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Garden Lifestyle

Vegetable Gardens for Children

For more years of my life than not, I’ve been raising children to love gardening

  • Photo/Illustration: Ruth Dobsevage
  • Photo/Illustration: Ruth Dobsevage
  • Photo/Illustration: Ruth Dobsevage
  • Picture by Meadura under the creative commons attribution license.
    Photo/Illustration: Meadura

For more years of my life than not, I’ve been raising children. My husband and I have four kids and one sugar baby—I might as well be a Pez dispenser. I haven’t even managed to keep my children out of my bathroom, much less my gardens.

So I had to give the short people gardens of their own in self-defense. I’ll openly admit that when it comes to my plants, I can be extremely protective. And by protective, I mean selfish and controlling. I love my kids as much as the next mother (probably), but the day a toddler watered my zinnia’s leaves and pulled the tiny yellow flowers from my tomato plants, the lines were drawn.

I called a halt to the clumsy, sticky fingers in my garden and gave them some prime real estate in another part of the yard for their own garden creations—and garden they did. I gleaned (stole) as many ideas as I could from other harried gardening moms about how to keep children focused on their own projects.

Through the years, we managed to do quite a few really awesome things in the kids’ gardens. Vegetables were always in my plan because the kids could actually put these things in their mouths without me screaming like a banshee, flying across the yard, and buckling everyone into car seats for a trip to the hospital. They could actually eat what they grew—who knew? Below is some of the cool stuff we did with vegetable gardens.

Bean-pole tipi
No matter how many of these we grew, bean-pole tipis never got boring. This year will be the first year that we’ll grow one with our three-year-old sugar baby.

All you need is six to eight bamboo poles or pieces of thin scrap lumber that are six to eight feet long. The lumber or poles can be tied altogether at the top with anything you can get your hands on. Then you stand the poles upright and spread the legs out evenly tipi style. We plant four of any kind of runner beans (not bush beans) around the base of each pole and let the beans grow up. They form a live cover around all the poles—instant tipi fort!

Kid-friendly vegetables

  • Pumpkins have to be the hands-down favorite veggie for kids to grow. There are hundreds of different sizes and shapes, plus the kids love the double-duty they play as jack-o’-lanterns. Kids can grow the miniatures like ‘Jack Be Little’ or ‘Boo’ in containers on a sunny porch or patio. There’s even a variety of pumpkin called ‘Cinderella’ that grows into the shape of Cinderella’s coach. Our family also tried our hand at growing a monster pumpkin that we were sure would be entered in the biggest pumpkin contest. We planted ‘Atlantic Giant’ seeds and watched as they took off. We pinched off all pumpkins but two, and one became enormous. We all felt pretty pleased with ourselves until we realized we had absolutely no way of moving this beast.
  • Gourds are always fun, and some can be used for birdhouses when they’re dried. Luffa gourds can also be dried and then used as sponges later. Kids gravitate to cornfields. There is just something incredible about picking ears of corn. It also comes in all different colors. Let them try their hand at growing popcorn!
  • Berries are always a welcome sight for kids. When we lived on some acreage, near a creek below our house wild blackberries grew. I would send the kids down to the patch with baskets to collect the blackberries for jelly. They always came back up claiming that there just weren’t very many. Of course, their hands and mouths were deep blue.
  • Carrots give back a huge return in wide smiles and big eyes. The first time children pull a carrot they grew from the soil, the look on their faces is priceless. Here’s another veggie that has a wide array of sizes and shapes. Carrots come in a rainbow of colors.
  • Tomatoes are easy to grow—practically foolproof for kids. Don’t forget to grow some miniature tomatoes. ‘Sun Gold’ is super sweet, and kids can pop them in their mouths right off the vine.
  • Potatoes are not only easy to grow but a blast to harvest. After you have harvested some for dinner, let the kids poke sticks and things in them to make potato heads. I know, it’s a waste of food, but it’ll keep them out of your hair while you’re cooking.
  • Radishes come in colors like violet and lavender. How cool is that? Break out the seed catalog and let the kids pick which varieties they’d like to try. Another great thing about radishes is that they mature in a hurry. The kids will be harvesting them in a month.
  • Don’t forget the sunflowers. Let the kids grow the huge Russian Mammoth sunflowers; they’ll get leaves as big as their heads! When the plants begin to die, the kids can hang the seed heads out as natural birdfeeders.

It’s the craziest thing—I started teaching my own kids about gardening and somehow ended up teaching other people’s kids about plants and gardening. I’m telling you, it’s the only way to keep them out of my garden. I mean, obviously it can’t be because I enjoy it.

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