Being a Strawberry Farmer: Preschoolers in the Edible Garden
I’m in the dirt fixing the irrigation system in our yard, when my preschooler asks from the deck if I’m a farmer. I reply “yes,” and she says “I think so. I think we are strawberry farmers!”
Our small strawberry patch and other edible areas of the yard have become a great pastime for our preschooler. Here are some tips for busy parents to get you and your young ones into the Farm to Table movement.
Be Smart with your Time. Plant things that overwinter here in the Bay Area. You will avoid time spent turning annual crops under, rotating beds, and planting cover crops. Try it by planting a blueberry bush (available now in your nursery with young blueberries ready to ripen), strawberry plants, artichoke plants, or a grape vine. Looking for a tree? Apples, cherry and fig trees are great choices for home gardens.
Plant for Fast Gratification. Find seeds with a short time to maturity. One of my favorites is Easter Egg radishes, which take less than a month from seed to harvest. They are easy for little ones to pull, and come in beautiful jewel toned colors. Convert one or a couple of your drip emitters to microsprays so your irrigation system does the work of keeping the seeds moist until the first leaves emerge.
Make Snacking in the Garden Easy. Have a hose and harvest basket nearby so you can literally pick, wash, and eat right there in the garden. A place to sit in the shade and snack is nice too. Or set up a veggie box right outside your kitchen door. Also think small - cherry tomatoes instead of beefsteak, and lemon cucumbers instead of English or Persian. Sugar snap and shelling peas can be eaten right off the vine, eliminating cooking time.
There’s More to Veggie Gardening than just Eating. Your preschooler may not like to eat spinach yet, but they sure will like to cut the leaves off with a pair of scissors or garden snips (under your supervision, of course). My favorite is bloomsdale spinach, which matures in 28-45 days and is tasty full grown or as baby leaf. Picking and shelling snap peas and pole beans are fun activities and help with hand eye coordination, fine motor skills, and counting. Try multi-colored pole beans, and be sure to save some for crafting and planting next season.
Go for the Big Easy. Plant giant sunflower seeds, which easily germinate and have a big payoff. Your preschooler will love standing under the towering stems. "Sunzilla" sunflowers reach up to 16' tall! After the petals wilt, sunflower kernals will develop in the flower head. Save the heads to use as bird or squirrel feeders, or harvest the sunflower seeds and share your bounty with friends.