Starting Your Kid’s First Vegetable Garden
Maybe you were lucky enough to grow up in the garden, or maybe you’re a parent determined to give your kids an experience that you didn’t have. Either way, exposing children to the garden sows the seeds of important life lessons about health and responsibility.
Introducing kids to gardening at a young age has been proven to hold a myriad of benefits for childhood development. A collaborative study by Ohio State and Cornell University has found that children who grow their own vegetables at home are five times more likely to eat vegetables at school lunches.¹
Read on to learn more about the many benefits of gardening with children, and which plants to include in your kid’s first garden.
4 tips for planting a kid-friendly garden
Planning your child(ren)’s garden is going to look a little different than any other garden you’ve planted. Consider these tips before you finalize any plans:
Grow vegetables that your kids will eat
Before you even start ordering seeds, why not ask your little one(s) what they want to grow? This garden is for your kids, after all–so you might as well set them up for success from the very beginning.
What vegetables and fruits have you noticed your child eating? What colors and flowers have they expressed interest in? Better yet, ask them directly what they like the taste of and maybe show them pictures of different plants to see what catches their attention.
Make the workload manageable
Another good piece of advice when starting a kid’s garden is to keep it small and manageable.
Consider these questions before you start building (or buying) anything: how old are your kids? Are they involved in extracurricular activities? Are they overloaded with homework?
Chat with your child about how much time they can commit to their garden and decide on just a few plants that they have the time and interest to maintain. You’ll be helping, of course, but unless you want all of the work to fall on you, check in with your child (and yourself) about how much time and effort you all can reasonably take on.
Assign realistic responsibilities
Set aside an entire raised bed or a corner of your garden just for your child to work and play. Establish clear boundaries with your child over what is his or her responsibility to minimize confusion and maximize the fun.
Weeding, watering, and pest management are three areas where kids love to take control. Give good instruction in the beginning and always supervise, but have grace with your children as they learn the difference between seedlings and weeds and proper watering techniques.
Make a game out of picking June bugs and Japanese beetles off of your crops, and maybe pay your kiddos for an especially large bounty. Let children help with the harvesting since this is where they learn to reap the benefits of their hard work.
Use child-sized tools
Take some time to think about accessibility when planning your kid’s garden. Will your child have an easier time working in containers and raised beds or a row in the field? Even if all you have to work with is a container garden or a windowsill garden, that’s plenty enough to entertain your child and teach them valuable life skills.
If you’re creating space for your child to garden, make sure that you have tools to fit your child’s hands. Gloves are especially important, and you might consider investing in child-size muck boots and kneepads. Don’t burn your kid out of gardening this early on by making it an uncomfortable chore. Fit your child with their own equipment and tools, and just see if they won’t be excited to get out in the garden on the rainiest of days!
7 plants your kids will love growing (and eating)
Direct-sown seeds are easiest for kids to handle, especially large seeds for little hands and chubby fingers. Children love watching seeds sprout, so choose varieties that germinate quickly and are fast to mature. And while the main goal of your kid’s garden might be to grow vegetables that your child will eat, don’t forget to incorporate some bright flowers into the garden as well!
Kids will have a heyday in the garden with any kind of pea, but we think that they can’t help but love Snak Hero Snack Pea. This compact sugar snap pea is perfect for containers and requires less staking than its unruly cousins.
All sunflowers are fun, but if we had to pick just one for a kid's garden we’d have to go with Teddy Bear Dwarf Sunflower. This diminutive sunflower only grows about three feet tall in the garden and is even smaller in containers. The fuzzy golden heads are a unique twist on the typical sunflower, and look cozy enough to cuddle up with!
No kid’s garden is complete without a row or two of carrots. Carrots are a delicious root vegetable that even the pickiest eaters can’t get enough of! Adults and children alike are captivated by colorful carrots like those in our Rainbow Gourmet Series. Cosmic Purple is another bicolored carrot just bursting with flavor and nutrition.
Cherry tomatoes are one of the most rewarding vegetables to grow, and kids love to eat the fruits right off the vine! Introduce your children to the deliciously sweet Sun Sugar and you won’t hear any complaints about your kids eating their vitamins and minerals!
Green beans fresh off the vine taste nothing like the canned kind, and your kids will be able to tell the difference. Try the heirloom variety, Stringless Green Pod Bean, for an early and productive bush bean with a very manageable growth habit. The sweet, meaty beans don’t have the annoying string, so nothing’s stopping your kids from eating them right then and there!
Radishes aren’t a common vegetable in school lunches, and some kids haven’t had any exposure to this tasty and easy-to-grow root vegetable! While some radishes have a reputation for tasting bitter or overly spicy, you can avoid those undesirable flavors by planting radishes in spring rather than in the heat of midsummer. Try the quick-maturing Watermelon Radish for a sweet and mild root that is as much fun to look at as it is to eat!
Help your child plant some easy-to-grow zinnias in the garden to entice bees and other pollinators to the garden! These heat-loving annuals can be direct-seeded in the garden once all danger of frost has passed. You can’t go wrong with any one of these gorgeous varieties, but kids love the State Fair Mix for its mix of vibrant colors!
This is the year to get out in the garden with your kids and make some lasting memories. Get ready for a season of fresh produce and healthy snacks! And remember: gardening doesn’t have to be all work all the time. Have meaningful conversations, assemble flower bouquets, and play games as you weed and water to make everyone’s time in the garden as enjoyable as it is productive.
¹ Spencer, Ben, “Sowing the seeds of healthy eating: Children who grow their own veg are FIVE times more likely to eat them,” Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 15 May 2015, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3083454/Sowing-seeds-healthy-eating-Children-grow-veg-FIVE-times-likely-eat-them.html.