The easiest way to teach children where their food comes from is to let them grow some. If you can get the kids excited about growing their own fruit and vegetables, they’re more likely to want to eat them, leading to healthy eating habits that will stand them in good stead for life. But the benefits don’t stop there.
Gardening is a good, healthy outdoor activity for all of us, including children. It gets the little darlings away from the screen, wears them out and calms them down. Regular gardening in the fresh air has been shown to improve children’s sleep, stress levels, and school performance. What’s not to like?
Of course, for your ‘hidden’ parental agenda to have any chance of success, you need to engage and excite the little people. Above all, gardening with kids should be FUN.
Choose no-fail vegetable varieties that are easy to grow and make sure you plant using good quality seeds from a specialist supplier such as Seed Parade to avoid disappointment. Select produce that visually wows with size (think doll size woodland strawberries or humongous pumpkins), bright colors or funny shapes.
Most of all, don’t forget that children have short attention spans and are impatient to see results, so pick seeds that grow quickly into something delicious they’ll want to eat.
Here are 5 fun vegetables that should tick all the boxes.
These sweet, marble-sized fruits are perfect for little hands and a favorite for lunch boxes and picnic baskets everywhere. If you grow your own tomatoes, most of the crop will probably never make it to the kitchen, so tempting are they to just pick off the vine – which is totally fine, of course.
Unless you are used to growing your own tomato plants from seed in the greenhouse, or if you’re too late in the year, buy a healthy seedling from a reputable garden center and plant it into rich garden soil or a grow bag. Sun Gold is probably the most popular variety of cherry tomatoes, being a reliable and prolific producer.
Even if you have a big garden, it might be advisable to plant your tomatoes in pots on the patio, so they’re easy to water (twice a day!) and harvest.
Pumpkins and squashes
Pumpkins are the stuff of fairy tales and Halloween, so growing one in your garden is as close to performing magic as you can possibly get without cheating. Whether you pick a classic Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin or any of a huge number of weird and wonderfully shaped squashes out there, the important thing is to leave a bit of space in the vegetable bed for them to reach maturity.
Sow pumpkin or squash seeds straight outdoors from mid-May when the threat of frost has passed. You can use a plastic cloche to warm up the soil until the seeds start to sprout. A sunny patch in the garden will produce the best results.
If your children are excited by the idea of looking for buried treasure, they’ll love harvesting potatoes. Start with a bag of seed potatoes; they haven’t been treated with growth retarding chemicals like some supermarket potatoes. Red Yukon Gold are one of the most popular varieties of potato.
Bury the seed potatoes in moisture retentive soil and periodically hill up the compost around emerging plants throughout the growing season. This gives the potato more space to grow tubers and keeps them underground. Green potatoes on the surface should not be eaten, and neither should the leaves, fruit stems or sprouts – they’re toxic. When the foliage has died down naturally, it’s harvest time.
The radish family is huge but if you choose the little red round varieties such as Cherry Belle, Sparkler or Early Scarlet Gold, they’re surely one of the easiest, quickest and most gratifying vegetables to grow. Sow them straight into the garden (one seed = one radish) and watch them germinate in less than 2 weeks. From seed to crop they’ll be ready in just 3-4 weeks.
When you can see the red top of the radish poking out of the soil, they’re ready to be pulled up – the perfect job for a little allotment helper. With their tart and slightly spicy flavor, these bite-size vegetables can be eaten straightaway. They also taste amazing cooked in butter.
Sugar snap peas
These sweet, crunchy pods can be eaten straight off the vine and also make a great lunchbox snack. A bit like ‘magic’ runner beans, they’re easy peasy (!) to grow but have a much more appealing taste (please note: raw runner beans contain toxins that are only removed by cooking).
Sugar snap peas need to be planted around a support – an A-frame, wigwam, a cage or a simple fence or trellis will do. They will germinate in about 2 weeks and climb steadily, bearing pretty flowers and, in about 2-3 months, start producing and continuing all summer long.