Say you have a sunny corner of your yard or a few containers in your driveway, and lots of family time on your hands.
Growing a vegetable garden is a fun and very satisfying activity to do with kids. It can even convince picky eaters to give veggies a try.
Once you’ve got the ground or container prepared, here are some satisfying crops for beginning gardeners to try planting in March. All are fairly easy and reliable. Just keep them watered (the spring rain isn’t always frequent or reliable enough) and follow the directions.
As the weather warms up, we’ll have suggestions for later season crops to plant.
Grow from: seed
Radishes are colorful, crisp, and they grow really quickly. Several varieties take only 24 days from planting the seed to giving you a new crop to try. It may not be most children’s first choice in a snack, but having had the new pleasure of growing the crop themselves, they might give it a try.
Tip: Don’t forget to thin the young plants to the full amount recommended on the seed packet.
Grow from: seed
Spinach is one of those crops that tastes more delicious when you grow it yourself. And the business of putting the seeds in the ground and covering each with a quarter-inch of soil is an absorbing way to develop dexterity.
Tip: Don’t wait too long to harvest. Once the flowers form on the plants, they’ll turn from little bushes of succulent goodness to tall stringy things that don’t taste of much. Better to make your salads too early rather than too late.
Grow from: seed or starts.
With peas, I like to make my own starts, germinating them indoors in pots before sowing them outside. When choosing peas, you have options to consider.
First, there’s the growth habit: You can choose bush plants, that grow unsupported to a certain height, and don’t require a lot of tending. Or you can choose climbing peas, that grow long vines that send out tendrils to grip netting or whatever structure you put up for them to climb. Climbing peas are more work, but you have the satisfaction of having a small seed turn into a really big plant. I prefer them.
The other thing to think about is whether you want to be able to eat the pod. Freshly grown snap peas make an irresistible snack for children. (In fact, don’t be surprised if you don’t get much to eat for yourself because your kids have been too busy picking pods directly from the plants and eating them.) You could also grow shelling peas. The task of popping open the shells so the peas come out is a fun chore to do with a child: simple, repetitive and social. I can’t decide which kind of pea I like more, so I grow both.
Grow from: seed
They take about 75 days to grow, and they’re tasty. Plus, you can keep planting them throughout the summer, so you always have green onions on hand.
Grow from: bare root bundles or starts
If my son had his say, strawberries would be all I would grow in the garden. There is nothing like the taste of a fresh, garden-grown strawberry. When choosing, you have to decide between everbearing plants, that give fruit throughout the summer, or June-bearing plants that give a big crop in June.
Tip: There’s a little bit of delayed gratification here, because the second year’s crop of these perennial plants is usually better than the first. Just remember to keep the plants watered through the summer drought, and thin them over the winter.
Fiona Cohen, the author of The Curious Kids Nature Guide, finds gardening very soothing during times of stress. She may have gone a little overboard with the planting lately.