The Constant Gardener {5 Tricks for Gardening with Toddlers}

This summer, Greta has been my constant companion in the garden. At 19-months, an age of mimic mastery, toddlers are a captive audience to learn to love gardening and the time you spend with them there.

This weekend, when planting tomatoes, Andras dug our holes and Greta and I set the plants deep into the soil, pressing and patting the soil all around them. When I plucked off the lowest shoots or branches, which encourages tomatoes to grow strong and tall, Greta plucked a few (too many) more shoots right off the plant. Oops! But, well done, I had to say. She's a quick learner. The tomatoes will surely survive, and more importantly, Greta is learning how to create and grow something that makes our life richer, healthier and more delicious.

Last year, I posted an article about gardening with babes on Mothering.com. And later, a confession about life in the weeds. Now with a very active toddler, gardening together is more fun than ever before. It's so hilarious to watch Greta march right in with her shovel and rake and get to work.  While it's difficult to explain why we can touch and pick some plants (arugula leaves), and not others (strawberry leaves), for the most part, it's an a peaceful, playful place to be together, and one of constant learning.

I've gone back to revisit my tips with with another year under my mamma gardening belt. Here are my thoughts for Gardening with Toddlers:

Dress the Part: We have boxes of hand-me-downs that get a booking every time we head out to the garden. Dress up in things you don't care about getting soiled since water + soil can lead to one messy babe. That, and the snuggly summer baths afterward, are half the fun.

Say Yes: I love the idea of neat rows of greens and radishes, but I don't want the garden to be a place where I have to use the word "no." So, after planting (and letting go of the ideal of perfect rows), we keep our distance from that portion of the garden until enough shoots are sturdy enough to handle toddler touches. That means planting our way to new corners of the garden until our starting point is deeply rooted, and practicing saying yes when your toddler wants to taste and try, even if it has a ways to grow.

Row By Row: Just like with art projects and games, toddlers do best by tackling small garden projects at a time. We plant two herbs in one morning. One berry bush the next. Six tomato plants the next. When her friends were over this spring--we planted a potato patch, assigning a row of potatoes (easy for toddlers to handle and plant) to each little one, and let them color and mark their row with their own bamboo posts. This gives toddlers small projects to tackle and conquer, and when greens start popping up week by week, there's quicker gratification.

Let them Own It! Since I knew not all the tomatoes (and other fragile seedlings) might survive curious Greta, we planted six Mamma's tomatoes in our raised beds and two Greta's Tomatoes in small but sturdy containers (paper ones that can eventually be planted right into the ground) that she can transport to and from in her wagon, carry back and forth from one side of the garden to another or tip upside down. We practice being gentle with all the baby tomatoes, but we won't sweat it if Greta's Tomatoes don't make it, and can easily replace her tiny pots with something new.

Touch + Taste:  It's much, much easier to get Greta to eat greens in the garden, right out of the ground, then it is at the table. Now that she plenty of teeth for chewing the cud, she's happy to pluck and taste arugula, mustard greens and fresh snap peas right off the vine with no other favorite foods (yogurt, berries, bananas) to distract her. I almost always get a "yummy!", and a "more?" from every bite, which makes me one proud mamma.

Mommies and garden gurus, I'd love to hear from you. What tips or tricks do you have for making the garden a play place for your babes and tots?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love the last two tips especially, and Greta's pink boots!!!

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Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.