Little gardeners

After months of cold and snow, another winter is about to give way to the promise of spring. Now is the perfect time to start thinking about your summer gardening plans.

This year, consider incorporating some kid-friendly projects to give your child a chance to participate in the gardening experience.

Whether you are planting a vegetable garden or simply potting one or two containers on your porch, vegetable gardening can help kids connect the process of growing food with what we eat.

Keep in mind some general guidelines for gardening with kids. Choose a project with a high rate of success. You want your child to see the fruits of her labor, so stick with tried-and-true plants that require minimal care. Explain the type of attention the plant requires and include your child in the day-to-day care of their gardening project. Make sure they have the proper tools. Child-size gardening gloves, a shovel for digging and a small watering can will help your child step into the role of gardener.

Here are a few simple project ideas to get started:

1Plant a salad bowl. The salad eaters at your house will love this project with fast and easy results. Lettuce grows best in cooler temperatures so begin this project in late spring. Pick a container with good drainage and fill three-quarters full with fresh potting soil. Choose a seed package of mixed salad greens or a seed mix of your favorite leaf lettuce. Help your child sprinkle the seeds evenly around the pot and cover with no more than¼ inch of soil. Water using a can or hose with a gentle spray head to avoid burying the seeds in the soil. Be sure to water the pot regularly. Within a few days, you will have your first baby lettuce sprouts. After about two weeks, pinch off some of the baby lettuce to make some additional room for the remaining lettuce to grow. Continue to pinch off lettuce as the pot fills. When you have depleted your lettuce crop in late summer, simply clear your pot and plant another package of seeds and your lettuce will continue growing in the cooler fall temperatures.

2Grow your own pizza. Even the most vegetable-adverse child loves pizza, right? Plant some of your own ingredients in May and by mid-July, your child can create his own pizzas at home. Choose a container or plot of land large enough to accommodate fully grown basil and cherry tomato plants. Help your child fill the pot three-quarters full with fresh potting soil and plant a basil and cherry (or grape) tomato plant. Put the plants in direct sunlight and water regularly. Both plants will likely need to be staked for support as they grow. The basil will be ready to pick within weeks and the first of the tomatoes should ripen by mid-July. Add your harvested basil and tomatoes to some prepared pizza dough and shredded mozzarella and enjoy. You could expand on this idea to include green peppers or other herbs or even plant your pizza garden in the shape of a pizza slice.

3Make your own garden markers. Once you have your seeds or plants in place, don’t forget to mark what you’ve planted. Painting rocks as garden markers is another simple way for your kids to participate in the garden. Smooth oval or flat rocks are best for this project. Home and gardening supply stores carry smooth rocks if you aren’t up to scavenging for the perfect rock. Be sure to use acrylic paint so your rocks can weather the elements. Drawing pictures of the vegetable or herb will help your child better understand that the seed you planted is going to become a carrot. Mark the rocks with your child’s name and the year. Over time, you will have a little rock garden of your child’s contributions.

For more gardening inspiration,

plan a trip to the Garfield Park Conservatory’s Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden, where upcoming projects include planting a sunflower seed and growing pea pods. Check out

the full schedule of family activities at

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