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Planting an Edible Garden with Kids

Apr 14, 2015

I’ve never met a kid who didn’t like to plant and grow things. When you’re trying to teach your kids where their food comes from, growing it is a great start.

Two curious boys filling a newspaper cup with soil to prepare for seedlings.


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Every year when the ground starts to thaw, when we notice bags of gardening soil stacked outside at the grocery store, and we spend that first weekend outdoors raking and cleaning up the litter left over from winter, we decide to start a few seedlings indoors, because spring isn’t a sure thing yet. (We live in Calgary, where winter can be long, and growing seasons short—although this year, the snow seems to have stopped early.)

An overhead of a table laid out with top soil, cups filled with soil and marked with popsicle-stick indicators, and a container of chick peas.

Biodegradable planters mean you can take them outside to transplant right into the garden in their containers, and so we keep egg cartons and newspapers to wrap around the end of cans and fold to make free paper cups to fill with dirt.

A small newspaper cup made by wrapping paper around the base of a small can.

When you’re planting a garden with kids, it’s a good opportunity for a bit of a science experiment—to go through the kitchen and see what we have that’s actually a seed that will grow into something. We started with our just-bought seeds (we chose pumpkins, sunflowers and stock, a flower I had never heard of but it turns out was one of my Grandma’s favourites) and then we ransacked the cupboards planting quinoa (technically a seed, not a grain), chia, dry chickpeas and a few speckled du Puy lentils.

An egg carton filled with soil. Each egg indentation has been hollowed out a bit and has a sugar-snap pea seed sitting in it.

We opened and plucked out the seeds from fresh peppers, and even planted a bit of knobby ginger, something we’ve never tried, but just read about. (To harvest, pull out the entire plant, remove a piece of the rhizome and re-plant it to keep it going.)

We always make sure to leave a few good potatoes in the bin to grow eyes—these we cut into chunks, making sure there’s an eye emerging on each—and plant them in about a foot of soil in an old garbage bin we’ve turned into a potato condo with a few holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. As the potatoes grow up and out through the surface of the soil, we shovel more dirt overtop to cover it; once the bin is full it overflows with leaves, and by fall we can tip the whole thing out onto a tarp and sift through to harvest a good quantity of delicious baby spuds. 

A chunk of potato with a huge sprouted eye being placed into a garbage bin filled with soil.

We start lettuces and spinach from seed—they’re easy to grow, keeping a steady supply through the summer, but we pick up small herb and tomato plants once they become available. It takes so long to grow tomatoes, with our short but sunny season, we have to start with a small plant. (Although I have in the past saved seeds from some of my favourite Okanagan tomatoes, but we need to be on the ball enough to start them in January or February.)

Seeds can be slow to sprout, but satisfying to watch once those first few green shoots start to poke through the soil. Let kids gently spray them with a clean spray bottle full of water—a mist won’t drown or crush those delicate early shoots. Once they look like they might be in danger of outgrowing their containers, and the risk of overnight frost has passed, they can be transplanted outside to the garden or to larger pots for the patio or windowsill.

And then all that’s left is to harvest and eat what we grow, all summer long!

Article Author Julie Van Rosendaal
Julie Van Rosendaal

Read more from Julie here.

Julie Van Rosendaal is the author of six best-selling cookbooks (with a seventh due out this fall), the food editor of Parents Canada magazine and the food and nutrition columnist on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio One. She is a recipe developer, TV personality, food stylist and writes about food for local, national and international publications. She is perhaps best known as the voice behind her popular food blog, Dinner with Julie, where she documents real life at home in Calgary with her husband and nine-year-old son. Connect on twitter @dinnerwithjulie.

 

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