The joy of gardening with children can be experienced in pots on a balcony, in a garden the size of a sandbox, in a community patch in the inner city or in a country garden. Often farmers will rent space to city dwellers to garden. No matter how large or small, children will be just as delighted with the joy of raising their own food and tasting delicious fresh vegetables. Gardening is pretty basic. Stick the seed in the dirt, keep the seed moist till it is rooted, regularly water the growing plant in the sunshine, weed it and then sit back to watch nature take over.
Up until a few years ago, our vegetable rows were 75 feet long. The sheer volume of produce we grew was our insurance that the raccoons, groundhogs, rabbits, deer, mice and bears would not eat it all. We also grew enough vegetables to barter with neighbouring farmers, sold some on the roadside or simply gave our surplus to our generous family and friends.
The garden was always the children’s domain as well as mine because I wanted them in the garden, connecting with the earth.Although our gardens were lush and colourful, they were hardly gorgeous showpieces. The toughest perennial flowers were the only ones that survived at our house, ones that could withstand being yanked, stood on and sat on.
I am an avid gardener but as I had more and more children, I soon realized that if I wanted the kids to enjoy gardening, I had to relax and let the kids help without stealing all their joy away by controlling every little step of the process. That meant crooked rows, unevenly spaced plants, seeds that were planted too deep or too shallow.Children love to dig in the warm earth, especially toddlers who will dig holes everywhere with a small plastic shovel. One year the dog even joined in, shoving us aside with his front digging wildly and dirt spraying everywhere he actually did save us work.Sometimes Daisy, our goat, was allowed to help weed, much to her delight.
When children take part in planting seeds, watering growing plants and picking fruit and vegetables, they became attuned to the rhythms of nature. They will marvel at the power packed in a tiny seed because after planting one bean seed, they soon ate handfuls of green beans they picked themselves. Let your kids pick and eat beans, snow peas, raspberries, strawberries and carrots straight from the garden as snacks. Actually eating what you have grown is fun. Now, after a lifetime of eating garden ripe tomatoes, corn picked as the water in a pot comes to a boil and huge plates of fresh green beans with butter and salt and pepper, store-bought garden produce tastes bland to our university kids when they live in dorms.
Let your kids make games out of their jobs, stage competitions when they pick potato bugs, let them have water play after they help water the garden and help make rhubarb jam or freeze strawberries, currants, and raspberries. Gardening won’t just be a hobby; it can be a large part of their childhood.
For example, I usually recruited the older children to pull vegetables for dinner every afternoon.
Of course, the toddlers and preschoolers always jumped at the opportunity to tag along. It was an adventure to walk through our jungle of a vegetable garden because a tiny person could lose themselves among the tall plants and weeds . This transformed the daily ritual of picking vegetables into an exciting adventure.
One particular day, rain had poured down for days, soaking our heavy clay soil; when everyone trooped out into the garden wearing rain or barn boots , they were soon coated with sticky clumps of clay. As one of my boys struggled to pull out a huge carrot, his boots sank so deeply into the mud that he couldn’t lift his feet.
Everyone began giggling as Matthew struggled to extricate his younger brother. David was finally set free but left a boot behind.
Of course, as he stood on one foot, attempting to free his boot, he fell, landing in the mud. Matt was laughing too hard to help again.
Of course, the next rescuer slipped and landed on their bottom with their feet straight out and their bodies coated in sticky clumps of clay.
It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what happened next. The result was a bunch of laughing kids, covered from head to toe with mud.
They startled me when they came to the door and even I had to laugh while I shook my head and tried to figure out what to do with all of them. Since it was hot enough, we started the clean-up outside. I peeled off ruined outer clothing, washed feet and legs in a bucket of warm water and then the older kids ran inside, one by one, to shower and I carried a toddler and two preschoolers into the tub to bathe. It took three tubs of bubbly, warm water to cut through all that clay.
I laughed yes but I did add,
” Remember, only one mud bath per year!”
It actually became a yearly tradition.