It’s finally time to spend some quality time outside! While flying kites and going to parks may be all the rage for a few hours, gardening is a great opportunity to let your children grow over the entire summer. Plus, gardening is a great outdoor activity, and it’s something that you can plan and enjoy doing as a family.
I learned to love gardening at the knees of my mother who spent her time off from teaching tending a large part of our back yard that had been converted to a vegetable bed. It was a magical place where there was mud, mayhem, and homegrown snacks as far as the eye could see. When I had children, I knew that I wanted to pass that love affair along.
I haven’t been disappointed. Showing my son how to tend to the different types of plants and allowing him to help out around our garden has taught him that, ironically, food doesn’t grow on trees. That it takes time to nurture and cultivate the vegetables that appear on his plate each night. My daughter liked digging holes, making mud pies and eating the peas that my son had planted.
One of the best parts of gardening is that you don’t have to have a huge yard to plant a garden. In fact, if you’re just starting out, it’s better to start small with window boxes or container gardens or even an herb box in the house. Calgary is also home to more than 150 community gardens. Located in every quadrant of the city, these spaces are open to community members for a small fee. In the past, my family rented one of the first plots available in our community.
There were some growing pains - the water wasn’t connected for the first month, so we would lug jugs of it from our home to our garden bed - but the hassle proved worth it. The semi-weekly trips to the garden gave us a place to go when we were getting antsy and gave my kids a sense of responsibility and reap the rewards of our labour at Thanksgiving when we showed off our harvest.
That excitement is exactly what the Community Garden Resource Network hopes for when they see families in one of the many plots in Calgary.
“Children gardening with their family members are encouraged and welcomed in all of Calgary’s community gardens,” says Gael Blackhall, Coordinator for the Community Gardens Resource Network. She says the network is dedicated to making community gardening fun for the whole family, even if it’s something they’ve never tried before. “Since lots of parents are new to food gardening, we provide some easy-to-do activities that provide guaranteed success with the little ones.”
Tips for gardening with your little ones
Select seeds that germinate quickly such as radishes, peas, sunflowers, or zucchini. It gives your child an early sense of accomplishment and excitement for what’s to come.
Calgary is, for the most part, Zone Three. Our growing season is short; we get anywhere from 95 to 110 frost-free days, so it’s important to pick seeds that germinate quickly and have no more than 80 days to maturity.
Consider creating a small themed garden to engage kids and keep the project more their scale.
Possible themes could include the following:
Pizza plot - Grow popular pizza toppings: tomatoes, onions, peppers, basil, parsley, oregano in a round garden sectioned off in ‘slices.’
Pickle jar - Plant cucumbers, dill, and garlic; then make pickles from your harvest in the Fall.
Salad bar - Plant vegetables that kids can eat fresh out of the garden such as lettuce, snap peas, cherry tomatoes.
Make sure everyone has clothes that can handle the mess and encourage your kids to get their hands dirty. It’s part of the fun!
Let them decorate their garden. For your vegetables, wooden spoons from the Dollar Store make excellent plant markers. Painted rocks can add some flair while you wait for your seeds to sprout.
Top crops for kids
Sunflowers - Sunflowers sprout in one week and should be two inches tall in a month. In eight weeks, the buds will flower, revealing hundreds of seed kernels. Confectionery sunflowers dry naturally in the late summer sun; either providing a delicious snack for your children or for the birds all winter.
Lettuce - This quick, reliable crop is not only a fun thing to grow, it’s also a good way to interest kids in salads. Lettuce likes part shade and the soil needs to be moist during the first two weeks. It’s also the perfect plant for container gardening.
Radishes - Radishes yield quick results for the young gardener. Radishes germinate in three to 10 days, and have a very short growing season of 20 to 30 days. Depending on whether you like them spicy or not, plant in cool weather for a mild radish, or hot weather for a hotter radish.
Snow peas - Taking 10 days to germinate, snow peas reach maturity in about 60 days. Peas prefer cooler, partially shaded locations in the garden; they should be sown closely, about one inch apart, at most. Snow peas are popular because the pod is edible, making it the perfect farm-to-table crop.
Zucchini - Get giant zucchinis, the ones that you can almost see them grow overnight. They are easy to grow.
Bush beans - Fast, easy, high yield and, because they do not grow tall, they are easy for kids to harvest. Bush beans germinate in four to eight days, and mature in 40 to 65 days. It’s best to plant a small patch and then another in a few weeks to ensure your harvest doesn’t get woody or inedible.
Carrots - Carrots are an easy plant to grow, but slow to germinate… be patient. Carrots mature in about 60 days but will require thinning to ensure they have a root. Small varieties are recommended for children, as they’re easier to grow and more fun to eat.
Pumpkins - Nothing wraps up the growing season better than a pumpkin. Seeds will sprout in about one week and after a few days, vine leaves begin to form and creep along the ground. An important tip for growing pumpkins: once there are one or two pumpkins on the vine, pick off new blossoms. Depending on the type, pumpkins can take 80 to 120 days to harvest, so they are a good crop to start indoors in Calgary.
For more information on gardening with your children, visit calhort.org/calgary-horticultural-society/resources/gardening-with-kids.aspx.
Nanica is the proud parent of Benjamin and Fable. Truly a child at heart, she can often be found digging in the dirt or exploring Calgary for new things to keep her kids happily occupied all year-round.
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