Gardening with Kids

The weather’s so fabulous that I reluctantly sat down to the computer, completely uninspired about writing anything.  And then I realized that I had an old article from when I did a moms’ group newsletter.  Presto!  I’ve got myself a post!  So the timing’s a little off–maybe this is our 7th gardening season?  And last year’s lettuce harvest wasn’t quite so good.  But besides that, it all works, I think.

This weekend's purple basil patiently awaits a real home.

Gardening with Kids

We are getting ready for our third season of gardening, and I’m so excited.  M loved the garden last year, and I know it’s going to be more fun now that she understands that adding sandbox sand just doesn’t help (although, come to think of it, it might help the carrots. . . ).  Anyway if you haven’t done any gardening, and you’d like to try this year, here are a few crops that are good for kids:

Lettuce (& spinach): Kids can throw the seeds on the ground in the most haphazard manner, then you rake a bit of soil over it and presto!  Within days you’ll see teeny-weeny plants (that’s quick), and when they do grow in, it looks just like the lettuce at the grocery store, so it’s easy for kids to recognize.  Most places sell packets of a single lettuce as well as mesclun mixes and other mixes.  You can wait for a whole head to mature or just run out each evening and snip the biggest leaves off for your salad with dinner.  This encourages everybody to eat more, and you’ll have less rotting in your fridge (or is that just me?).  This year I’ll try to plant some seeds every couple of weeks so that I have a continuous supply.  But even though I only managed to plant twice last year, I went the entire summer and into early fall without buying lettuce.

Peas: These are a fun, interactive garden vegetable.  First, they like to climb, so plan on planting them against a fence or buy a trellis at a home improvement store.  Watching them “grab” and climb is fun, plus it’s pretty, especially since they have nice little white blossoms.  There are plenty of pea pods, and it’s like a treasure hunt trying to find them among the foliage.  And finally, the peas themselves are so sweet and delicious that they are like candy.  Maybe you’ll actually carry peas into your kitchen once or twice, but you will generally be splitting open pea pods while your toddler eagerly grabs them out of your hands.  I’ve grown these from seeds, and last year I planted them too late (theoretically, they should be in the ground already) but they flourished in spite of my tardiness.

Potatoes: These are another one that are particularly fun to harvest.  Next time you leave a couple of potatoes on the counter too long and they start to sprout, cut them into a few pieces and bury them in a mound of dirt.  They’ll grow a big plant above ground, but of course potatoes are a root vegetable, so the kids will have to dig in the dirt to find them–yeah, they hate digging in the dirt, right?  Seriously, this is another great treasure hunt.

Mint:  I like lots of herbs, but mint is the easiest.  It’s incredibly hardy and it will come back year after year.  Plus, kids love the way it smells.  You can put mint into iced tea or lemonade or use it in cooking (see below).  Be aware:  it’s so good at growing that you can expect it to spread.  Either plant it somewhere where you don’t mind it running wild or confine it to a pot.  I actually submerged a plastic pot in one of my garden boxes so it would grow with everything else but the roots are trapped in one spot.  I’ve only grown mint from cuttings and other plants at the nursery, so I can’t comment on seed.  You can also choose from all different types of mint varieties—they’re pretty similar, so just rub the leaves to get an idea of the smell and pick what you like.

We haven't touched the garden yet, but the mint's already moving in and taking over.

Candied Mint Leaves

This is the kids’ recipe, but it can also be completed by adults to adorn a fancy dessert.  Yes, there are raw egg whites.  Some people fear salmonella. . . . well, we eat cookie dough in our house.  So, our hygiene standards aren’t too high, I guess.

Ingredients:

  • Mint leaves
  • One or two egg whites
  • Water
  • Sugar (superfine is best if possible, but regular white will work, too)

What to do:

Beat egg white(s), then add 2 tablespoons per egg white and beat it together.  Dip each mint leaf in the mixture, then dip it into sugar poured onto a plate.  Lay the mint leaves on waxed paper to dry overnight.

Minted Cucumber Salad

This Indian-inspired salad goes great with curry or any other spicy dish.  I found it in Cooking Light to go along with this recipe, but for some reason I couldn’t find the salad portion online.   It’s the salad that made me start to appreciate cucumber.  And we still make that chicken recipe all the time–it’s a favorite at our house–but we buy jarred chutney.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups seeded chopped cucumber
  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup plain fat-free yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint.

What to do:

Toss first six ingredients (cukes to pepper).  Add the yogurt and mint and stir it well to combine.

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