Want a screen-free summer? Join our life skills bingo series and learn to grow your own food!
Every spring, my father planted strawberries.
And then he battled squirrels for the next three months.
“Bold little cuss,” he’d murmur, staring down at the ripe, half-eaten strawberry left carelessly on the back porch.
Dad tried everything to keep the critters away, from containers of fox scent to strands of hair he tugged from my Goody hairbrush. But no matter the remedy, those precocious rodents enjoyed a bumper crop of ripe, red fruit.
Every. Single. Summer.
I think deep down, Dad thought it was funny.
I have to admit I haven’t quite reached the point where I’m amused at animals eating my garden. During our first few years of marriage, Dan and I tried to grow tomatoes along the back fence. Each morning I’d go out to check the plants, then come in steaming with a handful of half eaten fruit. The final straw came the day I discovered a cottontail had squeezed under the fence. My little Peter had chosen the sturdiest specimen (in full bloom, mind you), and ripped out the entire thing.
I wanted to cry.
And quit gardening.
Once the kids came along, I did. While I did manage to put flowers out front and grew a few herbs in pots, providing an all-day buffet for the neighborhood wildlife wasn’t worth the child wrangling it would take to build it.
At least for a while, anyway, until my in-laws moved into town.
My sister-in-law is a serious gardener, with a thumb that could rival the Jolly Green Giant. Her tomatoes last summer were like candy; her jalapeños perfectly crisp. Watching her have such wild success made me long for my own garden victory, and I began to have visions of dinners made exclusively from my own homegrown produce.
I considered the benefit to my own children, as well. G’s sensory and anxiety issues make for a desperately picky eater, and both she and her sister are concerned about environmental sustainability. I figured we could address both concerns in a gentle way this summer by planting our own container garden.
Once I decided to take the plunge, the first thing I did was consult my sister-in-law. She walked me through the basics, suggesting a variety of plants and resources we could use for a successful garden. List in hand, the girls and I ventured to Home Depot to pick up our supplies:
- Garden soil
- Dr. Earth’s Homegrown Fertilizer
I had asked the girls to decide ahead of time what plants they wanted to grow. We decided on basil, mint, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, cucumber, lettuce, and carrots.
Then we got to work.
All three of the kids got involved, and I loved spending that time with my littles. There were no arguments and no screen time requests – just a good time digging in the dirt.
I think my Dad would have been proud.
Want to Grow Your Own Food with Your Kiddos?
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Figure out your USDA zone
What should you plant? When should you plant it? How should you care for it throughout the season?
Survey your space
How much room do you have? How much sun does it get? What’s the drainage like in the space you’d like to plant?
Consider what you’re capable of
Can you start from seed? Would you prefer starter plants?
Research your best options
What does it take to plant in the ground? Would a raised bed be better? Is your space better suited to container gardening?
Divvy up responsibilities
Who will water? Gather the fruits and vegetables? Would a rotating schedule be best? Or should one person stick to the same task all summer?
Track your garden’s progress
Take pictures. Make growth charts. Draw pictures of the plants in various stages.
Share the fruits of your labor
Offer the bounty to your neighbors. Donate to a homeless shelter. Make dinner for friends and family.
Our foray into gardening hasn’t been without a few hiccups
I went out yesterday afternoon, in fact, to discover something (probably a raccoon), had climbed the fence and the deck in order to rip apart my broccoli plant and dig through the lettuce seeds.
I sighed and set to work rebuilding my beautiful pots.
“Bold little cuss,” I whispered.
I’m pretty sure my Dad was smiling.