What to Grow in a Kid’s Vegetable Garden
Gardening with your child is a fun and rewarding experience. One of the best ways to make gardening attractive to kids is by creating a little garden for them, or at least some pots which belong to them, and they feel responsible for.
What to grow?
Grow what your child likes and will be proud of picking. While it is important to show kids the world and expose them to new healthy food, if you know they hate lettuce or they are allergic to tomatoes, growing these will not get them excited to participate in family gardening activities.
Before choosing what to grow, here are some tips:
Grow at least one crop which your child can harvest independently, for the best gardening experience.
Grow at least one fast growing crop, because you know how patient small children are…
Grow at least one root crop, since it is an experience for the child to realize that things happen under the ground, in the soil, even if she or he cannot see it before harvest. And, of course, it is so much fun to pull vegetables out of the ground.
Grow at least one compact crop and place it in an accessible spot for your kids, that way you will engage them in the growing process, and they will easily get close and touch the plant without feeling overwhelmed by its size.
Grow at least one crop from seed, it’s a fantastic way to show how the world works, how nature works how food is actually grown.
My top picks for growing with kids in an urban garden or on the balcony:
1. Strawberries- kids love to eat them, and picking them, plus strawberries can be grown everywhere: little pots, window boxes, raised beds etc. The plants are widely available in garden centers, so there is no need to start them from seed. Another advantage is that strawberries are perennial plants, which means they will survive winter, and rejuvenate again in the spring. I find that the best time to plant them is in the spring, but it’s possible to plant strawberries in the autumn as well.
2. Fast growing greens- Amsoy for instance, can be grown quickly and easily from seeds. Lettuces are easy as well, but I prefer Asian greens like Amsoy or Bok Choy (Paksoi) since it’s easy to cook with them, which means better chances that a child would eat them. Sow such greens in early spring or late summer. You can harvest them, as small salad leaves or bigger plants for cooked dishes. They are great stir fried, for kids, try adding them chopped to potato fritters.
3. Potatoes- It’s a lot of fun planting potatoes, and very easy to do for small kids. You need to get seed potatoes at a gardening center, or, if you are more adventurous, just plant an old sprouting potato! In early spring, cover them with soil, and leave some space to add more soil later, when the plants grow. You can use a deep pot, a growing bag, or a bucket (drill some holes for drainage first). Once the plants are big and start to flop over, add more soil to the pot, it will allow the potatoes to develop better and grow bigger without being exposed to light, which turns them green and toxic. Once the plants wilted, check gently to see if the potatoes are big enough to harvest. Digging them up is the best part! Kids absolutely love it. Read here how to grow potatoes with kids on the balcony in Dutch, or here for the detailed English version.
4. Compact bush tomatoes or peppers- Great as a healthy snack and fun to pick. Unlike normal cherry tomatoes, the small bush varieties are short and easy to grow in pots, that way it’s easy for kids to reach the plant. Pepper plants are compact and can be grown in pots as well. You can start tomatoes and peppers from seeds in February-March, on your windowsill. For beginner gardeners, and especially for a kids garden, you can also plant a mature tomato or pepper plant like the one in the first picture (the red snack pepper is from Pick-&-Joy).
5. Carrots- It’s fun to pull root veggies out of the soil and kids love them as a snack. There are colour mixed carrots in one seed packet, which you can sow in early spring, it will surprise your child and add a game-play element to harvesting.