As a young boy, I spent a lot of time helping my mom in her garden — make that “gardens,” plural. We had an abundance of them scattered around the yard.
There were flower gardens in a rainbow of colors, an herb garden with a variety of plants whose leaves would regularly work their way into our food and a collection of clay pots on our front porch where Mom would maintain a revolving door of plants that made her smile. And, despite the fact that we lived just two short blocks from farmer friends who shared with us the freshest vegetables imaginable, we always grew our own tomatoes, with occasional beans and carrots thrown in for good measure.
It was in those gardens under the warm Nebraska sun that I learned many things about nature, science, cooking, responsibility, nurturing, plant diseases and bugs. And I also learned a lot about my mom, so it was only natural that I wanted to pass on my love for gardening to my own three kids.
Pique Their Interest!
If you’re a novice gardener or stretched for time and space, fear not! There are easy ways to introduce kids to the wonderful world of gardening, beginning with a few easy projects:
- Potato Sprouts: Stick four evenly spaced toothpicks around a potato (two-thirds of the way from the top of the potato) and suspend it in a clear jar with the toothpicks resting on the rim. Fill with water to about half inch from the rim (change the water regularly). Your children will marvel when sprouts start to grow in a few short days. Eventually, they can have their own DIY gardening experience when they help you plant the sprouted potato in a clay pot or paper bag that can be transplanted into the ground outdoors.
- Mini Herb Gardens: Indoor container herb gardens are an easy way to teach children about growing plants. Your local garden store can help you determine what will work best in your home, but some of the easiest will probably include basil, mint and thyme.
Tip: When selecting herbs to plant, choose those that you can integrate into recipes your children enjoy, like spaghetti sauce, pizza or salsa!
- Egg Carton Seedlings: Every young child should try growing plants from seeds. I’ve found it easiest to plant seeds in cardboard egg cartons. It’s environmentally friendly because when the seedlings are ready to transplant, just separate the individual egg holders with scissors, and let your child plant the entire thing, since the cardboard will eventually disintegrate.
Tip: When selecting seeds for gardening projects, let your child participate, but narrow the selection to plants that are easy to grow. Marigolds and sunflowers are a good choice, and kids’ eyes explode when they see how big a sunflower becomes! Nasturtiums are also interesting because they attract hummingbirds! As far as vegetables, try planting beans, radishes, squash and lettuces.
Give Them Responsibility
Under your watchful eye, put your kids in charge of watering and caring for their plants. Take photos regularly, and over time, add more responsibilities to their gardening experiences. To this day, one of my most memorable moments was being allowed to grow what felt like a field of pumpkins and sell them on a little table in our front yard!
Tip: Be sure to decorate a kid-size apron for your little farmer. They’ll love wearing it. And it’s an easy-to-remember place for them to keep all of their kid-friendly gardening tools.