“All knowledge is rooted in wonder, and what better place to cultivate wonder than in our own gardens?” ~Sharon Lovejoy
I gave birth at the end of July 2013, bringing our baby boy into the world the same summer that we started the farm. Some folks thought it bad timing—a baby in the middle of our first season—but we knew otherwise and looked forward to the bountiful fresh food that would be bursting from the garden ready to nourish me and in turn our new babe, and the ease of having a newborn in the warmth of the summer rather than the cold of winter.
Edge declared that Waylon was our best crop of the season, and as I re-emerged into the world from our little nest at home, I felt such excitement at showing Waylon the garden and rediscovering the farm through an infant’s eyes.
This summer, Waylon will turn 4. His hands have been in the dirt from the beginning, and over the last three summers, he’s learned to tell lambsquarter from a lettuce seedling, how to place seeds into soil blocks, and of course how to harvest snap peas, green beans, cherry tomatoes and carrots.
We’ve learned, too, how to grow food and a child at the same time, in the same space.
Here are some great ways to get your kids in the garden:
In the Greenhouse
Filling trays: Soil is fun to play with! Filling trays, whether they’re six-packs or 128s, can be a helpful way for kids to play with soil in the greenhouse. Depending on the child’s age and ability, the trays filled may be more for fun than for function, but this is a great hands-on activity you can do with your child, or have her do while you are getting other work (like seeding) done nearby.
Seeding: Large-seeded crops (such as beets, squash, cucumbers, melons, corn, beans and peas) and pelleted seeds are easy for children to plant themselves. With supervision, our son can successfully place a specific number of pelleted seeds in each cell. Other crops easy for kids to seed include flowers such as calendula, sunflowers, and nasturtiums.
Hardening off: By gently brushing the seedlings with their hands, kids can help strengthen the plants by emulating the wind during the hardening off process. This helps the plants grow sturdier and can greatly reduce transplant shock. It’s a task our son loves to do; he calls it “giving love” to the plants.
In the Field
Transplanting: We always dip our transplants in a mix of water and kelp meal, and our son likes to help make the mix and stir it. We lay out a 100 ft. measuring tape to help us quickly and accurately space the transplants, and older kids can help by placing each transplant at the correct spacing; younger kids can help by handing transplants to mom or dad.
Direct Seeding: Large-seeded crops like beets, squash, corn, beans, peas, garlic and potatoes are all great direct-seeded crops for kids to help plant. Laying down a tape measure ensures accurate spacing (and sneaks in a real-life math lesson in the field).
Harvest: Waylon has shown us that easy crops for young children to harvest include peas, cherry tomatoes, beets, onions, carrots, and all sorts of flowers (when harvesting flowers with young children, don’t expect a long stem!) It can take some time for children to learn the right harvest size for each crop, which can turn into a lesson on the stages of plant growth. Cherry tomatoes are the easiest, though, as you can tell them the right color to harvest (no green ones!)
Farming with children is an exercise in balancing efficiency and playtime. Though efficiency is one of the most important things on a farm, playtime is important in life. Thankfully, kids will always help you find time for it.
Here are some great books on gardening and discovering the natural world with kids:
Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots, by Sharon Lovejoy
Shelburne Farm’s Project Seasons, by Deborah Parella
Cultivating Joy and Wonder—Shelburne Farms Project Seasons for Early Learners