Teach Kids to Grow Vegetables and Herbs Without Chemicals
You can start an organic garden with your child any time of year by composting. Playing in the dirt is elementally satisfying to children, so give them children’s garden tools to help you hack away at your mound, introducing oxygen and hastening the breakdown of your scraps.
If you live in an apartment, consider a small vermiculture station in the kitchen where red wiggler worms turn vegetable scraps into rich garden soil. Red worms appreciate paper bedding, so the child can shred old homework and tests to get the bin started.
The smallest toddler can get in on the gardening game when you start a flat of vegetable seeds at home. If a child is dexterous enough to pick up oat cereal circles, he can grasp a bean and drop it into the soil. Arm your child with a watering can whose rose delivers a very fine spray, so he doesn’t dislodge the seeds with his exuberance.
Deter damping off by following the spacing directions on the seed package. If you’re dealing with smaller seeds, combine them with sand in a salt shaker. As the child “seasons” the soil with the shaker, he’ll deliver just the right amount of seeds per square foot.
If your child wrinkles his nose at the sight of vegetables on his dinner plate, perhaps you aren’t appealing to his reduced sense of scale. Pair ‘Tom Thumb’ lettuce with ‘Spoon’ tomatoes in a container, and he can harvest a salad that serves one. If carrots aren’t normally on your menu, pique your child’s interest with the ‘Thumbelina’ variety, which resembles an orange golf ball at maturity. Use floating row covers to protect your Lilliputian veggies from flea beetles and weevils.
Kids love it when you turn the notion of what’s edible and what’s ornamental in the garden on its head. Although few children enjoy the peppery petals of nasturtium blossoms, you can set a very special table for a tea party with candied violets or scented geraniums sprinkled atop cupcakes.
If you’re overrun with zucchini, help a child to snip the large yellow flowers that seem to turn into green giants overnight. They’re delicious stuffed with meat, rice, or cream cheese and fried lightly. Conduct your harvest early in the morning, so the child can help you handpick squash bugs that feed on sap. Place cardboard squares at the base of each plant, and foil the speedy insects when they run for cover under the squares by dropping the squares in a bucket of soapy water.
Salsa gardens are a popular gardening trend among grown-ups, but a pizza garden will have your kids checking the plot daily. You can plant tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, basil, oregano, and onion for traditional pizza toppings. However, today’s pizza chefs don’t limit themselves to conventional ingredients, so expand your pizza garden to include eggplant, broccoli, or spinach.
Rotate the location of your pizza garden each year, as tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers are all members of the nightshade family. You reduce the possibility of foliar blight striking your plants when you move them to a different quadrant of the organic garden every season.