Gardening with children – gardens and vegetables for children
Children need gardens. For harvesting fresh fruit and vegetables, for frolicking and running through the grass, for playing hide and seek and finding treasure, for discovering insects, animals and always something new, for playing in mud and sand or for digging holes to the centre of the earth. This applies to proper "kindergardens" – i.e. the gardening areas of kindergartens, as well as to school or private home gardens. Depending on their age, children use gardens differently. But no matter whether large or small: in an organic vegetable garden, in which diverse tasks must be regularly performed, children almost always find something to do themselves. When the parents garden with friends and the children learn that gardens can deliver a rich harvest, they usually quickly begin to imitate their parents and want to start their own vegetable patches.
What children do not need in their own garden are ready-equipped "playgrounds", which only allow them to play in a pre-determined way. Many gardens feature an excess of such equipment. Especially here, the motto is: less is more. Because for children, gardens are spaces for living and gathering experience, especially when they undergo continuous change and grow together with the children. When they are never "finished" and provide a place in which there is always something new to discover, build or plant: the tree house that can be extended or the sand pit in which a castle made from branches can be built. Sand, water and simple materials (branches, boards etc.) are the most important requisites here.
But in addition to playing and romping in the garden, children can also learn a lot that can be of use throughout their lives. Plants are fragile and delicate, they need care and can then provide us with the finest fruits. This is one of the most important aspects of gardening with children: vegetables can be eaten fresh. They don't need a barcode or a price tag to make them fit for consumption. In the children's vegetable garden, there is always something to harvest: most popular is everything that can be eaten immediately – vegetables and fruits as snacks. Sweet and sour are the favourite flavours among children. Interestingly, there are vegetables that taste good to many children when raw but not at all when cooked: peppers and carrots, for example. Of course, this doesn't apply to all children. It is however important for the children that we differentiate between vegetables. "Vegetables" is after all only a collective term. It is therefore quite possible that a child will claim not to eat vegetables, while at the same time heartily biting into a carrot.
From vegetables back to the garden: I was once asked which activities in the garden are particularly suitable for children. I think the question should have been: which activities in the organic garden are not suitable for children? These are in fact very few. And in the garden, the aim is not to keep children busy or to offer a special children's programme. The only gardening activities that are better performed without children present are those involving dangerous machines: cutting the grass with a lawn mower or brush cutter or working with a shredder, for example.
Popular children's plants
Favourite vegetables and fruits as snacks – raw
Patience dock, French sorrel, mini-cucumber, cucumber, peppers (mild to slightly hot), cherry tomatoes, garden sorrel, sugar peas, young sweet corn, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cape gooseberries, Japanese grapes, goji berries (non-bitter varieties), sallow thorn (not sour-tasting varieties), blue bean shrub (tastes like liquorice), figs, rose hips (fully ripe, after the first frost)
Favourite children's vegetables – cooked
Potatoes, beetroot, courgettes, beans, cauliflower, broccoli, ripe sweet corn, French beans
Favourite children's herbs – freshly chopped on bread snacks
Chives, garlic chives, parsley, basil, sorrel
In an organic vegetable garden, in which diverse tasks must be regularly performed, children almost always find something to do themselves.
This is one of the most important aspects of gardening with children: vegetables can be eaten fresh.