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Eat What You Sow: Vegetable Gardening With Kids

Getting your kids involved in planting a vegetable garden has benefits beyond free labor.

Weeds are pushing through the weed barrier in the gravel path. There are the remains of partially living plants, pots filled with rank, muddy water, garden tools lying around and the wheelbarrow is overflowing with garden trash. It’s our vegetable garden after many, many months of neglect. So, I thought, what better use of time on a warm January day than to get our garden back into shape? My daughter really enjoyed being involved in the garden we planted last year. It’s educational, nutritious and it also happens to be a holiday weekend and my daughter needs to be kept busy.

Perhaps you've come across the dilemma of what to do with your child on a beautiful sunny day or perhaps your garden needs mending. Or maybe you have a black thumb and don't even know where to begin. In any case, you have come to the right place. 

Before You Get Started

You’ll need somewhere to plant; a small plot in your yard, a raised bed or even just a pot. You’ll likely want planting soil, compost, and some basic gardening tools like shovels, rakes and gloves. Most of this can be found at Mission Nursery in San Marino. They also have vegetable seed packets if you choose to start your garden from seed. It takes a few extra weeks, but there’s still time to get started, depending what you plant, and it’s much cheaper than buying plants.

For instant gratification, you can visit Armstrong, Lincoln or Burkard Nurseries in Pasadena to get vegetables that have already been started. And if you don’t want your child using the steel rake and shovel, you’ll be able to find children’s garden tools at the San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe (within the next month, I’m told.)

Preparation

I’ve learned the key to a successful garden is soil preparation. Be sure to get your little one to help with this part because free labor is free labor even if it’s distracted five-year-old-labor. They can help pull a few weeds and rake before finding various worms and bugs to distract them--and that’s okay--just enough effort to let them know that the garden doesn’t just happen magically. My daughter took an extended break during this part and informed us that her favorite part really is “planting the plants”, so she was saving her energy for that.

Planting

I like planting this time of year because you rarely have to worry about watering religiously like you do in summer and there seems to be more interesting vegetable choices. With our last garden, we had a lot of luck with Swiss chard, artichokes, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and potatoes.

This year, we have broccoli rabe, bok choy, collard greens, lettuce and snap peas. My daughter declared, “I love snap peas”, which is great because I don’t remember her liking them when I bought them at the store. Maybe when she’s able to pick them off the vine herself she really will love them.

We also set aside a separate area for her to plant and take care of on her own. She loves watering her own plants and watching them grow. She did let us know that she won’t be eating the bok choy, but I’m still hopeful. I’ve read that the more a child sees a food and it becomes familiar, the more likely they are to try it.

Harvest

Be sure to include your kids when it’s time to harvest. They love to pick the vegetables off the plants or pull root vegetables. Let them help clean and prepare as much as you can. Once it’s on the dinner table and they’ve been a part of it from the start, you have a better chance of them wanting to eat it.

Compost

We keep a small compost bucket in our kitchen for our vegetable scraps, eggshells, and plant materials. And we have a larger composting bin at the back of our yard. My daughter now knows what can go in the compost bucket and helps out when it’s time to carry all of the vegetable scraps out to the bin. Once it breaks down, you have free soil conditioner and all the while your child learns about the environment, the food cycle and the importance of recycling.

If a compost heap in your backyard is not appealing to you, starting this year the City of San Marino will be giving out free compost at Lacy Park in the spring and fall according to Assistant City Manager Cindy Collins. Be sure to check your city newsletter for dates.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works also offers free workshops throughout the year where you can purchase compost bins at a reduced rate. The next one in San Marino will be held at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Gardens on Saturday, April 23 at 9:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. The Arcadia Arboretum will also host a workshop on Saturday, Feb. 19, at 9:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. Visit SmartGardening.com for more information and to find more local workshops.

Planting a garden gives you much more than just vegetables to eat. It can reduce your grocery bill (and anyone with a family these days knows what a value that can be) and teach you about when things are in season and the most flavorful. Our vegetable gardens have been a lot of trial and error, but we learn with every season, have fun doing it together and hopefully our daughter gets a little something out of it along the way.

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