Growing food with kids
Juicy tomatoes, fragrant herbs, vibrant green beans… the treasures of a home garden provide the perfect way to get children engaged with healthy food.
The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation shows us how to get started with a thriving home veggie patch...
Consider your space
The very first thing you need to consider is what space you have. Do you live in an apartment with only a windowsill or small balcony? Are you renting a house or do you own a house with a large yard? If you live in an apartment or rent a house and can’t establish a veggie garden in the ground, there are still plenty of options for growing your own food.
Sprouts and herbs will grow happily on a sunny windowsill and are fun for children as they are fast-growing. Balconies and courtyards can come alive with an assortment of potted vegetables, dwarf citrus varieties in large pots and hanging baskets or pot stands filled with a variety of herbs, which children will enjoy smelling and tasting. Autumn is the time to plant coriander, parsley, oregano and chives.
"Plant what you like to eat, but also try planting something you haven’t tried before, as eating a new vegetable is always more appealing (especially for children) when you have grown it yourself!"
Setting up a patch
If you have space to establish a veggie garden in the ground, find a sunny, north-facing position for your beds. Ensure there is easy access to both sides of garden beds, which will ideally be no wider than 1.5m, in order to easily reach across. If you are using above-ground garden beds, heights between 30 and 60cm will take less filling and are easier to reach into, especially for children.
You do not need to spend a lot of money on raised garden beds – use materials you already have or can find for free. Old bricks, concrete blocks and pipes make interesting garden bed edging, and you can plant beds in recycled bathtubs and wheelbarrows.
The good soil
Preparing the soil in a veggie garden is an important step to ensure your garden is a success and, like baking a cake, you need the right ingredients and a good recipe. You will need good compost to provide the microbes, carbon and minerals necessary for good soil health, and of course mulch, mulch, mulch to keep water and weeds out. Visit the kitchengardenfoundation.org.au for a good compost lasagne recipe.
"Get the children to help you plant just a few seedlings or seeds of a vegetable each week for several weeks – then you’ll have plenty of produce ready to harvest over the season."
What to plant
• Start with veggies that are easy to grow, such as leafy greens. Autumn is the time to sow silverbeet, rocket and many varieties of lettuce. Also try carrots, peas and broad beans, which get quick results, and brassicas such as cabbages, cauliflowers and broccoli.
• Taller vegetables like broad beans can be planted at the back or middle of a garden bed to maximise growing space, and a vertical site such as a north-facing wall with a simple wire trellis is great for growing peas.
• Plant what you like to eat, but also try planting something you haven’t tried before, as eating a new vegetable is always more appealing (especially for children) when you have grown it yourself!
• To ensure you have a constant supply of produce from your garden and don’t end up with a glut of a particular vegetable, try successive planting. Get the children to help you plant just a few seedlings or seeds of a vegetable each week for several weeks – then you’ll have plenty of produce ready to harvest over the season.
Maintaining your garden
Gardens need regular care, so make spending some time in the garden a part of your family’s daily routine. Water plants when needed, protect them from extreme weather conditions and veggie-eating bugs (children love snail hunts!), weed, mulch and harvest produce. Children take great pride in growing, harvesting and cooking their own food, so make a point of getting together in the kitchen and around the dinner table to share and celebrate a meal of the produce you have grown together.
Find more tips at kitchengardenfoundation.org.au