Every year, at about this time, my world changes. We say goodbye to swimming, sandcastles at the beach, popsicle stained chins, and start dreaming of chunky sweaters and warm boots. That is, until our dream is quickly pushed out by the harvest still overflowing outside. Our afternoons and evenings are filled with peeling, canning, blanching and freezing. We really like to garden, so naturally, the kids get their share of digging out of it. Some years are great, others, not so much. This year fell squarely in the middle. Although it is fall, this is a great time to start thinking about next years garden. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of gardening with your family.
One part of our garden.
Corn, onions, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, beans, strawberries, and lots of weeds.
1. Give everyone some responsibility. We’ve noticed that when we have the kids help with weeding or harvesting, they are much more invested in our garden. They eagerly eat the produce, and are usually happy to get their hands dirty. Just make sure to keep things in check. I always try to limit Mason’s chores to about 20-30 minutes and usually have him weed alongside me. Luckily we’re at the stage where weeding is fun for Mason because he’s obsessed with playing in the dirt! I’m terrified to let Chloe start pulling up plants in the garden, so she just harvests (and she usually eats as much as she picks). Luckily we’re at the stage where weeding is fun for Mason because he’s obsessed with playing in the dirt!
2. Make it fun. Don’t let maintaining a garden become drudgery. Enjoy it. We love to have weeding and picking races to get the kids going and always try and offer a surprise at the end (usually first pick at the strawberries or raspberries).
Mason showing off his raspberries
3. Teach kids with the garden. Kids can learn SO MUCH from a garden in a summer. They start by learning what a seed is and what it takes to grow. Then they get to see the small changes that plants make as they grow and mature. I love that Mason can see plants and often identify what they are, outside of the garden (like wild strawberry plants). Then if you’re like us, your kids get to learn what happens when Mom goes on a weeding strike, or forgets to water for a while…oops! I mean, it’s all in the name of education…
4. Let everyone have a say in what is planted. I let my kids pick one thing that they want to plant in the garden each year. Last year, Mason chose gourds that were supposed to be long and twisty like snakes…none grew. This year, the kids chose watermelon and sunflowers. The watermelon was a bust (we can never get those things to grow well here). The sunflowers however, were fantastic. Like, insanely out of control fantastic! These things grew about 12 feet high. They were so thick that they kind of took over our sidewalk for a while and people kept commenting on how out of control they were (in hopes that I’d cut them back – not a chance). Every time someone would come over, the kids would take them to see ‘their’ sunflowers. This was a great plant for them because they grew a few inches every day. Each day the kids would go out and compare their height to different sunflowers and talk about why they were getting so big.
Mason: “Chloe, this one is getting really big because mom watered it a lot, and this one is small because someone peed on it – pee is bad for sunflowers” He came to that conclusion on his own (probably because I always tell him to stop peeing on things in the backyard, with that logic – BOYS!).
5. Plan ahead. That’s totally why we’re writing this post right now. Gardening (even a very small one) takes lots of work and preparation. There are lots of things to consider. Where to plant, what to plant, how much to plant, how to water, how to control weeds, when to plant different seeds, and do you want to start from seed or buy established plants. Around February, the kids and I take a big trip to the garden center. I get so excited that I buy lots of veggies to plant in the coming months and tons of flowers to start from seeds inside (which I always seem to kill before it’s warm enough to plant them!). It’s so great. We typically plant our cool season vegetables around March 15th (peas, spinich, lettuce) and the rest of our crops in mid May (Denver area).
Gardening is really fantastic and can be so fun to do with a family. It’s a great way to get everyone working together for a great goal. Although it’s not the typical adventure we write about here, it is an adventure for sure! Also, it’s a fantastic way to teach kids about the world around them. I’m proud to say that my kids know where our food comes from, because they put it there.
Start getting excited about it now, so next spring, you can be ready to jump in with both feet.