Spring is on its way, and that means your green thumb is just itching to get to work. Plus, you want to share your planting passion with your kids! Since March is a great time of year to get your family garden started, Pam Reynolds, Farmer-In-Chief of the Incubator Farm at Grow Benzie is ready to help. Should you start your plants inside now, then transfer them outside in the spring? What plants should you grow? From fruits and vegetables to beautiful flowers, here are Pam’s tips on starting a garden for kids, both indoors and out.
Start a Garden for Kids Outdoors
Pam’s Pro List:
- It’s engaging. A garden in the ground is “better for kids big enough to hoe, weed, and rake,” Pam says. Plus, it’s rewarding to see their “thrill when true leaves pop out of the soil and weeks later when they can harvest.”
- It’s a great teaching tool. Here are some things the kids will learn about:
- What plants are seeded directly into the ground (like carrots) and what plants are transplanted outside (like tomatoes).
- All about companion planting—tomatoes like to be near basil, carrots like to be near lettuce, etc.
- Microorganisms at work.
- The difference between pests (like cabbage moths) and beneficial insects (like ladybugs).
- Understanding mulching for water retention and weed deterrence (mulch can be leaves, plastic, straw).
Pam’s Con List:
- Kids can lose interest as it’s a lot of work.
- Being more dependent on the weather.
“Years ago I met a farmer who had baby goats and a small garden set aside for field trips for the local schools. She said it never ceased to amaze her that given the chance to pet and feed the sweet babies, or tugging a carrot out of the ground, rinsing it off and chomping on it—the kids picked the carrots every time!” Pam says.
Start a Garden for Kids Indoors (Potted Plants!)
Pam’s Pro List:
- You can control the soil—a good bag of organic seed versus whatever soil is in your backyard.
- You can control the moisture—watering can versus waiting for rain.
- No weeds.
- Very few pests.
- Difficulty level: Easy. Great for young kids.
- Almost any vegetable will grow in a big enough container. Five-gallon buckets with drainage holes are best for tomatoes, peppers, squashes, and even baby carrots. Smaller containers can house herbs, flowers, peas, and bean plants.
Pam’s Con List:
- Limited quantity and variety of plants.
A fun tip! Pam suggests getting creative with containers by customizing with paint or stickers. Or trying out new pots like milk cartons. “We grew lettuce in a mermaid sled once and nicknamed it, ‘sledduce.’”
Gardening Tips for Beginners
What are some of the easiest plants to grow?
“Most any vegetable is easy enough to grow; it depends on the skill level(s) and the ambition of the kids,” Pam advises. “I might start with containers since most can be transplanted outdoors as well. Pathways, trellises, handmade signs, ‘sculptures,’ and seating are all things kids can also have a hand in. Make the garden a place they want to hang out in—give them ownership.”
Good plants to grow:
- “I think all kids like to plant tomatoes—even if they don’t eat them—it’s what they usually think of when they think of a garden. They can watch the flower turn into a small tomato and then watch it grow and ripen.
- “Small cucumbers are fun as well as sweet peas and carrots. Let them have some input as to what they want to grow—because I think that is the hook to get them to want to grow food they will enjoy eating.
- “Other obvious choices are strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. I know very little about them, but they are perennials and will come back every year if they’re in a happy space. It would make sense to get a patch or two going in a children’s garden.
- “Easiest are beans—especially in a container—they are quick to germinate and grow quickly. Sweet peas are another; kids can make trellises for them to climb (from sticks or hangers in a pot, or fencing in a garden) and they are great to snack on.
- “Cherry tomatoes—especially the golden ones—are a big hit with kids.”
Pam also adds that “marigolds just in time for Mother’s Day are always a home run. They can all be seeded in March, put in a sunny window, and transplanted to a bigger container—or the ground after the last frost in early May.”
More tips on planting a garden: How to choose a plot of land, what equipment you’ll need, and more!