This article is excerpted from EarthEasy.
Gardening with Children
What to Plant – Top 10 Crops for Children
Our children were involved with gardening from an early age, and it was gratifying to watch their interest and self-esteem grow as their gardening efforts yielded good results. Although there are many crops suitable for the young gardener, here are our “top 10”, which are relatively easy to grow, have short growing seasons and are fun to harvest.
A must for a child’s garden. Plant just one or two, since they take a lot of room. Sunflowers will sprout in 1 week, become a small seedling in 2 weeks, and should be 2′ tall in a month. In 8 weeks, the buds will flower revealing hundreds of seed kernels. Be sure to gorw ‘confectionery’ sunflowers, the type grown for food. They will dry naturally in the late summer sun; the seeds, rich in protein and iron, can be roasted for snacks. Save a few for next summers’ planting.
A quick and reliable crop to give the child fast results, and also a good way to interest kids in salads. Lettuce likes part shade; keep soil moist especially during the first two weeks. The seeds will germinate in 7-10 days; growing season is 40-50 days. You can grow ‘head’ (space 8″ apart) or ‘leaf’ (space 4″ apart) varieties; the leaf varieties will mature sooner, about 30-35 days.
Quick results for the young gardener. Radishes germinate in 3-10 days, and have a very short growing season of 20-30 days. They can be planted closely, 4-6″ apart. Plant in cool weather for a mild radish, or hot weather for a hotter radish.
A quick-growing early crop, and fun for kids to eat right off the vine. They take about 10 days to germinate and mature in about 60 days. Peas prefer cooler, partially shaded locations in the garden; they should be sown closely, about 1″ apart at most. Snow peas are popular because the pod is edible and since they are a dwarf plant they can be grown without a trellis.
Gotta have ’em! These may be the most fun crop for a child, aside from strawberries. Plant in full sun and use seedlings rather than planting from seed. Put in a 2′ stake alongside each seedling; they need to be tied loosely to stakes as they get taller. Add lots of compost. Water at ground level, trying to keep leaves dry. Growing season is 50-75 days. Cherry tomatoes can also be grown in containers.
These flowers are easy to grow and yield results quickly, which encourages the young gardener. Nasturtiums bloom about 50 days after the seeds are planted, with orange, yellow and red flowers. They prefer sunny, dry locations and do well in poor soil. Choose the shorter varieties for garden beds. Nasturtiums are also pest resistant, which ensures a successful planting. The flowers are also edible, and can be used to add colour to a fresh garden salad.
Fast, easy, high yield and, because they do not grow tall, they are easy for kids to harvest. Bush beans germinate in 4-8 days, and mature in 40-65 days. It’s best to plant a small patch, then another in a few weeks. This will extend the harvest. When choosing seeds, select the “low bush” varieties because these will be easier for children to harvest. Plant closely spaced, about 4″ apart. Grow in direct sun; water the soil but try to keep the leaves dry. Bush beans don’t need poles or trellises to grow.
Seeds can be sown directly into soil; carrots prefer cooler temperatures. They can be slow to germinate, so be patient. Carrots will mature in about 60 days.The soil should be free of rocks and easy for the carrot to grow ‘down’. Keep well-watered and thin to every 3″ because crowding will produce foliage but no root. Small varieties are recommended for children, as they’re easier to grow and more fun to eat.
A ‘never-fail’ crop. You can plant red or white varieties; red will mature faster. Children seem to favor the red variety. Cut seed potatoes into chunks with at least 2 ‘eyes’ per. Plant in furrows, about 12-15″ apart, with eyes pointing upward. Mound soil up around plant as it grows; harvest when plant collapses.
A ‘must’ for a child’s garden, if you have the room. Plant seeds in a small hill; poke three holes in the hill and put one seed in each hole. Seeds will sprout in about 1 week; after a few days, vine leaves begin to form and creep along the ground. Once there are 3 pumpkins on the vine, pick off any new blossoms. Pumpkins take 80 – 120 days to harvest: it’s ready when it feels hard on the outside and sounds hollow when tapped. Let an adult supervise the cutting, using shears. Seeds can be dried to eat, or save for future planting. The meat can be used for pies, and the pumpkin for carving.
Other crops our children have tried, but had mixed results:
Corn – a heavy feeder, corn needs lots of compost or fertilizer, and requires a lot of growing space in relation to the size of the harvest. If the plants aren’t “knee high by the 4th of July”, the ears will be small. In our garden, either the crows got the seedlings, or the plants just never got big enough to yield a good harvest.
Green Onions – easy to grow, but not all that exciting.
Zucchini – easy, fast, and impressive size, but it takes a good recipe to get children excited about zucchini.
Strawberries – great, but can be a struggle with the predators. We chose the ‘ever-bearing’ strawberry varieties which have smaller fruit but which bear all summer. Netting the plants from the birds and raccoons, however, was a constant chore which the young children often forgot. Birds became caught in the strawberry netting, which was never fun.
Watermelon – similar to pumpkins to grow. They have to be well grown to be large and tasty. In our experience, the fruit was smaller than expected and not very sweet. We prefer to give the space to pumpkins.
* * * * *