The following 101 on planting edible gardens with kids comes to us from HOMEGROWN member Lola Bloom. (Talk about a fitting name!) Along with Rebecca Lemos, Lola is the cofounder and co-executive director of City Blossoms, a Washington, DC–based nonprofit dedicated to creating kid-driven, community-engaging green spaces. To date, the organization has worked with schools and community groups to start and maintain more than 32 gardens throughout the DC metro area. Thanks for sharing your expertise, Lola, and please keep the great ideas germinating!
Our goal at City Blossoms is to collaborate with kids, families, and neighbors to promote access to safe, fantastic, and functional environments in DC and beyond. We believe that growing food and cooking with kids are important elements of our work, empowering young people to make positive and creative nutritional choices for themselves and to become teachers beyond the garden.
Are you planning your own delicious garden with kids this spring? We have some foods that we plant every year. The easy, fun, and funky ingredients below get everyone excited about growing their own meals.
1. Herbs. At all of City Blossoms’ green spaces, we grow perennial and annual herbs because they are inexpensive and hardy, they grow fairly quickly, they resist pests and diseases, and, of course, they’re delicious! Some of our favorites: rosemary, French thyme, oregano, basil, parsley, chives (onion and garlic), mint (all varieties but especially chocolate mint), sorrel, lemon verbena, lavender, fennel, dill, and cilantro.
2. Small pickables. When working with kids of all ages, it’s best to have a few plants that are prolific producers, yielding food that is ready to pick and eat right there in the garden. What better way to underscore the benefits of growing food than being able to pop a juicy cherry tomato directly in your mouth? Examples include: cherry tomatoes, ground cherries (a.k.a. cape gooseberries), sugar snap peas, French green beans, lettuces, arugula, berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, et cetera), concord grapes, and lemon cucumbers.
3. Greens. Dark, leafy greens are some of the most nutrient-rich foods you can grow in a garden and can be incorporated into recipes easily. Certain greens, such as Swiss chard, are able to reproduce throughout the growing season, while crops such as kale, collard greens, lettuces,mustards, Asian greens, and spinach enjoy the cooler temperatures of spring and fall.
4. All-stars. There are certain crops that most kitchen gardeners like to include, no matter what. Some of our favorite varieties:
» Tomatoes: green zebra, sungolds, super sweets, yellow pears
» Peppers: banana, red knight, jalapenos, cayennes (use caution when planting hot peppers in young children’s gardens)
» Eggplants: millionaire (Japanese eggplant), Italian pink bicolor
» Squash: pattypan, black beauty, cocozelle
» Pumpkins and gourds: luffas, birdhouse, sugar pie, jack be little
» Lettuces: buttercrunch, mesclun mixes, oakleaf, lolla rosa
» Cucumbers: lemon, muncher, spacemaster
» Beans: soybeans (edamame), dragon’s tongue
» Melons: sugar babies, Minnesota midget
» Carrots: scarlet Nantes, Danvers, dragon
» Radishes: Easter egg, sparklers
5. Edible flowers. Edible flowers are fun for the surprise factor (just wait until the kids find out they can actually eat those brilliant petals!), and they also add color and beauty to new recipes. A few we like: nasturtiums, borage, pansies, squash blossoms, violets, sunflowers, and chive blossoms.
MORE FROM FARM AID
Did you know that only 21 percent of high school students consume the daily number of fruit and vegetable servings recommended to support physical and mental growth? For those hoping to incorporate food awareness—and healthy eating—more fully into their schools, Farm Aid has put together a top-notch toolkit on transforming a school cafeteria, with seven steps for starting a farm-to-school program; tips for parents, administrators, and farmers; learnings from those who have successfully launched their own programs; and more resources and further reading. Download the PDF and get started.
Got a question for Lola? Or a suggestion for another kid-friendly veggie to grow in the garden? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling. You might also be interested in 101s on community building, selecting seeds, and seed starting, or you might consider joining the Earth Mamas and Papas: HOMEGROWN Parenting group. You can always find more things to plant, grow, cook, preserve, make, craft, and water in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.
ALL PHOTOS: COURTESY OF CITY BLOSSOMS