Inside/Outside: Child-Friendly Vegetable Gardening (Part One)

The following is a guest-post by Nana who came to my house two weeks ago to help me with my vegetable garden and also to shoot some how-to gardening videos with Hal and our friend, Auggie. We had a full on production team here and my Nana at eighty-two dug in the dirt on camera for eight hours. Some of the pictures scattered throughout this post were taken during the shoot and as soon as the videos are edited together, I'll be posting them here as well. Last week my Nana generously wrote a guest post about child-friendly gardening for those of you interested in planting Fall veggie gardens with your spawn. I'll post sporadic updates as our garden grows (my fava beans, sugar-snap peas and radishes just started sprouting like crazy! It's very exciting!). In the meantime, take it away, Nana!

One of the best things we can do as parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents is to turn children on early to the joy of gardening. If our efforts work they’ll have a healthy outdoor hobby throughout life. If not, nothing we can do will change them. Some people adore gardening, others don’t—It’s chemistry. But maybe as parents and grandparents (and great grandparents) we can give kids the opportunity to make their own discoveries, and then stand back and not mess things up when the enthusiasm takes off.
When I was a child I was lucky to have gardens to play in. My brother John and I grew up in England and whenever it wasn’t raining we played outdoors on our tricycles. We climbed trees in the orchard, chased hoops on garden paths, or played games of imagination in the shrubbery and woods. One of my grandfathers had a vegetable garden as big as a city block. He didn’t do the work himself, a gardener called Viney did all that, but every day Grandad chatted with Viney and checked to see how things were growing. John and I watched Viney work. We liked the earthy smell of compost. John asked Viney scads of questions and Viney never was impatient. He answered our questions in a sensible and kindly way. He let us play hide and seek among the vegetable beds and pretended to chase us. Our grandfather picked ripe tomatoes in the greenhouse and handed them to us to eat. The juice ran down our faces. No tomato has ever tasted better than those.
John and I were still children—I was eight and he was eleven—when our parents left us in England and emigrated to America. Over a year later, after war had broken out in Europe, they sent for us to join them. They bought a farm in Pennsylvania and during the Second World War we all worked on the farm and in our “Victory Garden”. One winter, our stepfather Geoff told John and me he was going to give each of us a little plot of ground next to his vegetable garden the following spring. We could plant whatever we wanted. After that John and I spent many winter days poring over seed catalogues while snow covered the ground outdoors. Catalogues were black and white but their written descriptions filled our heads with dreams of stunning gardens overflowing with our favorite flowers and vegetables. In spring we sent for seeds, dug up the soil, and planted. No one told us what to plant, what to do, or how to do it. We forgot to amend the soil, fertilize, or water. The family vegetable garden was spectacular, but John’s and my plants died.

Our gardens were a failure, but it didn’t matter. Our parents never noticed. No one criticized us so our dream survived. John and I finally lost patience with our own little garden plots. Even then, no one minded or criticized us. From then on we concentrated on helping in the family garden, but we were turned onto gardening for life. The dreams we had enjoyed during that snowy winter stayed with us forever. Instead of the reality, we remembered the dream. Now in our eighties we are both still gardening today.
If you’re planning on growing vegetables in your own home garden and would like to involve your kids in the process, here’s an easy recipe for success:

Kid Friendly Organic Gardening
1 patch earth or raised bed in full sun. (6 hours or more of sun a day is best.)
1 set child-friendly tools. (Optional. These can be tools bought at a garage sale with handles sawed down to child size, but just a trowel will do.)
Adult tools: (Spade, hoe, rake, cultivator, trowels.)
Gloves for you and kids. (optional.)
1 bag organic soil amendment or home made compost per raised bed filled with garden soil.
1 small paint-bucket of full of potting soil for covering seeds.
1 small paint-bucket containing a cup or two of sand for mixing with small seeds.
1 small paint bucket to hold seed packets, scissors, plant labels, pen, and paper clips or clothes pins for closing up seed packets.
Several Plant labels and pen.
1 bag organic fertilizer. (This can be commercial packaged organic veggie food, chicken manure, or guano.)
Seeds and plants of vegetables you want to grow. (Choose cool-season plants when you start your garden in winter or spring. Choose warm-season plants when you start your garden in spring or early summer.)
Packaged or homemade trellis for tall crops like peas.
Posts to hold up trellis
A water system or the garden hose. (Drip systems make for easy care once installed. Water from the hose is fine too.)

2 pounds Easy-Does-It: (If a child runs away to play, let them go. Don’t fuss.)
1 bucket Fun: (Gardening is work but it’s also fun and satisfying. Children will catch on if they see you having fun.)
1 large dollop of Knowledge: (Know what you’re doing. Do your research first.)
1 plan of action. (Think out what you’re going to do and write a list step-by-step.)

• Collect ingredients.
• Dig the ground to the depth of a spade and turn over the soil.
• Spread a layer of about 4 inches of organic soil amendment or homemade compost on top of soil. Mix it into the top 8 to 12 inches of soil.
• Apply the right amount of fertilizer according to package directions and cultivate it into the top 6 inches.
• Rake the top of the ground level.
• Plan to plant tall crops to the north and shorter crops to the south. Or plant tall crops in north-south rows so sun passes over them and hits all parts.
• For tall crops install trellises using fence posts for supports.
• Plant seeds and transplants of crops correct for the season of the year.
transplants include cilantro, lettuce, cabbage and bunching onions
• Read seed packets and labels for correct distances apart.
• Water the garden after planting.
• Continue on: Water your garden, weed when necessary, release ladybugs, pick off bad bugs, and watch your garden grow.

Thin crops that need it as they grow. Feed when required and harvest when crops are ready. Apply “Garden Know How” as needed in an ongoing way whenever necessary.

Here are some of the things vegetables need:
• A plot of ground in full sun.
• Organic soil amendment to loosen up the soil and create microbial action.
• Fertilizer to feed them.
• Water for them to drink.
• Protection from pests and diseases.
• Correct planting time for each crop.
Here are the times of year to plant various crops:
• In warm-winter climates: Plant cool-season crops in fall and winter.
• In cold-winter climates: Plant cool-season crops in early spring.
• In all climates: Plant warm-season crops after the weather warms up in spring when all danger of frost has passed.)
Here are some little things to pay attention to:
1. Correct planting depth.
• Each seed has a correct planting depth.
• Follow package directions and you will do okay.
2. Covering seeds with potting soil can help them sprout in heavy soil.
3. Mixing fine seeds with a little sand can help spread them out evenly.
4. Loosening up the roots of transplants can help them get off to a good start.
5. Humic acid is a great transplanting fluid and root stimulant. Find it in catalogues.
6. Follow the organic way:
• Feed plants with organic fertilizers; they’ll taste better.
• Use organic methods to control pests and diseases.
• Never use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.
• Make a compost pile or buy a couple of composting bins and follow the directions that come with the bin. (While you are filling one, you can be using the compost out of the other.)
• Encourage earthworms by digging lots of organics into the ground or start a worm bin.



With very young children give them little jobs like digging or raking that could be fun, and if they wander off, just let it happen. If a child is forced to garden, it’s simply another chore. Some children love gardening while others do not.
releasing ladybugs with the kids after the garden has been planted
My great grandson Archer is a boy with wheels and construction toys in his head, but Fable seems to take to gardening like a ladybug to an aphid. If kids see grownups gardening correctly they’ll learn by osmosis. And by knowing the basic facts ourselves we’ll be ready with answers if a kid should ask. And if we don’t know the answer to a question, we can always look it up and tell them later.

That’s enough for a start! Good luck and have fun gardening, either with your kids or without. Stay tuned for some videos on “Child-Friendly Gardening” and “Cool-Season Crops” to get you started on the road to success.

Rebecca’s Nana, AKA Pat Welsh




Cave Momma | 8:34 AM

I am so envious of your Nana! This post comes at the perfect time for me. We are hoping to move to a little house soon where I can try my hand at gardening. I know nothing about it so this really gets my mind going! Thank you!

Amanda | 8:46 AM

Your Nana is amazing!

I've been thinking a lot about gardening lately. Right now we live in a tiny apartment so there's not much room to really garden (unless you just want to make herbs or maybe tomatoes). But at our local children's museum there's a public garden and they have regular harvests and plantings and sometimes if there's been ample veggies they take them and give kids cooking lessons. It warms my soul to see little hand prints in the soil and carrots freshly plucked.

Anonymous | 9:00 AM

I am so so so grateful for this, and it came at just the right time. We are having our soil tested this month. (Good thing to do around here since Katrina..) I'm so ready to start gardening with my 3-yr-old. I'll be referring back to this post often as we get started. Thanks, Nana!


So glad to hear it! Best of luck with your gardens, all!

Unknown | 9:16 AM

This is perfect! Not just for kids, but myself. I grew up with a garden, but never learned how to do things myself. And I'm all brown thumbed... It's sad. Can't wait to put this article to use!

Becka | 9:55 AM

Bookmarked so that I can go step by step when we get back from our vacation. I tried to plant a veggie garden last year and LOVED it but moving and hurricane season killed everything except one (curiously) tall eggplant.

I've been so excited to start again but feeling lost so I'm so excited to go through your Nana's steps and get my fall garden going!

Anonymous | 10:05 AM

So jealous that you have garden growing weather! It's the end of September; everything here is busy dying, nothing will be green and growing for a good six months now.

Armonia | 10:18 AM

This totally makes me want to do one in my house. I was nervous about it, but your Nana has made it simple! great teacher!

foodiemama | 10:31 AM

Augie needs to get his butt in gear! Your Nana is an inspiration. I went home and saddled up the garden after that day.

Unknown | 10:49 AM

I'm 32 and only JUST learning about how to plant things. This post was EXACTLY what I needed!! Thanks for this; what a wonderful resource! I no longer feel terrified and nervous the idea of gardening.

Mrs. Q. | 12:17 PM

I love it! Your nana rocks. You are lucky to have her: your nana's lessons will be some of your children's warmest memories. And I envy your ling growing season!

Teaching your children about gardening helps them develop an appreciation of food and encourages them to eat more veggies. I never tire of watching my kids race each other to the trellis of sugar snap peas or pop cherry tomatoes into their mouths straight from the vine.

My father was a wonderful gardener. An engineer and carpenter by trade, he built his own three-part compost bin and vine trellises and would plot next season's blueprint on graph paper. While I'm not nearly as organized, I did inherit my father's love of gardening, which I hope to pass on to my children.

They require a lot of room to roam, but I highly recommend planting pumpkins. In New England, we have a short growing season that is often frustrating and wrought with mysterious blights and insect attacks. Pumpkins are easy, hearty, pretty and so rewarding. We just harvested three ENORMOUS pumpkins from our yard and they feel like old friend's we watched grow all summer.

Anonymous | 2:09 PM

Fantastic! I love gardening and totally remember my parents working on our garden when I was little. Your Nana is tops!

Kila Bell | 2:11 PM
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Kila Bell | 2:13 PM

Thank you thank thank you soooo much for this. We've done lil vegetable gardening here and there but this has inspired me to go all the way! I've got a green thumb and now this knowledge and inspiration will led the way!

AimeeDesiree | 3:03 PM

Maybe I will try a second hand at gardening. My little patch of land does note get much sun and the deck gets scorching sun. Any suggestions for good veggies in these extremes?
Also, I just checked out your nana's website. Wow, just wow.

Germerican | 3:09 PM

The ladies of your family (not to disrespect the gents) are so wonderful. What a beautiful family your children have to grow into (or be in. Sorry, I qualify too much. They already are a part of the family, I just mean to evolve in... oh whatever. Yeah, I never delete and start over.)
Hey, totally the awesome side of having your children young - that they will have these memories and pictures for when they are grown up and define for themselves what family means to them. You are doing so well.

Circus Daily | 3:42 PM

Your Nana reminds me so much of mine. She's now 87 almost 88 and our relationship is so special. I grew up only a few minutes from her house and she always had immaculate gardens, both flower and vegi. She would give me a plot of space every spring, and I'd fill it up with cherry tomatoes and herbs. She always said the best manicures ended with soil under your nails, and always wore a big floppy sun hat.

I'd help her do what ever I could in her gardens including bringing in all the goodies for fresh dinners. Because of her we are avid gardeners now and hope to inspire our boys to be the same. Great post...

Anonymous | 9:03 PM

Your nana is so lovely and special. She reminds me of my great-grandma, who lived to 90 and was just the best EVER.

Isabelle | 6:45 AM

Your Nana is awesome (I checked out her website--wow!)! I totally agree about letting kids be interested or not but continuing to garden around them. That's what my parents did and I wasn't too interested until I had my own son and now I garden with and for him. And I love it!

Tanya @ Life in 3D | 2:54 PM

I'm enamored with your Nana. The end.

Maegan | 4:10 PM

I had to balk at your comment about getting kids to love gardening. BLECH! Like some kids will turn up their noses at veggies, I turn up my nose to gardening. My mother always had a food garden (and ALWAYS ALWAYS had her yard landscaped like crazy on her own). I hated it! No, I did not want to spend a day tilling with a rented tiller in the backyard. But when I was an adult, I found a much easier solution. A PATIO GARDEN! So I got one, and thought I would change my garden-hating ways. Everything grew nicely at first...then everything days. All within a span of 3 days. I worked so hard for those 3 days to see if I could find the problem. Was it bugs? Too much or not enough sunlight/water/air/fertilizer?? WHAT? Nada. Now it's all dead. I didn't start things from seeds...I don't have the patience, so I was out about $4 per plant...Ugh. I'll stick to the farmer's market, thanks! Plus...there's always someone selling kettle corn or fudge, and 'picking' my vegetables then getting fudge? Always a good day! ;)

Maegan | 4:12 PM

**Then everything DIES. I dunno where my brain went. Can I blame it on my fingers?

ethan1066 | 2:21 PM

I am thinking to start organic gardening myself..and There are many pieces of gardening equipment which will make this hobby easier and more efficient...I really like the pictures..

Chris | 3:53 PM

Just traced back through the fava bean posts because somehow I missed the part where you mention that Pat Welsh is your nana!!! You are so lucky! Her gardening books are like my best friends, and I would never know what to do in my garden without her. She is an amazing woman! (And I admire you as well. And fava beans. Love the favas.)

Dranrab | 2:09 PM

Yay! I found it! I cannot wait to see how our garden grows! : )