Spring will eventually be sprung. I promise. I’ve lived in Cincinnati long enough to know that the coming of March is no guarantee of spring, but it’s coming. It may be 65 degrees one day only go be doing this the next:
Yet, this is the perfect time to be dreaming, planning, and preparing for planting season. I’ve been making a list of the things I want to grow in our garden in the coming warm months and sketching where to plant it all in our yard. It gets me through when my yard looks more like a winter wonderland than a garden. Instead of mounds of snow, I’m thinking about getting my hands dirty, watching tiny vegetables bloom, and preparing fresh produce for dinner.
Even if you’ve never grown more than mildew on your bathtub wall (is that just me?), there are some great reasons to try growing something this year. It doesn’t have to be a backyard homestead to make it valuable for you or your kids. Even just a few pots of herbs or a couple tomato plants by the back door are worth the effort.
Kids are more likely to eat what they have grown and harvested themselves. Picky eaters do not suddenly turn into adventurous ones, but there’s a much better chance they will taste a veggie that they planted, watered, watched grow, and picked themselves than one Mom picked up at the grocery store that suspiciously shows up on their dinner plate one night.
Kids learn a ton from growing food. Sometimes, children of the city or suburbs don’t have a clear understanding of where their food comes from. Growing a few vegetables in the backyard helps them see that food doesn’t magically appear at the grocery store. They also become curious and eager to learn about weather, ecology, nutrition, insects, animals-an endless list of science topics.
Kids learn patience. A garden is slow. Even the fastest growing vegetable takes about 25 days from planting to harvest. The longest can take months or years. In a world of instant gratification, fast-paced video games, and rushed schedules, a garden provides a wonderful opportunity to show children how slow things are often the most joyful and rewarding.
Kids have a great reason to go outside and be active. Shoveling compost, pulling weeds, dragging the hose over to the garden-all of these are great exercise for kids and adults. Plus, when they want to see how much their cherry tomatoes changed color since the day before, I don’t have to convince them to get off the computer. A garden is the perfect reason for them to get out into the fresh air and sunshine.
While the weather outside my window may be frightful now, I’m dreaming of my summer backyard paradise with fresh, healthy produce everywhere I rest my eyes. What do you want to plant this year? I have a few suggestions.
1. Grow some things that grow fast. Children are so excited for something to happen once they plant some seeds. You can encourage their excitement by giving them something to watch. Some varieties of radishes, spinach, lettuce, and green onions will sprout in days and be ready for harvest in about a month.
2. Grow some things that grow slow. It is rewarding for both me and my kids to nurture something all season long and finally, after months, get to harvest the delicious, fresh vegetables. Broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and beans are all delicious and will take all spring and summer to grow. If you’re really adventurous (and pretty sure you’re not moving anytime soon), plants like asparagus, rhubarb, and berries need years to get established but are totally worth it.
3. Grow something you don’t think you like. My kids have learned that the things we grow in our garden, that are in-season and fresh picked just before we eat them, taste a lot better than the things we get at the store. That’s why it’s worth trying to grow things you aren’t sure anyone in your house will like. A fresh, sun-ripened tomato? Doesn’t even compare to anything you can get in a store. Plump little Brussels sprouts snapped right off the stalk? They look so cool growing, they might even be worth a taste.
4. Grow something just for the sake of curiosity. Those funky, giant stalks of Brussels sprouts, some squash that look like flying saucers, garlic or kale that can grow in the snow-some vegetables are worth growing just to see it happen. Try one.
5. Grow some herbs. I think herbs are a perfect plant for children because they grow so easily. Most don’t like a lot of water or fertilizer, several come back year after year when grown in the ground, and they appreciate being trimmed on a regular basis. Plus, almost anything you want to cook would benefit from some fresh parsley, basil, thyme, chives, oregano, or cilantro so kids have an excuse to go out and pick some almost every day.
While I’m dreaming up my plans for our garden, I hope you will too. The first step is easy–what and where? Do you have a small corner of your yard that gets at least six hours of sun a day (more is better)? Or will you need to put some plants in pots on your porch? Either can work. What would you like to put there? Maybe even ask your kids what they want to plant. Just be prepared for a long list! Soon, we’ll talk about how to make a simple and fast child’s garden happen in your yard too. Simple and fast? Yes, really!