Before we had kids, I had this beautiful idea about gardening with children. I optimistically imagined how little hands would make excellent weeders, how they would hop between the beds, picking and snacking and squashing the beetles that destroy my cucurbits. 

Now a few years and two little boys later, I know it’s better and a little worse than I imagined. 

Gardening turns out to be the time in which I decompress, empty my mind and breath a little after long days of farming and child wrangling. I love the silence, the smells and the meditative movements. Plus we try to grow all the vegetables we consume ourselves. But with two little guys involved, there is a whole lot of chomping on tender seedlings that were supposed to go into the ground, scattering seeds everywhere but in the beds they belong and walking over my favourite, but desperately fragile flower starts.

Over the years, we found some tricks that make gardening relaxing for us, exciting and inclusive for them, and good for production too. 

 

1. Create garden areas for them, with them



When our oldest was almost two, we built him a big bean structure he loved. It was nothing more than some branches tied together with two openings and some twine, but it was his special spot. We planted the beans together, added nasturtiums, watered it together and it felt like his own. While I did some weeding or planting, he would hide in his bean house, chew on some flowers and have a blast. (See here for little babe Oliver and his horse skull bean house)

Now with two kids we built a big tunnel of cattle panels that hold the smaller squashes. We have a cucumber path, an edible flower area to pick and play and a bigger bean house. We set it all up together, so that they really feel that’s their special garden. They can eat and pick and play as much as they want.

A pumpkin trellis made out of a cattle panel

A pumpkin trellis made out of a cattle panel

2. Plant and grow more than you need



Make sure to plant plenty of what you love most. I planted twice the tomato plants I needed, had a few extra cucumbers when the first batch was trampled and truly don’t need all those melons that are so tempting to play with before they ripen. Planting enough makes me a whole lot more relaxed in the garden, and gives them the freedom to taste, touch and explore.

Child watering the vegetable garden

Orion watering the potato bed

3. Give them the choice



It is so empowering for kids to be in charge of what they grow. They can help choose seeds or seedlings, perhaps get the freedom to choose a number of varieties all by themselves. Choosing their own vegetables and planting them too makes it so much more interesting to care for, harvest and eventually eat.

There are beautiful gardening books out there that get them and myself in the mood for a whole lot of planting and weeding, and inspired our oldest to choose some plants we had never grown. This is a favourite, and this has been on our list for a while.

Watermelons on the vine

The favorite choice and biggest temptation in the garden: watermelons.

 

4. Grow what they love to consume



Pick some plants that are fun and delicious for children. Ground cherries (click here for our favorite local seed company and variety) are such a treat, our oldest calls them his garden candy. Edible flowers like nasturtiums, bachelor buttons and violets make popsicles, salads and pretty much anything else more fun to eat. A little patch of chamomile, mint and lavender makes for a sweet little tea patch. And marigolds, violets and calendula makes for fun fabric dye projects for later in the summer. 

 

To be completely transparent, I still almost hyperventilate when I see a toddler storm through my carefully strung tomato patch. There are plenty of days that our kids are more interested in watering each other than the plants. But overall, all four of us love this garden. And sharing the beauty of growing, caring and eating with two little guys is really what this is all about.

Baby playing in the vegetable garden surrounded by harvest