Tots and Sprouts

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Depending on how you grew up and whether you’ve had any success keeping house plants alive (we have had very modest success here), gardening may sound intimidating and overwhelming.  It also may evoke images of half an acre of beautifully cultivated land with rows and rows of ripe veggies and fruit waiting to be picked, and you may not be able to relate to it as you look out to your fifth floor tiny balcony in the middle of the city.  We’re here to tell you that gardening is achievable in almost any space and it’s a fun thing to do with kids, even if you start out knowing nothing.  That’s how we started last year, and the success of it is now spurring on more ambitious plans - not only is it a great activity with kids of any age, it’s also truly satisfying to grow your own food.  Food doesn’t get any more local than that.

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If you’re brand new to the idea of growing edibles, take a stock of your potential gardening space, sun exposure, and budget (time and money).  Maybe the space is a window box, maybe a nook on a balcony, maybe a little spot suitable for a raised bed in your backyard.  Make sure the spot you choose gets at least 6 hours of sunlight during the day - some edibles crave more sun than others, but no one likes to be in shade only.  (You may need to observe your space throughout a sunny day) If you are looking for a container, you can repurpose something you already have, just make sure it’s food grade and has good drainage, or you can buy from a wide range of gardening specific pots and containers.  If you have an older kid who likes woodworking (or maybe you do), you can build your own wooden box.  (We did, it’s definitely much cheaper than buying!).

Once you know your space, you’re ready to get dirty, and select your edibles.  It’s easiest to start out by buying potting mix (soil) in a gardening store, but if you are trying to fill a truly large space, you may need to get more creative to make it affordable (although, if you’re actually starting your half an acre veggie farm, you’re probably reading the wrong article here). 

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For plants, if your gardening space allows, it’s great to choose edibles your kid really likes and can recognize as they grow, like for example peas, carrots or tomatoes.  Or you can get started with a small window box of herbs or lettuce and have your child be in charge of future harvests for dinner time salads.  You can start your own veggies from seeds, or depending on the plant, buy a seedling and transfer them into your container.  Luckily we have a few places on the North Shore where we can get everything we need from containers to soil to plants (including great advice) - Gardenworks on Marine Drive, Maple Leaf Garden Centre in Lynn Valley, or Dykhoff Nurseries at Maplewood.  Ask for advice on best times for planting or anything else you want to know about your chosen edibles - some like summer heat (tomatoes!), some enjoy cool weather (lettuce, kale). 

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If your kids are younger, it’s nice (but not absolutely necessary!) to have kid sized tools for them that make tending to the garden easier: like a small watering can to limit how much water the plant gets or your little one may be drowning your new garden daily.  A small garden rake and a kid sized wheelbarrow may be popular out in a backyard.  

 

Ideally, you will not only break even, but save some money by growing your own food.  Plus it’s neat to make a salad from lettuce freshly cut from the garden, or snack on garden fresh peas in the backyard.  Your first year of gardening may be just the miracle of watching kale sprout from tiny seeds on your balcony, but reusing the same containers and space for several years or multiple harvests during one year is going to help stomach the initial financial outlay.

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Both of us here at North Shore Kids have our (balcony) gardens started: lettuce, kale, spinach, herbs, peas, carrots, and edible flowers are a few things we’re growing this season.  Every morning one of our 3-year-olds comes out onto the balcony with his water can and showers his plants while singing to them.  Now just fingers crossed for a successful growing season!  Can’t wait until we can harvest and make something delicious with the fruit of our (hard) labour. 

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Both of us here at North Shore Kids have our (balcony) gardens started: lettuce, kale, spinach, herbs, peas, carrots, and edible flowers are a few things we’re growing this season.  Every morning one of our 3-year-olds comes out onto the balcony with his water can and showers his plants while singing to them.  Now just fingers crossed for a successful growing season!  Can’t wait until we can harvest and make something delicious with the fruit of our (hard) labour. 

 

If you have never planted or even if you are an expert, we highly recommend getting your kids involved.  It is a great activity that will not only teach them a useful skill, connect them with the food they eat and the earth, but it will create great and delicious memories.

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A few kids books on gardening that we recommend based on what our own kids enjoy reading:

 

A Year in Our New Garden by Gerda Muller

The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton

How Does My Garden Grow? By Gerda Muller

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner

 

And a classic book on gardening with kids: 

Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots by Sharon Lovejoy.  Read this if you have the space and want to go all out with magical sunflower hideaway houses, moonlight gardens, boots as planters, snacking and sipping gardens, crafted scarecrows and more.  (Not the most useful book for those of us gardening on a city balcony) .

If you have never planted or even if you are an expert, we highly recommend getting your kids involved.  It is a great activity that will not only teach them a useful skill, connect them with the food they eat and the earth, but it will create great and delicious memories.