The best way for kids to learn where their food comes from and the cycle of growing, pollinating and eating is to plant a garden with a child. In fact you don’t even need an entire garden. A couple of pots will do.
New to gardening?
If you already have a spot for gardening in your yard, you’ve done half of the work already. Your garden should be in the sun at least half of the day, have access to water, and good soil. You can add compost and topsoil to improve the condition of your soil. Pull out all of the weeds and turn over the dirt so that it isn’t packed tight and will be easier to plant.
If you are using pots, find a good spot for them that is sunny and close to water. There should be a hole at the bottom of the pot so that excess water can drain out, but that also means you need a plant saucer underneath so that water isn’t running out onto your deck or patio.
Let Kids Do the Work
Your kids can help you dig in the dirt, turn up the soil, or put dirt in the pots. Use small tools that are easy for kids to hold. Give them advance warning that they might find worms and let them know how beneficial worms are to good soil.
Best Plants to Eat
The joy of gardening comes from the beauty of the plant or growing something you can eat. Cherry tomatoes are great for kids. They grow quickly, kids can watch the blossoms turn into tomatoes and gradually ripen. Then they can pick the tomatoes and eat them right off of the vine. Choose a variety of tomato that is sweet and not made for sauce. The yellow Sun Sugars are good bets. Just read the label before you buy the plants to find out what taste to expect.
Pole beans are also a good option. They grow fast, climb up poles, and dangle the beans to make for easy picking. Kids can even help make a trellis for the beans to grow on. Good options for growing include the Rattlesnake Pole, Lazy Housewife Pole and Purple Potted Pole. You can start beans indoors and then plant outside once it’s warm enough. Make sure to read information on the seed package or the seedlings at the story to make sure you are buying a plant that will produce the beans that you want.
Best Flowering Plants
Marigolds, Nasturtium and Morning Glory grow fast and produce pretty flowers. They can be started from seeds or are usually easy to find as seedlings in stores. As a bonus, the smell of Marigolds help keep aphids and other insect pests from tomatoes.
Planting flowers that are native to Maryland will reduce the work you need to do since they thrive in the local climate and soil. They also provide a source of nectar for butterflies and birds, which means you can enjoy the beautiful flowers as well as the visitors to each plant. Monarch and Swallowtail butterflies enjoy Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly Weed and Joe Pye Weed. These beauties should bloom year-after-year.
Care After Planting
The work isn’t done after the seeds are in. Teach kids how to water their plants, looking for signs of dryness. Weeds? That’s a lesson in constant observation and carefully pulling out the offenders.
Enjoy watching your kids tend their plants and enjoy the edibles that are produced. For more information about native plants check out these resources from University of Maryland.