Let's be honest, I had two opposing thoughts when it came to including my little one in my gardening adventure this summer. My first thought was how excited I was about including her in the food to table process, teaching her the limited things I do know and am learning about gardening, and being able to get her more time outside which is always a plus in my book. However, my second thought was that my "destructo" child may be more of a hindrance than a help. So far, I've discovered both are true. But, I am convinced the benefits outweigh the difficulties she may create; so I had to find a way to make it work.
I thought I would share with you some of the lessons I've learned.
1. Find age appropriate ways your little one can participate.
At 19 months, she is an expert at ripping things right now, so I've been able to allow her to tear off herbs for now while waiting for the fruits and vegetables to come in. They may not be perfect, but herbs tend to be forgiving unlike some tender fruit. I suspect she'll be great at pulling root vegetables when they are ready as well.
If I were gardening in the soil, I would definitely allow her to help me to dig holes for planting with a kid safe shovel or her hands depending on the size of the hole I needed.
We went to a Spring Carnival put on by a local high school's Band Boosters. A local realtor was handing out wildflower packets with her card. Letting my little one throw out the wildflower seeds are a perfect activity at her age. She can be messy, and it is perfectly okay. If you are worried about placement, of course, you can do flower bombs. As for me, I figured I could allow her to throw them and let nature take its course. As they grow, she can pick them or just watch them grow. The wildflower seeds were all small enough that I would not consider them a choking hazard either.
If I had a traditional garden instead of a container garden, she would be at a great age to help with weeding as long as there were no seedlings nearby.
Include her while shopping for your gardening supplies. I took my lo with me every shopping trip. Sometimes, I would give her two choices i.e. two similar tomato plants and allowed her to pick one. I talked to her throughout the whole decision process. Not only is this a chance to work on her language skills, but she also got to feel as if she was part of the process.
We have had too much rain here this last month to need to water my plants. However, we have a kid size watering can at the ready for the drier days of summer for her to assist in watering.
2. Remember, as always, safety first.
Even with organic gardening, there are still some things you won't want little one getting into. I used a trowel to transplant some of the plants I bought as I acquired larger pots or containers. While my trowel is nowhere near as sharp as kitchen knife, I still didn't want her getting her hands on it and possibly hurting herself. So, when the trowel wasn't in the soil, I made the effort to put it far out of her reach. If you buy store bought plants, many have plastic wrap that needs to be removed by either a knife or scissors. It is worth the extra planning to have a surface high enough they can't climb or walk it back inside as soon as you are done.
I would also recommend using compost or potting soil that is free of manure. Little ones love to put things in their mouth, and I, personally, wouldn't want to risk exposure to bacteria that might be in manure.
Also, be cautious with what plants you choose to grow as some plants have parts which are poisonous to eat including tomatoes, rhubarb, and asparagus. That being said, I am still growing tomatoes. I have them high enough the little one will not be able to reach them without assistance allowing me to keep a good eye on her to assure no leaves make it into her mouth.
If gardening outdoors, remember sun safety. My little one is terrible about wearing sun hats and has to be in the mood to keep her sunglasses on. However, we do practice use of sunscreen and proper reapplication if necessary.
3.Find alternatives that are encouraging.
Some of this may be trial and error. I originally was going to allow her to aid me in adding some potting soil and compost to my plants once I placed them in containers. She had other ideas. Instead, she decided it would be fun to try to remove as much soil as she could from the pots.
See the pile of potting soil beside her in the picture above. While she looks like she is calmly examining the plant marker of this tomato plant her grandmother bought her, that pile was her doing.She also tried her hand at eating it repeatedly. Being a first time mom who tends to worry about pretty much everything, I desperately tried my best to clean her mouth out. Thankfully, potting soil whether organic or not is not going to kill her.
4.Accept learning even if it wasn't the lesson you had planned.
Remember her dirt pot I just mentioned. She eventually got creative and found a stick to aid in the dirt removal. I must admit I was so proud of her for her use of a makeshift tool that I called her father immediately to tell him while I continued to watch her. I am so amazed at the little connections her brain is constantly making.
5. Sometimes, babywearing saves the day.
I know I have touted my love of babywearing previously, however, just in the last few weeks, it has been a lifesaver with both allowing me to work on my garden as well as maintain my sanity. This year, we are doing a container garden most of which is on a makeshift table made of a piece of plywood on two sawhorses. Due to the height, she is unable to even see most of the plants unless I have her on me. However, just like being on me while cooking, I am convinced she is still absorbing lessons by just seeing what I am doing.
Just the other day, she was being especially fussy at a superbly inconvenient time while her father was trying to deal with work matters on the phone. Her fussiness was mainly due to her fighting taking a nap. I took her outside to our plants and talked to her about their growth, pointed out the new shoots some of the potatoes had made through the ground, discussed the color of the flowers that had begun to bloom on our patio eggplant, and talked to her about the meals we could cook with the food we were growing. She calmed down almost immediately both from being worn and being outside.
6. Consider multiple senses.
Pick plants with consideration to color, texture, smell, and of course, taste.
Herbs are especially helpful in the smell and texture categories. I have already been able to give her a sage leaf to rub between her fingers with much glee. I have held up all our herbs for her to sniff as well. I tried to choose a variety of herbs considering our limited space. So far, we have cilantro, sweet basil, rosemary, dill, sage, thai basil, and lavender in bloom. I hope to add a few more especially parsley and oregano as well as possibly some variety of mint.
I am trying to ensure that the garden we have will be colorful as well not only because we try to eat all our colors, but also, as we know kids like a variety of colors. So far, we've got yellow and red from tomatoes, purple from eggplants and peppers, and green with zucchini and peppers.
7. Think outside the box.
Creating adventurous eaters begins with exposure to variety. Getting kids to try new things can start with small touches like nontraditional colors for everyday food. I am fairly sure the first pepper my daughter had was a purple one from my parent's garden. However, I know that is not the norm for most kids. So, I've planted blue potatoes, yellow pear tomatoes, and purple peppers.
8. Have a backup activity.
At this age, they tend to work on their schedule. They may be over garden time as soon as you get out there or even ten minutes into it. Just being outside with you is good enough, though. As you can see in the picture above, she has her bubble wand in hand for when she's ready. A play lawnmower or ride on toy are also great to keep them nearby but occupied.
9. Work in smaller increments.
I could stay outside working in the garden for hours happily; however, a one year old rarely has the ability to maintain interest in an activity for that long. Consider their attention span when planning your time. So, this may mean going outside for 15 minutes after breakfast, twenty minutes after snack time, and another 15 minutes later in the day.
10. Think about some plants just for hummingbirds and butterflies.
This is a great age for them to happily watch birds and insects. Many stores sell mini garden kits for this sole purpose or you can easily choose the plants yourself like bee balm, milkweed, and coneflowers to name a few that they like.
11. Make use of naps.
Realistically at this age, it probably easier to do some of the work of gardening on your own time if possible when napping or another adult is watching them. As much as I love my daughter, I know I would be wary of her trampling my seedlings if I had a garden in the ground.