Teaching Kids to Grow
By Lois Hole
Every year, I give away thousands of Tiny Tim tomato plants to children
who visit the greenhouse with their parents. There are a couple of reasons why I do this: one, it keeps idle hands busy, and two, it gets kids excited about vegetables and gardening. After helping bring one of these plants to fruition, children are actually eager to eat the vegetables they’ve grown. Fresh vegetables are so much tastier than those bought at the store that your children may never develop the distaste for vegetables that so many kids have.
I think that it’s very important to be aware of every child’s initial level of interest in gardening. If all they want to do is water and watch the plant grow, for example, then let their involvement stop there. There’s no sense in trying to push. When my mother introduced me to gardening, she never forced me to weed or water. She let me discover the joy of gardening gradually. Children like to explore on their own, so give them the freedom to do as much or as little as they want to in the vegetable patch. Let them observe you as you weed or lay down mulch; curious children are sure to ask why you’re doing certain things. That’s your opportunity to give them a chance to try tasks out on their own.
You don’t have to give a child a tomato plant to start them down the garden path; any easy-to-grow vegetable with interesting characteristics will do.
Try kohlrabi; it’s probably the weirdest-looking vegetable around, with its otherworldly collection of stems growing from a green or purple globe. Raw kohlrabi tastes like water chestnuts, a light taste that won’t upset picky young taste buds. It’s also easy to grow.
Carrots are another good choice. They, too, are easy to grow, requiring minimal attention to produce a heavy yield of tasty vegetables. Pulling carrots out of the ground was a special joy of mine when I was a child; there’s something delightful about unearthing the long, orange roots.
If carrots aren’t of interest to your little ones, give peas a try. They are a little more difficult to grow, but in my experience, peas are the one vegetable that kids love to eat more than any other. It’s lots of fun to pry or snap open the pods to discover the sweet seeds within. Plus, their meandering growth habit is fascinating to watch, whether they sprawl over the earth or wind their way through a supportive trellis.
Pumpkins and squash are ideal choices for more patient young gardeners. The sprawling vines and huge leaves make finding the bounty quite a treasure hunt come harvest time; my grandchildren love to join me when I go out to track down the ripe fruits. Squash can grow so quickly that you could measure the fruit each day and see a real difference in size! Both pumpkins and squash require a lot of space, though, and they have a long growing season, so keep this in mind.
I know they’re not vegetables, but if you’ve got the space, sunflowers may be the best plants of all to have your children grow. We had dozens of sunflowers spring up in our garden this year; I just love them. The flowerheads are bright and beautiful, and kids can look forward to a harvest of delicious seeds. As an added bonus, these flowers also attract birds.
When I was a little girl in Buchanan, Saskatchewan, my mother set aside a space behind the house for me to grow some sunflowers. Before too long, the plants were much, much taller than I was—big beauties with flowers more than a foot across. Mom and Dad used
to cut off the flowerheads for me; I’d walk around with one of these huge things in my hand, eating seeds from it like I had a bag of peanuts. I got pretty good at cracking open the shells with my teeth, spitting them out, and swallowing the tasty seeds within.
Sunflowers are easy to grow. Seed can be sown in the early spring; just give them a sunny spot, water regularly, and watch them shoot up to the sky. Smaller varieties like Big Smile feature full-sized flowerheads on shorter, 1 m plants, making them more accessible to children.
There are many leisure activities open to kids today, and that’s a good thing. However, I can’t think of an activity that provides healthier, purer fun than vegetable gardening.
Plants I Recommend for Children’s Gardens