Including children in our gardening efforts is a wonderful way to cultivate a family culture of work and usefulness. Children who know how to garden are also more connected to their food. Let’s face it, a kid is more likely to eat a carrot they grew themselves. However, gardening with children—especially planting seeds—isn’t always as simple as it might seem. Here are some ideas to help.
1. Use Big Seeds
The smaller the child, the bigger the seed needs to be. A young child’s little fingers just aren’t as adept at holding or manipulating tiny objects, like the nearly invisible chamomile or carrot seeds. Have your youngest gardeners start their seed-planting adventures with larger seeds, like beans and sunflowers. The larger seeds typically have the added benefit of not being overly particular about their planting depth. If your kiddo pushes your sunflower seed down 3 inches instead of 2, it’s not that big a deal. That’s not the case with some of those smaller seeds that get lost in the depths of the dirt.
2. Choose Weird-Looking Seeds and Fun Crops
As a gardener, I think all seeds are beautiful, amazing and wonderful! However, to a child, a broccoli seed may not be as interesting as a beet seed, with all its interesting angles. If you have a kid who’s not thrilled to be out in the garden in the first place, give them the weird looking seeds to plant. Calendula would be a great one to start with, with it contorted lines. Of equal interest may be the seeds that produce cool plants, like bird-house gourds and foot-long runner beans. Give each seed its own story—your child may just forget their working because they’re excited to keep planting.
3. Take Frequent Breaks
Children do better with frequent stops in between jobs as opposed to working straight through a task. If planting your garden beds would take you a good hour to accomplish on your own, plan for it to take at least two with the children. Depending on how young your children are, you may want to plan to plant for about 30 minutes and then sit in the shade for 15 minutes. Then, another 30 minutes of work and a picnic lunch for 30 minutes. Wrap up the rest of the work, including finding loose seed packets and cleaning off trowels for the last 15 minutes. It doesn’t have to go like clockwork, but having a rough plan before you begin the day will help keep you from being frustrated at a slower pace and let your children know they’ll get to play in between the jobs.
And, hey, you might actually enjoy moving a little slower! Children are always so full of wonder in the spring garden—let them help you stop and see it yourself. Sometimes we adults are way too concerned with completing the task that we miss so much of the beauty our children readily spy.
4. Make Seed Tape Before You Plant
When you’re in the middle of planting the garden beds with your kids, one of the hardest things to do is keep track of what’s been planted, who’s had a turn and where it’s all been put. Suddenly your brain hurts! Do yourself a favor and make up some seed tapes or even whole seed mats before planting day. Seed tapes are particularly useful for those pesky small seeds, like carrots.
I never like planting carrots because I just know I’m going to forget to come back and thin them. To be honest, planting or thinning carrots with small children is really a pain anyway. A seed tape spaces the carrots evenly along a line of biodegradable material (when we make them we use toilet paper) so that no thinning will be required. You just plant the tape and wait for it to grow into perfectly spaced carrots. Besides, your kids will wither think you’re cool or goofy for planting toilet paper.
You can buy seed tape, of course, but making it’s a simple project that children can easily participate in.
What you’ll need:
- toothpicks or chopsticks
- a roll of toilet paper
Mix enough flour and water to make a thick paste. We made six tapes about 4 feet long with two tablespoons of flour, but it’s a pretty relative amount.
Spread out a roll of toilet paper however long your bed of carrots will be. A standard size bed is about 8 feet. If you do square foot gardening, make your tapes to fit your squares. Carrot seeds need placed about 2 inches apart, so have your kiddo make a mark every 2 inches going down the middle of your toilet paper using a ruler for guidance. If you’re planting a different kind of seed, read the back of the seed packet to find the thinning distance.
Have your child place a small dot of paste on each mark using their chopstick or toothpick.
Place one carrot seed on top of each dot of paste.
When all the seeds are placed, fold the toilet paper in half over itself, sealing the seeds inside. Tell your children that they’re tucking the seeds into bed. Make sure your child labels the tape with the type of seeds used. Let the strips air dry, after which you can roll them up and store them in a cool, dry place until they’re ready for planting.
To plant your seed tape, roll out the strips in your garden beds and cover them with the recommended amount of soil for that seed. For carrots, that’s about 1/4 inch.
With a little planning and realistic expectations you and your kids can have turn a chore into garden party. Make time to do this garden task together. Life is so busy and there’s always so much to do but a few hours in the garden together can mean so much to your children. The family that gardens together, stays together!