Gardening is a great activity for children, bringing them closer to nature and helping them observe and understand the natural world. Growing vegetables has the added benefits of helping them to learn about where their food comes from while - hopefully - instilling a love of healthy food along the way.
When introducing children to gardening it’s important that they see results quickly so that they don’t become bored or disinterested. While delayed gratification is undoubtedly part of gardening, having kids grow things that pop up in days rather than weeks is more likely to hold their interest.
Time to harvest is just as important for young gardeners. The idea of growing a giant pumpkin may be appealing, but the reality of waiting an entire season to harvest the fruit will test the patience of even the keenest mini green thumb. For very young gardeners, it’s also a good idea to grow larger seeds rather than minute ones that tiny fingers simply cannot grasp.
Here are five easy to grow vegetables that will produce results in kid-friendly a timeframe.
Bean plants have captured children’s imagination since 'Jack and the Beanstalk' was first published in the 1700s. Bean seeds are wonderful for little fingers to sow as they are big and easy to handle. They can be planted directly in the ground or in a large pot in the warmer months, and the pods produced make a tasty snack picked straight from the plant.
If you sow climbing beans you will need to construct a support of some sort. A teepee type can easily be made from bamboo canes or stakes tied together at the top. It's fascinating watching the fast-growing vines twirl their way to the top.
If flavour was the only criteria for selecting vegetables for children to grow, peas would win every time. It’s difficult to find anyone who doesn’t love the taste of peas harvested straight from the garden, and most kids will be tempted by them. Snow peas and sugar snaps are both popular snacks for kids, and can be more productive than shelling varieties.
Peas are a good choice if starting seeds in the cooler months of the year. They can be planted from autumn through to early spring, depending on the climate. They will need a support of some kind, such as a trellis or tripod, to climb up.
Peas are an excellent crop for children to try their hand at seed saving. Just leave the pods on one plant and wait for them to dry naturally at the end of the season. Harvest the pods, remove the seeds and store them in a brown paper bag or envelope ready to plant the following year.
The great thing about planting radish seeds is that their requirements are minimal, and seedlings appear within a week or so of sowing. Normally they are ready to be harvested within three or four weeks. What is even better is that you can sow seeds every few days and have a constant supply.
Radishes can be planted year-round in the garden or in medium sized pots. Make sure pots are at least 20cm deep to allow the roots to develop fully, and water regularly to avoid too much heat or bitterness developing, which can be a turn-off for kids.
Zucchini is easy to grow, notoriously productive, and gives much faster results than pumpkins or squash. The seeds are big enough for small hands to manage and will produce seedlings with impressively large leaves in just a couple of weeks.
While zucchini may not be an obvious choice to appeal to children’s taste buds, there are lots of ideas for cooking and eating zucchini that will tempt them. Try zoodles, fritters and frittata, or take chef and kitchen garden champion Stephanie Alexander’s advice and grate zucchini into a delicious chocolate cake or muffin.
At first glance bunching onion may seem like another odd inclusion in a list of veg for kids. But they are surprisingly easy to grow and versatile to use in any number of recipes. Seed can be planted in all but the hottest months of the year, germination takes place in a little over a week, and stems will be ready to harvest in eight to 10 weeks.
One of the best things about growing bunching onion with children is that only one or two stems can star in a dish alongside other ingredients. Popular kid friendly recipes incorporating spring onions include fried rice, dumplings and spring onion pancakes.
Bunching onions can be grown as a cut and come again crop. Harvest the stems by cutting them at ground level and new shoots will emerge from the cut base of the plant. This is fascinating for children (and adults) to observe, and means that one planting of bunching onions can produce stems over a long period.
These five veggies are just the start of a long list of seeds suitable for children to grow. With fast results and tasty harvests, they will give kids confidence at the start of their gardening journey - a journey that may last a lifetime.