When we speak to people about our gardening adventures with Henry and Sebastian, they often respond that they’d love to do something similar with their children / grandchildren / pupils / mindees, but they don’t have the time or the knowledge to start a vegetable garden. Our answer is always; start small – just grow one thing! You don’t need to construct raised beds or dig over a whole allotment in order to get little ones interested in gardening, it can be something as simple as growing one plant in a pot in your back yard or windowsill!
The best fruits and vegetables to grow with children are ones that:
- don’t need a lot of space
- germinate easily
- are quick growing (for short attention spans)
- offer colour and interest (bye bye lettuce)
- create an activity
- and most importantly, are tasty!
With all this in mind, we’ve created a list of vegetables that fit into these criteria and hopefully inspire you to grow one thing with your little ones this year!
Although they do need a bit of space to grow in, peas are a sure fire winner with children of all ages! Whether they’re started in pots indoors or sown straight into the outdoor growing space, they’ll germinate within a few days and grow pretty quickly, giving you a crop within about 10 weeks of sowing.
Although peas are traditionally grown in the ground, you can plant them in long troughs or even in a length of drainpipe!
A row of peas will be sufficient for harvesting with young children; let’s be honest, no one grows peas at home to take into the kitchen and cook, they’re all podded and feasted on without even leaving the garden! Podding peas is a great deal of fun for little ones and they’re far more nutritious eaten uncooked!
Peas are pretty easy to grow, they germinate quickly and sprout interesting springy shoots as the flowers appear. You will need to protect your seedlings from pigeons, which you can do very easily by sticking some twigs upright around all the young plants.
Potatoes are perfect for very young toddlers or even older babies to get involved with. They are the first crop that Henry harvested when he was just a year old, and he very quickly grasped the concept and loved finding the potatoes in the soil and placing them in his trug. He also enjoyed putting them back into the soil again, so maybe he didn’t fully get the idea!
Potatoes are interesting for youngsters as they sprout big bushy leaves, and digging them up at harvest time is like finding hidden treasure! I’d advise growing them in large buckets or grobags rather than in the ground as they don’t take up as much space, and they’re far easier for little ones to discover with very little adult intervention. You can even buy sacks designed especially for growing potatoes which can be placed on a patio or driveway!
Although you can grow strawberries from seed, it’s far quicker and more exciting to buy plug plants and plant them up in containers or a sunny border! If you’re short on space, there’s a great range of vertical planters on the market (please don’t buy a plastic one though!) Garden centres and even supermarkets offer a good selection of plants so they’re very easy to come by for the busiest of mums and dads!
Given good weather conditions, you’ll get a good crop of fruit in the first year of planting and they’ll continue to produce year after year – watch out for ‘runners’ that the plants spring out, as they will spread very quickly into neighbouring areas of the garden!
Strawberries are very appealing to young children, birds, and mice alike, so if you choose to grow these tasty fruits you might need to put some netting over them to protect them from pests!
There’s nothing that compares to the look on a child’s face when they pull their first carrot from the ground! Henry was mesmerised when he was let loose on our raised beds at the tender age of 2. our only problem was stopping him pulling too many at once! Carrot soup anyone?!
Carrots aren’t the easiest vegetable on this list to grow, but a bit of time and effort certainly pays off at harvest time! You can grow them in a deep planter, or in a sunny border as long as you dig the soil quite deep, so it’s fairly loose for the roots to form without meeting resistance! If your soil is very compacted or stony, you’ll end up with some weird and wonderful shapes, which will certainly be entertaining, if a little tricky to eat!
Carrots are generally grown directly into the growing space, and as the seeds are so tiny, they’ll then need thinning out when the green tips appear. This means you remove a few seedlings to give others space to grow. We’d advise not getting the little ones involved in this task, as you’ll probably end up with no plants!
Given a decent summer, courgettes (zucchini) are really easy to grow! The seeds are big and chunky making them easy for little fingers to handle, they germinate quickly and the seedlings throw out big, impressive leaves, and quite quickly start to produce glorious yellow flowers. You can either start the seeds off on a warm windowsill indoors, or wait until May when the weather warms up a little and grow direct outside.
Each plant will grow up to 2 feet in diameter so you do need some space, but they’re perfect for growing in pots on the patio as long as you water them regularly; apart from that they require very little else! They’re also great for bees, which introduces another element into your gardening experience!
There are tons of courgette varieties that come in all shapes and colours, so don’t just opt for the traditional green variety that we’re used to seeing in supermarkets – vibrant yellow tennis balls are far more appealing to young children!
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to wow your little ones, have a go at growing kohlrabi! It’s part of the brassica family and grows as a ‘bulb’ shaped stem with long spiky leaves, with purple and light green varieties available.
Just to see them growing in the garden is fascinating, it looks like an alien spaceship has landed amongst the raised beds! It’s said to taste like a cross between a turnip and a waterchestnut but I’m not sure I agree with that analogy; it’s got a nutty flavour that’s delicious either roasted or raw in salads!
Growing them is relatively easy, if you don’t have any ground space available then a long trough would be ok. You could actually grow them amongst the peas as they’ll still be relatively small plants when they peas are ready for picking – but I digress, we’re talking about growing one thing here, not two! Make sure you pick the kohlrabi when they’re about the size as a tennis ball, as that’s when they taste the best.
If the ease of growing courgettes appeals to you, then you should also be giving pumpkins a try! Pumpkins are the ULTIMATE vegetable to grow with young children, the giant orange globes are not only exciting to grow, they’re also integral to exciting Halloween celebrations!
However, they take much longer to grow and mature than courgettes do, it can take up to 5 months from sowing to harvesting and they do take up more room as they can trail 6 feet or more. There are ways around this though; they can be trained up sturdy trellises, or you can seek out more compact varieties but be warned, the fruits won’t be as large.
Warning – pumpkins are susceptible to rotting if they’re touching damp soil, so once the fruits form, support them by putting a stone or paving slab underneath each one to raise them off the ground.
Traditional tomato plants grow best in a greenhouse, and if you have the luxury of one in your garden, then definitely get growing a few plants for your little ones to enjoy! However, if you don’t have a greenhouse at your disposal, many varieties of tomato will grow in outdoor conditions. Cherry tomatoes grow on a ‘bush’ plant rather than the more familiar ‘cordon’, and they grow well in hanging baskets or patio containers.
Cherry tomatoes are also generally sweeter than their larger counterparts. Just be careful that your little ones are supervised when they’re picking and sampling the produce though, as they should be cut in half before being eaten by young children in the same way that grapes are.
We hope that’s given you a spark of inspiration to grow one thing with your little people this year, you don’t have to be an expert to get a decent crop from any of the fruits or vegetables we’ve listed above. As our photos show, every fruit and vegetable we’ve included on this list has been grown at least once by us, with the help of Henry and Sebastian, so we’re speaking from experience!
Seed packets and plant labels will always come with some instructions of how to grow, but we can highly recommend Alan Titchmarsh’s book ‘The Kitchen Gardener’ it’s a comprehensive guide to growing literally every fruit and vegetable you can think of, and he gives clear and simple tips and guidance for each. Another excellent book, especially if you’re growing in a small space, is Step-By-Step Veg Patch from the RHS, this contains great information about spacing each plant, both in the ground or in a container or grobag which is really useful!
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