When I was a kid, I roamed around my grandfather's backyard helping to pick tomatoes, squash, green beans, berries and everything else in between. I can still recall how excited I was when he sent me home with my first tomato seedling in a small terra cotta pot. I followed his instructions, and watched my seedling grow. I imagined the gigantic tomatoes I would be picking from my special plant. Children derive such a sense of wonder about seeing something grow from a seed. It is, after all, the life cycle in action.
Many parents, while interested in gardening, often complain that they simply do not have the yard space for a garden. Many picture gigantic plots like those farmed by my grandfather. But in all honesty, those days are gone for most people. Many of us no longer have the space or the time to handle such a large undertaking. So what's a family to do?
Container gardening is great if you have limited space and/or issues with bending over. Wal-Mart, Kmart, and other discount stores sell inexpensive, lightweight large containers in various shapes and colors. You'll have to buy potting soil, but you can reduce the amount you need by filling your planter one third full of packing peanuts. This is a second life for something that could end up in a landfill, and it will keep your pots lighter and reduce root rot.
Don't Plant What You Don't Like
This seems like a no brainer, but so many of us become excited by our gardens and we plant every seed we see. Do you want to end up with 42 pound of zucchini if you hate to eat it? Focus your energy, time, and resources on vegetables and berries that you love. This is also a good time to plant a few things that you are trying to encourage your kids to eat. Kids are more likely to try vegetables they have grown themselves.
Buy Seeds and Plants that are High Yield
Some varieties do better than others when it comes to producing. In our household, we love tomatoes. Our children would run out and pick our large tomatoes to eat themselves. While I was glad they were eating healthy, it didn't leave many tomatoes for my husband or myself. So, I plant Sweet 100's. These plants produce hundreds of tiny sweet tomatoes, perfect for little hands to pick and snack on. The kids know that these are their tomatoes and help to take great care of them. Other easy growers are squash, green beans, snap peas and peppers. Strawberries are also great to grow in pots, and both strawberries and tomatoes can be easily grown in special hanging bags.
Squeeze Vegetables In as Landscaping
Many vegetables and berries can be squeezed into your current landscaping. For example, I have a decorative landscape planter bed in my front yard. It receives full sun and is irrigated when my grass is watered. I've tried many different types of bedding plants, but nothing seemed to take to the area. It turned out that this area was perfect for strawberries. The green portion is ornamental all year long, and we are able to enjoy berries in the spring and summer. The kids enjoy coming home and picking a couple of strawberries before walking in the door. People often ask me what I have growing in the bed and are surprised when I tell them. You can also do this with herbs such as mint, basil, cilantro, and chives.
Use Natural Pesticides
After going through all of the trouble to make an edible garden, don't ruin it with pesticides. Bugs, birds and other wildlife are going to nibble on your edible treats. Mother Nature gives to us, and in return we need to give back a little too. Try to use only natural pesticides that are derived from essential plant oils. These are safe to spray on your plant invaders, and yet are still safe for ingestion. One of the natural pesticides we use are lady bugs. You can buy a container of these little garden helpers at larger garden centers. If you release them on a cool evening, they will hang around your yard and help both the decorative and edible plants.
No matter what size garden you choose to have, I promise your crop will be the best you've ever tasted. The work will be worth it to see the wonder and pride on your child's face as they eat something they've grown themselves.