too.
Among the many beauties of growing veggies is they open doors to learning other things – about weather, pests and cooking. When your veggies are ripe the kids can help pick and prepare them in recipes you’ve chosen together.
One last piece of advice: Don’t be too particular. If the kids drop a few too many seeds in one hole or their rows aren’t straight, let it go. The goal is to grow something together, and that includes confidence as well as food.