Gardening with Kiddos: A Green Thumb Doesn't Matter

The tomatoes are awesome. And so is his shirt.

The tomatoes are awesome. And so is his shirt.

I have never had much of a green thumb. I have been able (most years) to keep some basil alive for a stretch, and I can handle pruning plants. But when it comes to gardening, it’s never been my thing. I long considered myself to have a brown thumb.

But I do have really fond memories of gardening as a kid. (And somewhere, there’s a County Fair ribbon or two for some squash my brother and I grew.) My parents, who are good at just about everything, have green thumbs.

Those gardening memories — however faint they are now — are special. And I really wanted to create similar ones with my son. I also wanted for him to know where food comes from. That means being a part of grocery shopping and meal planning and even growing food.

So, yes, I will concede that most of us are never going to be able to grow all of our own food. I am talking about gardening, not farming.

And we certainly don’t need to be perfect. For a long time, the fear of failure resulting from my absurd desire for perfection held me back. (Well, that and it looks like a lot of work.) But with a little perspective shift, we can take some of the stress out of this. Here’s how.

Look at gardening as an experiment.

Let’s be honest with our kids and tell them we don’t know everything. Let’s divulge that we’re learning too and embrace learning together. This whole thing is an experiment! And if nothing survives, that’s OK!

In our early planning days, I bought a simple magazine on edible gardening. My son was with me when I picked it up, and I shared that I wanted to read it to help our own garden. We even spent some time at bedtime looking through the pictures and talking about the things we might grow in the garden.

Research, design and plant together.

I don’t know what grows best when. I try to read the packages on the seeds and study up, but this is a great opportunity to bring kids in. If you have kids who can help research, assign that task to them. Let them help decide what to plant and design the garden. And no matter the age, they should be actively involved in the planting; it gives them ownership, and that’s important.

To water, or not to water?

Where we live, we really have no choice but to water the garden daily. But you can experiment with watering too. Watering our plants is one of my son’s favorite tasks. He loves running out every day and seeing how the garden is doing. He loves seeing the plants flower and the flowers turn into vegetables. And he knows that if he doesn’t do his part to water them, they might not survive.

Become forensic botanists together.

If a plant doesn’t thrive, see if you can figure out why.

It was really disappointing to my son when a pumpkin plant died. He wanted a pumpkin so badly. But I told him it was just too hot for a pumpkin in Arizona in May. We tried again in the fall, and we never got a pumpkin. We are now on the second flowering of our second plant. I’m afraid we will end up in the same position we were in a year ago — and it will just be too hot eventually. But my son has planted these pumpkin plants from seed, and he is seeing what happens to them. He’s comparing the struggling pumpkins with the thriving kale and carrots. We’re experimenting, and he’s learning.

Enjoy the process.

Sometimes we have pulled carrots out of the ground too early. And that’s OK. It’s all about experimenting and seeing what’s happening. I’m showing him the process.

When my son gets to pull the basil leaves off the plant or pick the tomatoes or cut the kale, these experiences help him learn and appreciate how food is grown and where it comes from.

Go slow.

When my son was 2, I did not have nearly enough time or energy to do a full garden. So, we did a container garden. Just three simple containers. Today, we have a 4x8 garden. Again, we aren’t farming for a whole community. We’re just experimenting. We’re learning. And we’re loving the whole process.