Author’s Note, April 2020
I originally wrote this in 2017.
The global pandemic means that lazily browsing garden centres is not something we can really do this year but many greenhouses and garden supply shops are offering online shopping with curb-side pick-up. Seeds may be harder to find this year as it seems many more people have decided to try their hand at growing their own food. This may be the start of a gardening revolution!
Even if it takes a little more effort to find the seeds or plants you want and the supplies you need, gardening is well worth it and it gives you and your children something extra to do while at home.
I hope these tips are helpful for you now and in years to come. – Lisa
Improved concentration, stress relief, better eye sight: these are all benefits of being outdoors in nature. So, why not get outside with the kids and bring a little more nature to your backyard! Plus, if they learn to love it, one day they’ll be doing your gardening while you get to sit back and sip a cold one!
The first thing you will need is: Patience!
Kids, especially little kids, won’t do things perfectly. They’ll spill a load of seeds in one spot, they’ll pull up yellow daisies instead of dandelions, they’ll accidentally step on the cucumber plant, they’ll drown your seedlings (trust me, I remember doing that to my parents when I was 4!) etc. Go with the flow!
Now that you’ve got your Patience Hat on, here are some great ways to garden with the children in your life.
Plant from Seeds
There is something magical about planting a tiny seed and seeing it grow into a huge plant especially if it’s something you get to eat in the end! Some, like tomatoes, need to be started well before the May Long Weekend.
Try to plant a variety so you can harvest throughout the season. It won’t be a lot of fun for your kids if you only plant carrots and you’re waiting until September to harvest anything. (Note: I’ve always found the carrots take a long time to germinate in my garden so I’m not harvesting until September!)
Spinach, lettuce, arugula and other leaf veggies are the fastest growing. Green onions, radish, beans, peas, and cucumbers will be ready for harvest mid summer.
Buy Your Plants
A very large heirloom variety, Polish, which is a late season variety.
You can buy the plants for a couple of dollars and it’s worth it especially if you’re new to gardening, want a head start, or if the kids will lose interest waiting for the seeds to germinate.
Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable (technically a fruit) for home gardeners in Canada.
Within the tomato family, you have early, mid and late varieties. If you have the room, try to plant at least one of each so you have tomatoes throughout the season. Buy a cherry variety, a small variety and a large variety.
You can buy other veggie plants too, like lettuce, cucumber, squash and more!
Tip: There is usually someone selling heirloom variety tomatoes at the Beeton Honey and Garden Festival, the last Saturday of May, every year. Get there early! (Author’s Note April 21, 2019: The Beeton Honey and Garden Festival has been cancelled this year due to COVID-19)
If you buy your annuals, take your children with you to the greenhouse and let them choose some flowers for the yard. If you start your own annuals, let them choose the seeds based on the photo. (Author’s Note 2020: Pick out plants online from local greenhouses and get curbside pickup!)
Sunflowers are amazing and you can find varieties that will grow taller than your child! How fun is that!
You can even make a point of growing some edible flowers like nasturtium, borage (which is actually self seeding) and calendula (which also makes for a soothing oil infusion for skin)
Make sure to pick some flowers that will provide good food for bees. Bee balm, echinacea and some foxglove are perennial flowers that bees love. Try giving these flowers names then, each spring, have your child check the garden frequently to see when “Bert the Bee Balm”, for example, starts growing again.
CLICK HERE for more flowers bees love!
Growing perennial flowers from seed won’t be as satisfying for (especially younger) children as they tend to only bloom the second year
If you don’t have a lot of space, or you want to keeps things compact and simple, container gardening is a great thing. You can turn your deck into a garden!
Did you know you can grow potatoes in a pot or garbage can? Above is a special potato pot ($18 Lee Valley) with an inner pot that lets you pull up and pick your potatoes throughout the season. But, you can just use a large garbage can! Here are some instructions.
You will need to be extra vigilant that soil in the pots does not dry out. Also, you cannot just use the soil from your yard. You need to use potting soil so that it doesn’t become compacted. Alternately, you can modify your own soil with peat moss and sand, but buying a few large bag of pre-mixed soil is easiest!
You can get the kids involved with the whole process of filling the containers or, you can prepare the containers in advance. It depends on how long you think your child can stay on task.
Cherry tomatoes in a hanging basket.
Make it Their Own
Give the children a section of the garden or one/some of the pots as their own. Let them tend to their plot all spring and summer long. Especially if they grow food, it will be very satisfying for them. Children love eating food straight from the garden! If you have a young child, you will have to be the one who really tends to the garden but get your child involved as often as you can and refer to it as your child’s garden. Even very young children will take in what you are teaching.
Other things to have in your yard
Raspberries are simple to tend: every year, cut down the canes that bore fruit and leave the ones that didn’t. You can stake them for maximum access to you harvest. Or, as I do, just let them flop. I love raspberries but they are prolific like weeds and will pop up all over your garden so be mindful to cut down the shoots in places you don’t want them.
Fruit trees are a little trickier to care for than raspberries, depending on the fruit. South Simcoe is the borderline of hardiness for fruit like peaches but apples and sour cherries and pears can grow well in Simcoe County. You may need to buy a dormant kit and spray the apples every year to keep pests at bay.
When you have fruit trees, you get to anticipate the blossoms every year and then watch the flowers turn into fruit. You and your children can watch the bees pollinate, talk about the cycle of fruit, and, of course, enjoy delicious fruit! With a very prolific tree, you’ll be giving away fruit, canning, making pies and crumbles and more all from one season.
Nature is at once delicate and resilient. It’s something you’ll learn as you garden, especially with your children by your side. Enjoy the time in the outdoors and connecting with the land and your children/grandchildren/nieces/nephews/godchildren etc.