Teach Your Child to Garden: Child Gardening to Improve Childhood Nutrition

Children with a Raised Garden Bed

Our two sons, preparing to plant watermelon seeds in one of our 4' x 4' raised garden beds.
Our two sons, preparing to plant watermelon seeds in one of our 4' x 4' raised garden beds. | Source

Growing Healthy Kids: One Garden at a Time

The growing incidence of childhood obesity and the use of pre-packaged, processed food are threats to children's health. Many children do not have access to fresh, wholesome produce, and may not even be able to identify the names of various fruits and vegetables.

Creating a children's garden is an easy way to help kids learn about healthy food. Children who live in urban environments can plant small container gardens, and families with a yard can easily set aside a small space for growing a few easy-to-grow fruits and vegetables. When children plant a seed, help it grow, and then harvest the fruit of their labor, they are more likely to eat the fruit or vegetable. Gardening creates a healthy relationship with food.

It is never too early to start gardening with kids: even babies will delight in watching plants grow, and toddlers as young as one year old can help to pat dirt over seeds. By the time my youngest son was three, he had planted, grown, and harvested his own watermelons! The benefits of child gardening include:

  • Organic, pesticide-free food.
  • Developing an understanding of botany.
  • Creating a healthy relationship with fruits and vegetables.
  • An increased willingness to try new types of food.
  • An understanding of delayed gratification: time and effort yield a reward over the long term.
  • A sense of nurturing and responsibility: the garden must be tended and watered frequently.


Grow Potatoes in a Container

Finding Space: Creating Planters or Raised Beds

Families who live in apartments or condominiums will have the best luck with container gardening. Strawberries, peppers, potatoes, and lettuce all lend themselves well to small-space gardens. To grow strawberries, simply purchase a strawberry pot, fill with quality soil, and plant the seeds in the exposed pockets on the container. A small patio or sunny window is all that is required to watch the strawberries grow. Potatoes can be grown vertically, by planting seed potatoes in a tall, narrow planter and adding more soil as the potatoes sprout - see the video to the right for a full explanation of this process.

For families with access to a yard, the options are almost endless. Raised beds are the best for growing vegetables. Forget about expensive kits: we created 4' x 4' raised beds out of inexpensive landscaping timbers at our local hardware store. We simply cut each 8' long timber in half, and arranged the timbers into squares, using long deck nails to secure each layer to the next. Our beds were three timbers high, which was deep enough for the watermelons, tomatillos, tomatoes, and herbs we grew.

For raised beds, it is more economical to purchase soil or compost in bulk, rather than in small bags from a home improvement or gardening store. We purchased mushroom compost and soil from a local garden center in bulk, and our boys had a marvelous time loading the dirt into a wheelbarrow to take it to the backyard garden beds!

Great Plants for Kids to Grow

Consider the Following Plants for a Child's Garden:

  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Watermelon
  • Tomatoes
  • Mint
  • Strawberries
  • Potatoes

Grow Purple Carrots!

Package of 800 Seeds, Cosmic Purple Carrot (Daucus carota) Non-GMO Seeds By Seed Needs
Package of 800 Seeds, Cosmic Purple Carrot (Daucus carota) Non-GMO Seeds By Seed Needs

These "Cosmic Purple" carrot seeds can be sown directly into the garden, and are ready to harvest 60-80 days from the time of planting.

 

Choose the Right Plants: Seed Selection

Determine which gardening "zone" you live in: the types of vegetables you plant will vary depending on the natural environment you live in. Watermelons, for example, are native to the desert, and will not thrive in a cold, wet environment. Lettuce grows well in cool temperatures, but often struggles in hot, humid environments.

Seed packets list the suitable zones on the back cover - consult this before purchasing seeds! With that said, we live in Zone 5 (cold winters) and were able to grow short-season watermelons because we have hot summers.

While fruits and vegetables may be grown from small starter plants, we always prefer to grow things from seed. When plants are grown from seed, the children get to see the entire process, from first tiny sprout to plants laden with fruit. Seeds also offer more variety: you can grow orange watermelons, purple carrots, and blue potatoes. Kids will get a kick out of growing something that can't be found in grocery stores!

For those living in colder environments, growing plants from seed may require starting plants indoors - our last frost date is generally around Memorial Day weekend (the end of May) and we will start plants in small peat pots in early April, to get a head start on the growing season.

Since watermelons do not transplant well, we chose fast-growing varieties (Sugar Baby and Orange Tendersweet) and planted them directly into the ground.


Watering the Garden

A watering can is an essential tool for young gardeners: this allows a child to water his or her own garden without assistance.
A watering can is an essential tool for young gardeners: this allows a child to water his or her own garden without assistance. | Source

Kid's Gardening Tools

I am not a big fan of expensive, silly tools for gardening. Since we grew our plants from seed, our boys simply used big kitchen spoons and their hands. Forget items like gardening gloves, since they prevent a child from feeling the texture of the soil and impede dexterity. The tools that we used on a regular basis were:

  1. Rain boots or galoshes. With a muddy yard and all the dirt and water that gardening entails, our boys wore their rain boots nearly every single day in the spring and early summer!
  2. A digging tool: this could be a large kitchen spoon or a small trowel.
  3. Garden markers: we made our markers out of small craft sticks. Write the name of the plant and stick the marker into the dirt - this helps to identify those tiny seedlings when they first come up! Another option is to cut the picture from the front of the seed packet and paste it onto a marker (this is especially helpful for young children who cannot read).
  4. A watering can. Both of our boys loved watering their small gardens to help their plants grow - the gardens were entirely theirs, and they had a lot of pride in their little plots!

If you want to add a little extra fun to the gardening experience, a small, child-sized wheelbarrow is enormously fun. We didn't have one for our gardens last year, but a wheelbarrow can come in handy for both filling the gardens with dirt and for hauling in the harvest at the end of the season!

In the Garden: From Seed to Fruit!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
My five year old son with an immature Orange Tendersweet watermelon.Checking out a beefsteak tomato: not quite ripe!A teeny, tiny tomatillo.When kids grow their own food, they get an innate understanding of how nature works. Here, a swelling behind a fertilized flower shows the beginning of a Sugar Baby watermelon.Nothing is so good as a home-grown watermelon on a hot summer day!
My five year old son with an immature Orange Tendersweet watermelon.
My five year old son with an immature Orange Tendersweet watermelon. | Source
Checking out a beefsteak tomato: not quite ripe!
Checking out a beefsteak tomato: not quite ripe! | Source
A teeny, tiny tomatillo.
A teeny, tiny tomatillo. | Source
When kids grow their own food, they get an innate understanding of how nature works. Here, a swelling behind a fertilized flower shows the beginning of a Sugar Baby watermelon.
When kids grow their own food, they get an innate understanding of how nature works. Here, a swelling behind a fertilized flower shows the beginning of a Sugar Baby watermelon. | Source
Nothing is so good as a home-grown watermelon on a hot summer day!
Nothing is so good as a home-grown watermelon on a hot summer day! | Source

Harvesting Fruits and Vegetables

Mark the day the seeds were planted on a calendar. Most seed packets will indicate the approximate number of days from planting to harvest. Have the kids count along with you as the days pass: this helps young children with early math concepts and allows older kids to estimate when their fruits or vegetables will be ready to eat.

When the plants are ready, allow the child to harvest their own crops. Our boys picked the tomatoes and tomatillos themselves, though cutting the watermelons off the vine took adult assistance. If possible, allow the child to eat their home-grown produce right away - there is nothing like eating food fresh from the ground (after washing, of course)!

A Poll on Child Gardening

What Type of Garden Does Your Child Grow?

See results without voting

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Comments 41 comments

alipuckett profile image

alipuckett 4 years ago

Wow! This *is* a great way to teach kids to eat their veggies. Great idea and great article. Thank you!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, alipuckett! Our boys delighted in growing their own food. They both ate everything we grew - from orange watermelons to spaghetti sauce made from our tomatoes!


livelonger profile image

livelonger 4 years ago from San Francisco

What an amazing Hub! My partner and I are mobilizing to both adopt a child, and do something with that jungle we call our backyard, so this is timely. I think you're absolutely right about what kids would love about gardening, including just playing with dirt and eating what they tended from the time of planting the seed. I agree that kids LOVE food that looks different from what they've seen before. I have to admit I was stunned looking at that bright-purple carrot!


ThePracticalMommy profile image

ThePracticalMommy 4 years ago from United States

Wow, wow, wow! What an awesome hub! I wasn't expecting anyone to answer with a hub so quickly! This is truly an excellent guide for teaching children how to garden. Thanks so much for answering the question with this! I'm bookmarking it for future use and sharing. :)


Dawn Conklin profile image

Dawn Conklin 4 years ago from New Jersey, USA

Great hub! I learned when I was young. I don't remember now at what age but I remember helping my Mom as a kid. We grew all sorts of vegetables including asparagus, carrots (required more work to remove all rocks), tomatoes and so much more. I eat pretty much every vegetable to this day tho I don't like beets much and lima beans are not my favorite but I will eat both.

My girls started learning at the ages of 3 and 7. I was limited in their earlier years of both time and space. They eat many different vegies. My youngest eats all but lettuce and spinach. Yes she even eats asparagus and peppers.


Virtual Treasures profile image

Virtual Treasures 4 years ago from Michigan

I so miss the days that my kids enjoyed gardening with me! Now the weeding, which was once considered quality time, has simply become a chore. I know, though, that when they are older, they will share what they learned with their children. Enjoy this time with them!


craftdrawer profile image

craftdrawer 4 years ago

Terrific ideas, One of my grandsons became interested last year in flowers so we hope to encourage him more this year with some of your tips...


ytsenoh profile image

ytsenoh 4 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

This was such a great display of ideas and reasons why this activity should be performed with our children or grandchildren. I think it's such a great positive learning experience and the excitement children have to see vegetables or fruits actually growing; it's so educational too! Great job. Sharing on my facebook page.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

So glad you shared your experience of gardening with your children. Your tips are helpful for planning for spring planting.


msviolets profile image

msviolets 4 years ago

Great ideas here! The soil tends to be a challenge for us, enough to grow the plants in but not so much to break the bank! I'll have to look into buying in bulk!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

livelonger, best wishes during the adoption process! Gardening is a wonderful activity for kids - it really connects them with nature and healthy living. I am counting down the days until spring, so we can plant again (and purple carrots are on the agenda this year)!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Practicalmommy, I loved the question - I ended up publishing the response hub long before the contest start date, but I had this one nearly written so I thought I'd get it out there!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Dawn, I agree - beets are HORRIBLE! At least, the pickled variety of beets are awful - I haven't tried fresh beets. My older son loves salads and will eat nearly any fruit or vegetable. My younger son is coming along - he is a bit pickier but he ate everything we grew. Gardening really does help kids develop a love for trying new things!


Sonia Perozzi profile image

Sonia Perozzi 4 years ago from California

I am not a parent yet myself but I absolutely agree that this is a must in today's day and age. There is a lot to be learned from growing your own, as well as the health factor. If I am lucky enough to have children, gardening is something I intend to share with them. Thank you for this insightful hub!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Virtual Treasures - weeding is definitely a chore. We had deadly nightshade that decided to grow right next to our tomatillos (which are, ironically, in the same family). I took all of the nightshade out of the garden, obviously - I wouldn't let the kids near it until it was gone. We did find that the raised beds didn't grow as many weeds, and were easier to tend because the weeds pulled right out of the soft soil. I'm in complete denial about them growing older - it happens way too fast!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Growing a flower garden is a great idea, too! Marigolds and sunflowers are easy to grow from seed and give fast, impressive results. Our boys grew flowers in the front yard last year, and we collected the seeds this fall to grow again next year!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Oh, RTalloni - if only spring would come faster! I can't wait to plant again - I love those first, fresh days of planting!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

msviolets, we have AWFUL soil where we live - shale and clay. We did the raised beds for this very reason - they are filled with a soft mushroom compost mixture and made it so much easier to garden! We planted everything from seed this year, and they all grew in time to harvest before the first frost. The tomatoes were a little dicey (and we did lose some), but I had enough to can for use in tomato sauce!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Sonia, it is really a great activity for kids. They get the sensory input from the feel and smell of the dirt, and they get outside in the fresh air every day to care for their plants. In this age of pre-packaged, processed foods, growing veggies in the backyard is a great way to encourage healthy eating habits!


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan

Great hub Leah! I wrote one last summer about planting a children's garden. I'm going to link this one to it! And cute pics as always. :)


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

I'll have to look for it, Cara! My writing has fallen behind lately, and I'm trying to get some articles done here and there - I'm a huge gardening fan. My only problem now is trying to convince my husband that we should add more raised beds this year!


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

This is a great resource! I enjoyed gardening with my mom growing up and hope to do it with my own kids someday.


donnaisabella profile image

donnaisabella 4 years ago from Fort Myers

I love gardening and have been thinking of how on earth I could grow vegetables without mutilating the lawn and making our backyard look ugly. When I lived on a homestead in my country, my kids had a garden of their own and it was really fruitful. They grew corn, greens and sugar canes. I was seriously thinking of planting my garden in pots, with the kids but your ideas are brilliant and I hope I will have a garden to be proud of. Not only is such a garden a joy and source of healthy eating, it also provides a wonderful pastime. Thank you so much for sharing and for the beautiful pics. I enjoyed it!


plinka profile image

plinka 4 years ago from Budapest, Hungary

I had my own garden when I was a child and I still love gardening. Children being in nature a lot will respect animals and plants later when they are grown up. Gardening teaches them to work hard, be creative and environmentally conscious. Voted up!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Gardening is one of my favorite activities - we can't do much in the winter here (we'd have to dig under the snow), but our spring-early fall is filled with all sorts of plants!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, donnaisabella! We used to have a small apartment and grew a few things (mostly flowers) in pots on our patio. Strawberries do really well on patios, and so does lettuce (but lettuce is a bit picky over weather). Now we have an acre, and I love growing things! I want to grow corn this year - it is wind pollinated so I need a larger bed to get enough rows in. We can't grow sugar cane here because of the short duration of the summer, but that would be a really cool crop to grow!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Plinka, you are right on the money - we want our boys to respect the earth and to develop a good work ethic. We are going to make a compost pile this year, though I have to find a way to make one that is raccoon and bear proof. I'm not sure that anything could be bear proof, but I don't want to attract more to our yard!


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom

I love this hub, I enjoy gardening and last year I started gardening with my grandaughter, I was amazed at her enthusiasm through the whole process of planting, tending the garden and especially the harvesting!

Some great tips and ideas, thank you for sharing and voted up!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

It is amazing how interested kids are in the whole process - I love the fact that you are gardening with your granddaughter, Movie Master! Those are memories she will cherish for a lifetime!


arusho profile image

arusho 4 years ago from University Place, Wa.

I will bookmark this hub. We are making our raised garden beds this Spring and at first I had laid out some bigger and longer gardens beds (like a design) but, after reading this 4'x4's would be fine too. I think we will have 4 or 5 4'x4' beds, that will be easier to build and walk around. Our daughter loves riding in the wheel barrow full of soil too!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

The 4 x 4 beds were easy for the kids to manage, but there are advantages to longer beds with a shorter depth. An 8' x 2' bed would be easier to tend in many ways, because you can easily reach completely across the bed for weeding. Watermelons are sprawling, so if you plan to grow those, a longer bed would be a good idea (our orange tendersweet watermelons completely overran our little 4x4 raised beds)!

I absolutely LOVE growing things - this mild winter has me in happy spirits, planning new garden beds!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Leah,

What valuable lessons your kids are learning by participating in gardening. Looks like you have a great spot. Love the different raised beds. Cute photos of your kids! Up, useful and awesome votes! Will also tweet and FB.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, Peggy! We have an acre at our house, so we have plenty of room. We definitely have to use raised beds, though, because our soil is so rocky. The boys certainly love choosing what seeds to grow - we'll start looking through seed catalogs soon, to determine which veggies get planted in 2012!


habee profile image

habee 4 years ago from Georgia

Great ideas. I had a garden as a kid, and I loved it! Voted up.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, Habee! I hope my boys have great memories of gardening as they grow, and go on to share it with their own kids!


Fennelseed profile image

Fennelseed 4 years ago from Australia

This is a wonderful hub and close to my heart as I love edible gardens and growing our own food. My children are grown up but I can't wait to introduce gardening to my grandchildren. I agree with you, allowing children to experience growing food is a sure way to encourage healthy eating habits and all the information for doing that is right here. Well done, my votes to you.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Fennelseed, it is such a fun thing to do with kids - I hope you get to share that experience with your grandchildren some day! We absolutely love gardening and saved seeds from last year to plant again this year.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is a wonderful hub, leahlefler, filled with very useful ideas! Gardening is a great activity for both children and adults, and you've shown why so effectively!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

We love gardening with our boys - they really love it. I can't believe it is nearly March! Time to get those seed catalogs out and order some new plants for this coming year - I love it!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Gardening is a great way to have fun with your children while teaching them the benefits of eating healthy. We had a garden when our son was small and he helped plant seeds, weed and pick the vegtables. He loved playing among the sunflowers and rhubarb, and once he almost ate all our strawberry patch by himself. I see by your poll that most people have backyard gardens. The container garden is an option that would provide added interest for children. Great hub and enjoyed reading through it.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, teaches12345! We are going to add some container gardens to our deck this year, probably for strawberries. We have a lot of wildlife in our area, and the Liquid Fence keeps the deer away, but I think the smaller critters would simply eat our strawberries right out of our raised beds. The kids absolutely love gardening - I'm so glad you gardened with your son. It really is a wonderful thing for children to do!

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