Before we had our son, my husband and I had our cats, our pup, and our garden. We’d spend evenings in the yard grilling, feeding the chickens scraps from the table, watering, and tediously weeding the garden beds we had planted together. The smell of the soil, the feel of it on my skin, the satisfaction of yanking out those darn weeds from the roots. It was the best. Then pregnancy and the beginning of parenthood brought our gardening days to a sudden halt. But one day our son became 2, and the planets aligned. Behold! The garden is back, in full force, AND with that comes a whole new level of joy getting to share it with our son.
Here are some practical tips for gardening in Denver with your kids:
1) Plan on some casualties.
If your son is anything like mine, then impulse control is a work in progress. Plan on losing a few seedlings here and there, or finding he pulled your carrots not the weeds. It’s not the end of the world. Repeat with me, “This is NOT an emergency.” But, plant 4 rows of carrots just in case.
2) Amend your soil.
Loosen your soil using a shovel, hoe, or rototiller and add compost to provide much needed nutrients and to ensure the roots are able to spread. Your plants will only be as strong as the root structure they are allowed to develop.
3) Pick the right plants (ones you CANNOT screw up and that will feel worth it).
When buying and picking plants, stick with something safe for the novice…stay away from something that will suffer greatly from being blasted by the hose or stepped on. You also want to make sure it’s going to yield something worth working for. I like to suggest cherry or grape tomatoes. Give them full sun and lots of water and you’ll get crazy plants covered in little snacks your munchkins can steal right off the vine all summer. Definitely splurge for these at your local nursery or Home Depot. It’s way too late to go down the road of planting seeds for tomatoes.
Mint (or your favorite herb) is a fun one to plant, as well. Mint is a bit of a weed, so it will come back each year and spread if you plant it in the ground, so just make sure you’re ok with that. It grows great in a container too, if you prefer. It’s great to add to lemonades or ice tea (we make decaf sun tea around here). And it’s easy. You’ll find you wont be able to kill it if you try…
We’ve had great luck with planting jalapeno pepper plants. They aren’t ever super hot and we love to stuff them with a cream cheese and cheddar mixture, wrap with bacon, and grill. Peppers don’t like being dry… so make sure you let your littles soak them… they won’t complain, right??
4) Pick the right seeds.
Some vegetables are heartier when planted from seeds in my experience. Zucchini is one of them. Zucchini grows really well in Colorado and they are super versatile. You really can’t screw them up! Your tiny plants will show up quickly, and will get huge fast. Make sure you’ve got some space. Then keep an eye out for big bright flowers that will quickly grow in to huge zucchini when you aren’t looking. The kids will have fun peeking under the broad leaves to find the zucchini hiding beneath. Just be sure to water at the base of the plant rather than over top of the leaves; zucchini are prone to a mildew that will destroy the foliage and end your season quicker than normal. You can grill, sauté, and bake with it or make zucchini fritters (did you know you can even eat the blossoms?!). You can also freeze it for fall when you’re ready to fire up the oven for some lemon, chocolate, or traditional zucchini bread.
I also love growing carrots. They pop up quickly, they can be planted several times throughout the season and will even grow into fall. The best part is that you can leave them in the ground until you need them! No furious harvesting before the first (way too early) snow of 100 carrots you’ll never eat. When fall hits and roasts and hearty soups start sounding right again, we head out to the garden, and pull them straight from the ground, wash, and chop for dinner (or snacking while we wait). Until it’s cold enough for the ground to freeze, they are safe!
Although they aren’t edible, sunflowers are a great hearty from-seed option. There are a million varieties. They grow tall, and hearty, and you go from seeds to seedlings in days. Plant them outside in the ground in full sun and keep them moist. And don’t be afraid to cut them and bring them into the house so your littles can enjoy their hard work around the clock.
5) Let them do it all.
Give your kiddos a chance to till the soil, choose where to put the seeds, build the hills for your zucchini, dig and label the rows, sprinkle the seeds, pull the weeds, water, and the best part– harvest! The more invested they are in the process, the more likely they are to stay interested throughout the season, be excited for the next one, and celebrate all of the little delicious victories along the way.
6) Have fun learning together!
I love that my little guy is learning that weeds hurt our plants, that plants need lots of water and time to grow, and that sometimes a flower grows then transforms into a strawberry. He’s learning patience and hard work, and how to care for and respect living things. By choosing “high gratification” plants, he’s getting to see, quite literally, the fruits of his labor, as well as developing an appreciation of where his food comes from. We have a chance to talk about how hard the farmers work who grow our food year round. We also get to learn that if you trample your petunias they may not recover…
I have had to take a step back and accept that we may or may not see success with everything in our garden. I’m even re-learning that hard work pays off, but not without some casualties along the way, and that it’s worth it to me to offer this learning opportunity, even if it doesn’t turn out quite as planned (beets in the broccoli row, and onions growing in EVERY row…). But I do believe that the experience and opportunities that gardening together affords us, are totally worth it.
What do you love about gardening with your kids? Share your tips for us??