To garden with kids or not. That is the question. If you’re an experienced, dedicated and prolific gardener, your answer is likely a resounding ‘YES’. But what if you’re more like me, interested in growing my own food, but disorganized and short on time and talent? Here’s my five cents: Do it anyway.
When I think about my mother, images of her with a shovel in her hand and dirt under her fingernails usually come to mind. For as long as I can remember, she has tinkered in her garden, composting, digging, planting, weeding, mulching, harvesting and building various greenhouse contraptions. As a kid I enjoyed the fruits of her labor, and as an adult, I’m doing my best to give my kids the same experience, even though I inherited neither my mother’s talent nor her dedication. Although I start out with great enthusiasm every year, my garden will probably never live up to its full potential.
Regardless, I stay determined to grow at least a few crops in the backyard with my daughters every year. I’ve realized that not only is it possible to garden with kids even if you have a black thumb, it actually has many benefits. Here are the top five reasons why you should give it a try:
1. Gardening makes you happy
Many people refer to their gardens as their “happy place” and there may be a good reason for that. Research suggests that breathing in the bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae, which is found in soil, can increase your brain’s serotonin levels and enhance your mood. In other words, gardening can be a natural anti-depressant that lifts the spirits of adults and children alike.
2. Failure can lead to new discoveries
When we returned from a three week long trip to Sweden last summer, my potted tomato plants had been devastated by the tomato horn worm. I was disappointed, of course, but the kids were delighted at the sight of the fat (but still very hungry) green caterpillars and stayed busy for days studying and building habitats for them. When giant moths showed up in the same pots a few weeks later, we were able to make the connection to the caterpillars and the transformation that had taken place.
3. Even the smallest crop will taste magical
So you only got six carrots out of the big batch that you planted? I bet they’re still going to taste better than any of the ones you buy at the grocery store! A small crop will make it seem all the more special, and will help the kids appreciate the difference between fresh, locally grown produce and the mass produced varieties.
4. Every once in a while you’ll pick a winner
Last year we started four pumpkin seeds in an egg carton seed starter and later transplanted them to the backyard. With minimal care (which is probably an understatement) they went on to produce over 20 large pumpkins in time for Halloween. I also seem to do fairly well with potatoes, which seem to cope relatively well with moderate levels of neglect. The trick here is to find what is easy to grow in your soil and climate and pick at least a few “safe” crops.
5. Your kids may still grow up to love gardening
In my experience my kids are less likely to care about the crops that didn’t turn out than the ones that did. By introducing them to gardening at an early age I’ve at least given them a chance to learn about plant life cycles and the delicate balance that sustains us and the planet. Even if I’m not as good at or as committed to gardening as I’d like to be, I find peace in the thought that my kids may still grow up to love gardening. And chances are they’ll do a better job than me.