A few years back, I was fortunate to teach gardening to a local primary school as part of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. The grades 3-6 kids learned to grow, cook and share a meal from the school garden every week. The curiosity, joy and sheer satisfaction on their faces each time was indescribable.
I find growing food with children is one of the most rewarding activities – both in the moment and when thinking about the positive long-term values instilled in their little minds.
Kids love to grow an array of plants to spark their curiosity and understanding of the garden. It’s great to include those that produce fruit or veg on the plants’ stems, underground, on a vine or just leafy greens to showcase the possibilities and utilise an urban garden well.
Pots, raised beds, window sills, hanging baskets or green walls are all options for trialling what grows best where for your home while providing variety and interest for your little one.
Sun is the number one priority for most of your edibles; with enough UV they’ll grow fast and healthy as long as your little ones befriend the watering can. And, of course, always grow your spring edibles in a premium potting mix for any container-grown plants or a well-prepared garden bed of loamy soil for raised beds. Add manure, compost, worm castings or organic veggie fertiliser to any area to be planted for improved soil and plant health.
Here’s a list of plants that are easy and rewarding to grow for quick and consistent wins to boost that green thumb confidence.
Lemon sorrel: The kids would tear into the fresh lemon sorrel at school for its tangy lolly-lemon flavour. Buy as a seedling or small plant.
Rainbow chard: The yellow, red, pink and orange stems of this crazy chard will colour up the garden and get your kiddos excited. You can use the stem and leaves, easiest to grow from seedlings. Divide and plant individual seedlings 20 centimetres apart. You’ll often have several seedlings left over when buying in punnets, but don’t be tempted to cram them all in; stick to the spacing of single plants for healthy produce.
Radish: Varieties come in black, white, pink, red and more, so buy a few packets to see what you prefer. The kids always loved the watermelon radish for its white skin with popping pink centre. Like most root veg, radishes are best grown from seed. You can plant a new batch every two to three weeks for a constant supply.
Carrot: Baby carrots can be easily plucked from the soil and nibbled on the go. Try purple carrots for a change of scene and added nutrients. Simply scatter seeds and cover with a few millimetres of soil – just remember to thin your seedlings out to about two fingers wide. Simply dig around the tops to check the size, and a taste test is the best method!
Cucumber Crystal Apple: Perfect for climbing up a trellis against a sunny wall, climbers grow more vigorous the more soil they have. Shaped like an apple and very sweet, these are best grown from seed and spaced well apart (50 centimetres). Avoid watering the leaves to prevent powdery mildew.
Pumpkin Golden Nugget: A compact pumpkin on a mini vine, so a nice size for the apartment or courtyard garden. Allow it to ramble on the ground or climb on a trellis. It’s another climber with large seeds, so it’s very easy for kids to plant and a rewarding harvest, for sure.
Cherry tomato: You can buy tomatoes that either grow as a vine or as a small hanging type or bush. The vine types produce over a longer period of time and need a trellis or stake, while the other type will usually produce all at once and is best in smaller gardens in baskets or pots. Easy to grow from a seedling and they’ll love full sun and water.
Alpine strawberry: Small, super-sweet strawberries that grow on little clumping plants. Mass-plant from seedlings or scatter seeds for a bigger strawberry field. We think these are the sweetest strawberries and you can’t buy them in shops.
River mint: A native Australian river mint that has a powerful hit of freshness. Plant in a pot of moist soil in part shade. Best as seedlings.
Burnet: Similar in size to curly parsley, these are easy growers, and the small leaves taste like cucumber so they can be added to cold drinks and salads. Easy to grow from seed or seedling.
Slow Down and Grow Something: The Urban Grower’s Recipe for the Good Life, by Byron Smith with Tess Robinson, Murdoch Books. lifeurbangrowers.com.au