It’s been far too long since I’ve written about gardening with children. I blame the children for that. You know, you can pretty much get away with doing nothing but gestating and feeding when you are pregnant or have a new baby. But now that the pregnancy hormones seem to have receded from my system, I am feeling a renewed urge to plant and harvest and cook; generally get back to my normal life mode of thinking about food 24/7.
For the first time in years I don’t actually have a toddler. Thomas is practically a small adult at this point and no one could say that Theodore even remotely “toddles” anymore. I happen to think that toddlers are pretty awesome little people. I would say that I find the ages of about 10 months to two and half years some of the most enjoyable moments of parenting. Toddlers are also pretty demanding, illogical, and destructive little people. My toddlers could have best have been described as “forces of nature”. Of course, a force of nature belongs outside – for example, in the garden. Toddlers aren’t exactly helpful but they often want to help. Here are my favorite ways to harness that desire to “help” so that you can get some actual work done in the garden.
- One of the beauties of having a toddler is that they generally take a decent length, reliable nap every day (I am so sorry if your toddler doesn’t do this. You deserve an award simply for staying sane.) The only downside of the long afternoon nap is that it almost always occurs during the hottest part of the day. But I think a good sweat is therapeutic so go forth and plant while the little beastie sleeps, gathering energy for renewed afternoon destruction. Just be prepared for some pitying looks if a neighbor catches sight of you working out in the yard, face all red, old maternity T-shirt soaking with sweat. They will be thankful to have you as a neighbor when you’re plying them with tomatoes and zucchini come summer.
- Put your kidlet in a pile of dirt or compost and have them “help” while you shovel the dirt out. Note, you might want to make sure that your toddler is not the bug eating kind of kid before you turn your back on them in the compost. Then again – grubs are packed with protein!
- Let your little ball of energy run along side you while you drive a wheelbarrow full of dirt or compost and then when it is unloaded, toss them in the wheel barrow and let them ride back.
- If you like to label your plants with markers stuck in the soil, I can pretty much guarantee that at some point during the growing season you will turn your back and find all of your carefully placed plant makers “helpfully” reorganized around the garden. Despite this inevitability I still like to use the markers. BUT I also make a map of the garden showing what I planted and where. In our particular garden of raised beds I did this by measuring each bed, putting the measurements on the computer and printing out a grid map of each bed (I used six inch spacing). Then as I plant I use a sharpie and colored pencils to label and shade in what I have planted. That way, toddler child can rearrange the markers and I can still figure out if it was the Thessaloniki or the Al Kuffa tomato that performed the best. To keep the pesky toddler occupied while I plant and make my maps I have printed out a second map of the garden and given the little one some crayons to color in their own version of the garden.
- Toddlers love to make a real contribution by planting seeds. Toddlers are particularly proficient at two types of seeds: 1) Tiny seeds that are “broadcast” over an area such as carrots or lettuce and 2) Big seeds such as squash and beans that are easy for little fingers to hold.
- Once the seeds have grown into fruiting plants, toddlers are actually quite efficient little pickers. Toddlers were actually paid to pick berries alongside their parents and siblings not too many decades ago. Now I am not suggesting that put your toddler into the fields for hours a day, but I highly recommend squash, beans, tomatoes, grapes, and berries (thornless!) for easy toddler picking. Additionally, some of the most fun my kids have had out in the dirt has been finding the buried “treasure” of potatoes and carrots. (Just give them a dull, rounded shovel or make them dig with their hands so they don’t slice and dice the vegetables).
Although I sometimes fantasize about moving out of Southern California to place with proper seasons and three bedroom homes I am grateful that I spent the years with very young children here; it is so easy to simply open the back door, get outside, and get dirty.