Starting a vegetable garden

rosedolphMarch 12, 2007

Hello! My 3 year old daughter wants to grow tomatoes and I would love to have a vegetable garden to eat from this summer. BUT I have absolutely no experience in gardening - does any one have any tips on how to get started, when to plant, and what veggies are easy to grow. I would really appreciate any and all help I can get!

Thanks! Melissa and Hannah

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For gardening with younger children, such as your daughter's age, I definitely recommend container-gardening. It generally yields better results and decreases the work (thus doesn't deter them early on - like for weeding). I can't think of any veggies that can't be grown in a container - even corn can be, though that one really is easier in the ground.

For a toddler (and assuming no food allergies), I'd suggest the "basics"... and companion-planting
Tomatoes - cherry or "tommy toes" as some call them are great for kids because they are a smaller size and great for eating right off the plant/vine.
Companion Plants: Basils, Chives, Borage

Cucumbers - a good heirloom slicer and for young kids, preferably a smooth or less "prickly" skinned variety. I can send you a "refrigerator pickles" recipe that you can help your daughter mix-and-make that doesn't require any canning, and you keep them in the fridge and eat them and make them as you have cukes available. (they are cool and make a great snack on hot days)
Companion Plants - for cukes, are currently slipping my mind

Melons - Several "types" to choose from that generally speaking would be more commonly known as "watermelon", "cantaloupe" and "honeydew" - these are common "Americanized" names/labels - not necessarily accurate BUT ANYWAY.... Melons can be grown in containers too and just provided support like a sturdy trellis or such to grow up/be trained on for their vines and you can make "nets" or "hammocks" for the melons that develop. "Sugar Baby", if memory serves, is a hybrid watermelon that is smaller than those bigguns you usually see in produce sections - Sugar Baby is round and I think like 5-7 lbs on average? Maybe smaller. Kid-size to be sure. Muskmelons (cantaloupe, honeydew) have a whole range of sizes - but as I'm sure you know, aren't like watermelon in the flesh. Melons can, obviously, also be grown out in the ground - and weeding them isn't usually as much work as other veggies because of how the vines grow - and you can always lay down newspaper under vines to inhibit weeds too.

Pumpkin - if you do the All Hallow's Eve gig - most kids are inclined to growing pumpkins that they can carve (or have a parent or other adult or older sibling assist with) OR, draw or paint a jack-o-lantern on. We (speaking of myself and my husband and our four kids) haven't ever been inclined to the effort of harvesting a pumpkin's flesh for making our own pumpkin pie filling BUT, one of the annual thrills - if nothing else - is the carving or decorating and "gutting" pumpkins to clean the seeds - save some for the next season's planting, and roasting the rest of them and seasoning them (sea salt, garlic powder, or other spices/herbs)... love roasted pumpkin seeds. There are a vast array of different pumpkin cultivars/varieties - we've yet to grow a "monster" one, the kids and us adults have always ended up happier with smaller ones that were easier to lift and handle. :)

Yellow Summer Squash - this is an EASY and generally prolific variety of squash - comes in straightneck and crookneck and lots of uses - from raw in salads to stir-fry to battered and fried and/or baked to used in with a hush puppy recipe for "squash puppies" (before I tasted squash-puppies, I disliked squash - squash-puppies made me a fiend for yellow squash along with the kids).

Winter Squash - most kids get a kick out of "spaghetti squash"/"vegetable spaghetti". It's a neat/cool/weird squash that can get them more interested in veggies for eating if they aren't real thrilled about it. Others, like Acorn Squash - mine enjoyed thoroughly when baked with brown sugar... kind of like yams without the digging :)

Eggplant - generally another fun one because it's prolific, I swear by the "Black Beauty" purple standard. Can bread it and fry it or bake it, eat it raw, etc. But probably the most use it gets with my crew is a wannabe "eggplant parmesan" (geesh, I don't think I spelled that right) - another EASY recipe to do WITH kids, even very young children. Can also replace meat in lasagne/lasagna

Beans - Green Beans are probably the first intro for most kids... "snap beans" - either pole or bush variety (if you use pole beans and you plant corn the same season, wait until the corn is knee-high and then plant the pole beans at the base of the corn - the corn will function as the poles/support for the beans and won't be strangled by the vines). "Stringless" varieties usually less work intensive for kids when they are "snapping" them. Mine eat as much as they bring in from picking, right off the plants. Steaming is the preferred method for cooking them with my crew - and retains more of the nutrients.

Peas - but these are a cool weather crop, so maybe think for later in the season. Mine are ape about snow peas and those with edible pods - moreso than out of the pod anymore. I recommend heirloom varieties for the best flavour - plus you can let pods go to full maturity, dry on the vine, and have your seeds for the next season. These are also easy in a container and provided with some support for those that "climb" - I'm sure there's some bush varieties, but I've always grown the climbing type (though they don't climb as much as pole beans)

Carrots - unless you have "prime for rootcrops" soil - I strongly recommend growing carrots in containers where you can control the potting mix that goes in, insure good drainage but sufficient water, etc. Carrots usually don't last long around here even when growing - when small, they are soooo sweet. There's a bunch of types specifically designed to be picked small. Successive plantings is the key. You can also get a variety of colours - carrots aren't limited to orange :)

If you and your daughter like "greens" - I'd recommend a coloured mix of Swiss Chard... Neon Lights, Bright Lights are two of the popular mixes - reds, yellows, oranges, greens, etc. in the stalks, with green foliage otherwise. Can give you more info on Swiss Chard for growing it if you're interested - think of it as a bulbless beet where you eat the greens instead of the root being the focus.

Radish is easy - but not sure if you all like radish? Can be a bit hot for some youngsters. I'm trying a new heirloom this year that is supposed to "bite back" a bit less... Even if she doesn't like radish and you don't, they are SO easy that they are often a welcome harvest to be given to friends, family, neighbours, and most varieties are easy for kids to efficiently pull up from the ground (notably the rounded ones)... like carrots, successive plantings for continued harvesting since they develop pretty fast.

Onions - from seed or bulb sets...

Around all veggies in a garden - or around most in a container - Marigolds are a boon - they keep some soil-dwelling buggers at bay that will go for roots of veggies, and the flowers AND foliage is good for deterring skeeters and chiggers and other itchy/biting bugs that can make gardening less than pleasant.

I'm hesitant to suggest peppers, even sweet bell peppers, because even the sweet ones can pack some heat on little fingers when harvested - or on the seeds when sown - and little fingers touch little eyes and then the burning begins... and that's a bad scene.

Sunflowers - for sure - and if planting in the ground, you can plant in rows around an outline of a space with an "entry point" so that when the sunflowers grow up, your daughter has her own little "room" in the garden. Sunflower seeds are of course, edible - though you might just want to grow them to see the pretties with her.... if you want to save seed, you'll need to net or bad the heads when the seeds are close to ripe or the birds can strip them clean in no time flat.

Edible flowers, such as nasturtium, are pretty and - well - edible... those are annuals, so you can not only grow them and eat them (peppery flavour) or candy the blooms (and preserve in the freezer for longer periods if you like) but can also watch as they produce seed and collect seed for the next season. Nasturtium seeds are fairly good sized - about like a small-to-avg pea, so little hands can handle them relatively easily.

Herbs - I recommend a "good selection" of herbs and I am pro-container growing on those since many, while marked as annuals, can be brought in before first frost and grown indoors through the winter. Basils (also easy to collect seed from tho' small seeds), Rosemary (a must have in my book for poultry), Sweet Marjoram, Cilantro/Coriander (great with just about any "southwest" or "Mexican" dish but not limited to that), Chives/Garlic Chives (previously noted in companion plantig) and the list goes on and on. Herbs/spices are also a most excellent choice to grow with kids because you can help them make their own herb-infused vinegars & oils and herb-butters to be used "later" in cooking. I also highly recommend Parsley - a much under-used herb IMO... leave out in the ground growing, this one produces seed in its second year before dying, but rarely if ever produces seed in its first year - snip/harvest leaves as desired or preserve in ice cube trays with spring water to toss in soups, etc. later. (pregnant women should not ingest too much parsley)

Oh just oodles of things, but without asking my kids right now myself, these are some of the basics that I find easy to grow/garden with kids, off the top of my head. Hope it helps!

Hermit On The Hill

P.S. Strictly for "fun" and possible use for crafts or wildlife, hard-shelled gourds are a good choice for growing...

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 5:14PM
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Hey Melissa, if you send me a PRIVATE email and include your snail mail/ground mail address, the kids and I will put together a little care package/starter selection of some seeds for you and Hannah... let me know if there are any known food allergies!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 5:40PM
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Good Morning!

I found your info on gardening with youngsters very fascinating and informational! I have a 6 year old and we have already started germinating our seeds and we are very excited to get started. We are new to the gardening forum as well (actually joined so I could ask your advice).

We are actually planning a good sized garden in our new back yard in Nashville. What we really want to know and can't seem to find a specific answer on for 2009 - When can we start planting our seedlings in the ground? What about blackberry winter and dogwood winter and all that??

And as you seem to have alot of gardening knowledge - can the marigolds be planted at the same time as the vegetables? and how far from the vegetables do the marigolds need to be (if at all)?

Thanks in advance for all the information - Have a great day!

Tricia & Jaden

    Bookmark   March 8, 2009 at 11:02AM
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Tricia & Jayden,

You can find a wealth of regionalized information from your local university extension office. Vandy, being a private school, doesn't have an agriculture department, but The University of Tennessee has extension offices in every county (I think) -- you can check for your county at the link I'll post below. I know there's an office in Nashville.

This is only my second season as a veggie gardener, and I've found the extension service to be a great tool... the best part in this economy is that it's often free, and at worst it's cheap.

Hope that helps.


    Bookmark   March 21, 2009 at 8:52AM
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Hello hermitonthehill I found your response helpful and informative. I do have a question we started seedlings indoors a few weekds ago, when is it safe to move them outside?
I also purchased a raised bed box for daughter. She is very excited about gardening. we just moved to TN from AZ I want this garden to be very successful for her and tips of the trade? I look forward to hearing from you!

    Bookmark   March 10, 2010 at 8:22AM
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I'm not Hermit but I just wanted to welcome you to Tennessee an to gardening. Not all of TN has the same planting dates. Here in middle TN where I am (Nashville area) we call April 15 the average date of the last killing frost. So we can put out peppers and tomatoes if the weather looks good for the week after that, but there's always a chance we have to cover them on a cold nite or two. Peas and onions can be planted now or as I did a week ago. If you're in the mountains or on the plateau add a couple weeks at least to the arrival of warm weather. Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 10, 2010 at 9:34AM
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What type of seedlings did you start? I guess the best advice I can give you on your seedlings is try not to overdo it with the sunshine when you do put them out for the first week or two. Start em off in some shade, then gradually increase their sun exposure or they will get scorched. Lesson learned the hard way for me. On a cloudy day, you have no worries, but on those full sun days, it's best to find a spot with dappled sunlight to start with. The rule of thumb I use is how long would I allow my child to have exposure to the sun without sunblock....

    Bookmark   March 14, 2010 at 11:22PM
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Hello, we are moving to Pikeville, TN and our son (almost 10) would like to do a garden. The former owners were big gardners. The area for the garden will be in the same spot they gardened in. They actually layed new dirt down for us, but the weeds have already taken over, so we will start that project first. Is it best for me to buy already started plants, this late in the season? Should I put any soil down before planting? He would like to plant some fruit as well, such as assorted melons and berries. We would like to have fall items too, such as pumkins. Any help would really be appreciated. I'm just not sure if we are to late for some items, and to early for others. We wouldn't start planting till the weekend after father's Day. Oh, I forgot to mention we really want to plant outdoors.

Thanks for all the help,
Cassy and Dylan

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 1:08PM
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Cassy and Dylan
Pumpkins need a long grow time, so it's too late for starting them. You can get some plants at the nursery vs starting seed- for cucumbers, tomatoes, shorter season summer stuff.
Fall plantings of cool weather veggies start soon- Swiss chard, spinach, beets, broccoli etc.
To prevent weeds in your garden, lay down a 3" layer of shredded leaves and top with pine straw to hold the leaves in place.
Check the nurseries this fall for Victoria rhubarb if you like it (Lowes carries), blackberries (thornless) blueberries- all low maintenance with high yield.
Hope all goes well and you enjoy!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 3:21PM
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