It’s spring, which means you can’t open a parenting magazine without being accosted by the image of a toddler wielding a dirty trowel, happily scarfing the bounty of his labor. The magazines will tell you that you should garden with your kids to increase their vegetable consumption, life skills, science achievement scores, playgroup street cred, blackjack odds, and a host of other lies.
As a fledgling gardener and mother of three, I’m here to tell you the real reason you should garden with your kids.
You should do it because gives him something to do during the summer besides kicking his sister or whining for his third bleeping snack of the morning.
You should do it because it fills three units of time in a 30-unit day with a healthy, outdoor activity, thereby allowing you to justify plugging him into the screen drug of his choice for five units. Is your kid going to eat a carrot somewhere in this equation? Possibly. If so, that’s gravy.
But make no mistake – it’s not about the carrots. It’s about the units.
Gardening is a lazy mom’s game.
You can garden with your kids without leaving the house or changing out of your pajamas. Best of all, it will save you at least one trip to the grocery store for berries or broccoli or whatever method you use to avoid scurvy.
Here are five lessons I’ve learned from gardening with my own brood:
1 | Choose your crops wisely. The easiest crops to raise are ones you’d find in a salad, such as lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, and carrots. Also, the easiest children to raise are the ones who eat salads.
2 | Make it part of your daily routine. Gardening, like parenting, succeeds in direct proportion to your effort. Make time each day to pick, prune, and weed, and you’ll be rewarded by everything but tomatoes. And melons … and most berries, for that matter.
And now that I think about it, parenting isn’t like this at all. You can pour your very being into your child like a human giving tree, until all that remains of you is a haggard, empty vessel. Chances are, he’ll still end up huffing glue in the back alley of a Staples someday.
3 | Deter pests creatively. Slugs like kale better than children do. But if you insist on growing this toothsome green, you can deter slugs with beer.
Here’s how it works: fill a small, empty tuna can with beer and leave it by the kale overnight to trap the slimy pests. Save this trick for later in the day so that you can pour the remainder of the beer down your throat. I find that slugs prefer an ice-cold IPA. Wait, did I say slugs? I meant me.
4 | Plan a farm-to-table night. Enlist your kids in helping you make a dinner solely comprised of veggies you picked from the garden: succotash, kale chips, and zucchini fries are all kid-friendly options. Remind them during the meal that they’re living off the land, just as they lived off milk from your body for the first years of their lives.
Explain how it’s our duty to protect “Mother” Nature because she’s synonymous with a life-giving teat that feeds all of humanity. Kids love this kind of talk, especially middle schoolers. Trust me.
5 | Think of the big picture. At the end of your life, as you lie listless on a hospital bed recounting your salad days (see what I did there?), I can promise you one thing: you will never, ever regret the time you spent in a garden with a child. So maybe, in the end, it’s not really about the vegetables at all.*
* Say this to yourself every time a crop fails.
Good luck and happy gardening!