The Edible Garden : Gardening with children

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Children really love gardening. They love chasing earthworms, plunging their hands into the soil and especially being involved and being helpful. Getting children involved in planting your vegetable garden has the added benefit of connecting them to the provenance of their food.

Unleash the curiosity
Children are naturally curious, and their enthusiasm is infectious. They want to learn as much as possible about the world around them, so invite them into your vegetable garden.  Be prepared, however to overcome some initial squeamishness about bugs, spiders and getting dirty. City kids can need encouragement to roll around in nature.

Age appropriate tasks
To keep interest high, your child needs to feel important and have something real to do. They know when it’s just busy work. If you have seedlings to transplant, remove them carefully from their pot, but let your child dig the hole and plant the seedling inside. If you have seeds to plant, you should make the holes to the right depth and spacing, and let them pop the seeds inside. Older children can write plant labels and mix in soil amendments. All kids love to do the watering!

Planning together
The more your children are involved your vegetable garden, the more likely they are to eat the vegetables coming out of the garden. A vegetable garden is a great opportunity to give your children more responsibility. Let them choose some of the vegetables to be planted, or give them a portion of the garden that is theirs to plant whatever they want. Great vegetables varieties for children are ones that harvest early and often. Radishes, snap peas, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers are all kiddie favourites.

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Step outside
Your child’s involvement in your vegetable garden doesn’t have to stop at the initial planting. They can take charge of garden maintenance tasks like weeding, watering and hunting slugs, snails and other pests. Your garden’s greatest chance for success is your presence in that garden. Incorporating your vegetable garden into your family’s daily routine is a great way to spend some time outside together bonding and sharing. Plus the more eyes and hands you have in the garden, the better it will grow.

Time for harvest
A vegetable garden is a great way for kids to learn about how nature works and where their food comes from. When your kids are picking vegetables right out of the garden the harvest rarely makes it into the house! Let them know when the different vegetables are ready and how to pick them.

Step outside with your salad bowl and remove a couple of the larger outer leaves from lettuce, spinach, beet greens, kale and chard. Pick peas, beans and tomatoes when their size and colour suit your taste. For root vegetables, dig around gently with a finger to determine if the size is right, and grab the leaves and pull. How gratifying!

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Writer Byline: Tereska Gesing is the owner of Urban Seedling [www.urbanseedling.com], an edible landscaping and vegetable gardening service in Montreal. She grows 65 different kinds of vegetables, berries and fruit trees with her husband and two young children in her Verdun backyard. Find out more at www.urbanseedling.com