My parents had a garden when I was growing up that all the neighbors envied. I remember impatiently waiting for the first ripe cucumber that I would pick and my mother would slice and salt it with some tomatoes on a plate. I think that is the best memory of food I have. I don't remember how involved I was in the whole process, but I do remember harvesting what we grew. I was amazed that we could grow food! It seemed so magical to me.
I knew as soon as my daughter was born that I wanted her to be connected with her food sources. The first year I direct seeded some veggies...beans, peas, and cucumbers. I didn't buy any seedlings and our results were not terrific and definitely made me yearn for more of a "green thumb." But when we moved to a half acre lot in town, my garden ambitions just went crazy! It seemed that this tiny lot (so different from the previous 8 acres) had much more to offer. I could get more creative with my gardening and really loved finding out unique ways to use the space we had. So the first spring, we tested out the soil in the big backyard...no good. Too wet and swampy. We were crushed! But we had a tiny square of grass next to the driveway out front which was much higher and dry, so we put in four raised beds there. It was a success! The little one and I poured over the local seed catalog and ordered (what turned out as) way too many seeds! But we put most of them to good use...starting our own seeds indoors when there was still snow covering the ground. She loved this process, and at two years old played a big role in getting our garden going. I could see the amazement in her eyes when the seeds sprouted, when they got so big we had to move them outdoors into the now frost free garden, and I knew how proud she was when the veggies were ready to harvest. I still remember when she sat down on the grass, chomping on freshly picked green beans. I remember feeling so pleased that she was learning how much work goes into our food, and how much we appreciate everything that we are able to eat.
At age four, she is just as big of a help in the garden as anyone else. Our four raised beds have increased to eighteen! We have winter crops going already, fruit trees, berries, herbs, and an incredible amount of vegetables that keep us well fed all season long. She plants, she weeds, she harvests, she eats...I love seeing her run out there at the first sign of anything ready to pick. This summer she is eating more than ever, her favorites being strawberries, "crunchy" lettuce, green beans, and carrots. Tons of carrots. If I need anything while prepping dinner, she is the first to say, "I'll go get it!" running out the door before anyone else has a chance.
Tonight while I was making dinner (a potato, summer squash, zucchini, purple tomato, and herb torte. yum!), I announced I needed to run outside to get some basil. She stopped her playing and quickly joined me, helping me pick in the garden. She turned to me and said, "Mama, isn't it so neat that we don't have to buy any vegetables at the store? And that we can make a whole dinner from things from our garden?!" I think it was the sweetest thing ever. I knew everything that she had been learning from watching us was really sinking in. She gets it. And she appreciates it.
Growing our own food is definitely my favorite thing to do with her. And she inspires me constantly in gardening, in life, and everything else. I have learned so much because of her and her curiosities. She would probably tell you I taught her everything she knows, but I beg to differ. She has definitely shown me what gardening is all about.
You can get your children involved with gardening at any age! Whether they are not yet crawling and strapped in an Ergo while you weed, or they are curious two year old's who want to do "everything myself!" Here's a little list of things the little one was involved in at various ages:
Around 9 months old
- playing in the soil (I loved giving her a little space to just dig and mess around in the dirt while I gardened, and she loved it too!)
- sorting veggies (I would pick a big basket of cucumbers and beans, she loved to take out all the beans and put them in her own bowl)
- tasting (she loved sucking on big green beans and carrots)
- helped with seedlings inside (we started them in leftover egg shells like this)
- transplanted them to beds outside once frost free
- helped weed (she had her own mini wheelbarrow that she would put them in and dump in the compost with me)
- started her own seedlings (she was in charge of flowers...cosmos, sunflowers, zinnias, and nasturtiums)
- got her own mini shovel and started shoveling manure onto the beds in early spring (we use alpaca...it's the best!)
- started learning when to harvest the veggies and fruit
- helped direct seed the seeds into the beds
- helped can 32 jars of jam, 16 jars of salsa, 20 jars of pickles, and 8 jars of pasta sauce
- was in charge of her own window box (herbs)
- had her own raised bed (strawberries and carrots)
- watered the gardens
- harvested the veggies and fruits on her own (she now can tell when they are ready)
- helped prepare the things we picked for lunch or dinner
- is in charge of egg collecting for our backyard flock of chickens (she also lets them out in the evening to roam the yard)
- helps pick through, clean, and freeze berries
Hope that gives you some ideas of what the little ones can do! As shown above, they can be tremendous helpers! Happy gardening!!
erin is a 20-something mama who loves to sew, read, cook, write, and live simply. she is the author & photographer of bluebirdbaby. thank you so much, erin!