Gardening with Kids 101

gardening watering first year WP

Every kid must have their own watering can.

Some days I can’t help but wish I were a Renaissance mom. I may not be a stellar cook, but I have expanded my cooking repertoire by leaps and bounds and have added many more vegetarian and healthy meals to our rotation. I may not be a cyclist who has a bike attachment for my kid so that we can enjoy emissions-free outings, but I do own a hybrid vehicle and got a bike last Christmas. I may not be a master gardener, but I have learned a few things which gives me hope that my brown thumb is becoming greener.

Gardening in Texas is not for the faint of heart. Sure, you can grow year round. But do you really want to be spending lots of time in the garden in August? I didn’t think so.

gardening strawberries WP

Even if you only get a few berries, your kid will swear they are the sweetest he has ever tasted.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering gardening with your kids:
Start small.

First, you need to determine where you will grow your garden. Will you rely on containers — easy to manage and move around if needed, and good if you don’t have a yard or a big space where you can plant? If you do choose to plant in your yard, does the spot you have selected get enough sun? Is it vulnerable to any critters (pets, deer, etc.)? Do you have any compost available to nourish your little spot?

Once you have decided where to plant, of course you have to decide what to grow. Although it’s tempting to buy seeds, your kids will enjoy a quicker payoff with plants. Do your kids like to cook? Perhaps there are herbs, like rosemary, basil or mint that you can try.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Consider starting with two plants the first year (even if one doesn’t make it, hopefully the other will), and then consider adding one more each year. Unless your kids catch the gardening bug, you will likely be primarily in charge of tending to your plants until they bear fruit (or flowers), so make it manageable.

Also, don’t forget that we are currently in Stage 2 water restrictions. That means that you have one day to water a week with automatic irrigation systems, although watering a vegetable garden with a soaker hose is exempt from the watering schedule. You are also allowed to water with a hand-held hose or bucket any time of the week. When you are starting out, you’ll want to water more frequently so that the plants can take root.

Over the past few years, we have tried both cherry and larger sized tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, rosemary, mint, basil, echinacea (flowers), sunflowers, watermelon, peas and hot peppers (although my husband manages that part of the operation). The sunflowers were part of The Great Sunflower Project, an attempt to gather citizen data on pollinators. Most of the plants were selected by my son at the start of each season. Not all have been a success (insert sadface about the watermelon and this year we haven’t made it to the strawberries before an animal has nibbled on them).

gardening lettuce WP

Before we started our own garden, my little rabbit and I communed with the experts at The Natural Gardener.

Grow local.

If you grew up elsewhere, it might be tempting to grow something you remember from your childhood. Stick to native plants, such as the ones in this guide meant to preserve water. After doing enough research to recognize what types of plants will work best in our climate, I head out to nurseries, such as Barton Springs Nursery, the Natural Gardener, Sledd’s or a place like Garden-Ville and see what’s in stock, read the posted information and ask the pros there what they would recommend. The nice part about these places is that kids can have fun exploring while you are learning more (the Natural Gardener is a fun outing in and of itself, with its extensive gardens and even animals!) Although this isn’t local, I have found some cute kid-sized gardening gloves and shovels at Jo-Ann Fabric on clearance around this time of year to round out our operation.

If you are really intimidated about the whole start up phase, there are several businesses who will literally arrive at your house and install a garden for you. One is Austin Urban Gardens, which comes and installs raised garden beds of various sizes. Resolution Gardens is focused on helping citizens grow food on their land, so they install gardens, provide classes and have started 5-Mile Farms, a decentralized urban farm that lives in homeowners’ backyards in Austin.

Build a community.

Being the brownish thumb that I am (or was?), I realized quickly that there were lots of folks around me who knew more than I did about gardening — and were willing to give me advice. One of them is a neighbor, who is a lifelong gardener and who offered up a corner of her yard for us to start a “community” garden. We are relying on her expertise, her (unshaded) lawn (one of our biggest obstacles to gardening is our lovely tree-filled lot) and her encouragement to keep going.

Although right now our community is just the three of us, I’m hopeful that this is just the start of something larger that includes other kids on our block as well. I’ve already taken the opportunity to take the youngest kid on our block to sniff the mint, look at the peas and notice how much the little plants have grown.

What's up, doc?

What’s up, doc?

Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Just yesterday, we harvested the first tomato off my son’s plant. He proudly held it up for the requisite photo opp. I have really seen that my son happily gobbles up carrots he has grown, while shunning baby carrots from the store. I like that it shows him the work that goes into making our food and that it takes responsibility and time for something you nurture to grow into something bigger.

I’m still no master gardener, but I am happy with what we have done so far and look forward to continuing to grow our garden and our little gardener. I hope in the future to encourage the struggling population of monarchs by planting butterfly-friendly plants, such as milkweed. I also hope to convert more of our yard into plantable space and get set up earlier in the season to plant. A girl can dream, right?

Until then, I’ll just keep thinking of this Rumi quote that I love: “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘grow, grow.’”

Are you a master gardener? Have any tips to share? Are you just starting out? What types of plants have you found your kids love growing with you?

A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her newly-minted-7-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.

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