One thing that is important to both my husband and me is that we teach our kids where our food comes from, which is not a grocery store. Living in the Midwest, and in Iowa specifically, we are given ample opportunity to teach our kiddos about the joy of planting seeds in the spring and harvesting produce in the fall.
Lance and I come from a long line of gardeners. Both of our families have large gardens, and Lance’s family are farmers. We’ve got the desire to grow things running through our blood. But what we lack in ability (I think I’m the only person who year over year kills zucchini plants), we make up with zeal, diligence, and a whole lotta prayer.
Lance takes our oldest for tractor rides at his folks’ farm and shows him the fields and livestock his family raises. We take them out to my mom’s garden to pick strawberries in the spring and to my aunt’s orchard to pick apples in the fall. We remind Lucan about all the hard work and effort it took to pick the apples and then in turn make and can the applesauce he’s enjoying. We’re doing our best to make sure our suburbia-city kids are well-rounded about their understanding of the food on their table!
Don’t let gardening intimidate you. I promise you, it can be as easy or as complicated as you want to make it!
Here are a few things to consider for your garden:
Start small. Literally, seed small. About this time of year we start seeds in the house. Typically you will want things like tomatoes, green peppers, eggplant, herbs, etc. We use cheap peat pots, some seeds, a plastic greenhouse, and a little water. My son had a ball planting seeds with my husband and woke up early the next morning to see if his plants were growing. Sadly, germination takes longer than 12 hours. 🙂 But in a few weeks your plants should be big enough to put into bigger containers (think yogurt cups, cottage cheese containers, etc.), and then in a few more weeks you can transport them into their permanent outdoor homes!
If starting seeds sounds intimidating, BUY plants from a greenhouse. Easy peasy.
Prep your soil. For your first garden you will definitely want to use a mechanical garden tiller. You can rent one from many hardware stores, and we often split the rental cost with a neighbor who also gardens. But if you are a couple of years in to it, you can till by hand using a garden rake. You’ll want to add fertilizer of sorts — whether that’s compost from your family’s food scraps or a bucket of cow manure that you hauled from Northwest Iowa in the back of your SUV for three hours while everyone breathed through their mouths.
Once the ground is warm enough that freeze dangers are past (as a good rule of thumb, sometime after Mother’s Day is what we aim for), take your precious baby seedlings and plant them — directly in the earth, raised beds or big pots, whatever you feel comfortable with and have space for! A couple tips —
- Cover each of your baby plants with half a milk jug for the first couple weeks. This will ease them into their new homes. It’s like the plants have their own personal greenhouse!
- What kids don’t like to play in the dirt? Have them help dig holes and transport each plant.
- Don’t crowd your plants; they will get bigger. If you have a diseased plant, you don’t want it spreading its sickness to its friends, so closer together is not better.
- Mint and oregano are like the common cold. They spread EVERYWHERE. Keep those two confined to containers unless you are planning on opening an Italian restaurant or drinking mojitos for the rest of the summer.
- Take advantage of vertical space. We use fencing to grow peas, green beans, and cucumbers every year. This also makes it so much easier to pick stuff! Our son loves picking green beans and gets excited every time he finds one to pick. Then green beans turn into our favorite vegetable, too!
- Rabbits are not your friends. Do yourself a favor and protect your hard work with a roll of chicken wire fencing. It’s worth the investment.
Not a fan of weeding? Me neither. Teach your kids about the joy of weeding. That’s why you had kids in the first place, right — conscripted labor? Or if that doesn’t work, take my advice: once monsoon season has passed, take advantage of grass clippings as mulch for your garden. This will help keep weeds down and moisture in. #winning
In a few months you “should” have beautiful sun-ripened tomatoes at your fingertips. I use the term “should” loosely because there have been plenty of times where rabbits ate all the edamame, our butternut squash got stem rot, the birds ate all my kale seed, or we got six inches of rain three different times and everything flooded. But there’s nothing more satisfying than eating your first cherry tomato right off the vine and sharing in your kiddo’s excitement when they see their precious baby seeds grow taller than them.