Children are facinated by living things, whether they be plant or animal. Gardening is a time-honored tradition, the love of which is passed down from parent or grandparent to child. Not only is gardening fun for kids, it is one of the best ways to nurture their understanding and appreciation of where food comes from. Start your tyke on the garden path with these easy veggies and flowers.
First of all, give your child their very own plot to tend. Keep it small and manageable so they will not be overwhelmed. Using pots and containers would also be a good choice. Kid-sized tools just for them will add to their sense of ownership and pride in their garden.
To keep a child's ever-wandering attention, choose fast-maturing plants. Radishes are one of the quickest to germinate, needing only 2-3 days to sprout and will reach maturity in three weeks. While not first on the eating list of most kids, they are very easy to grow. Pick a cheerful variety, like Plum Purple or Pretty In Pink, or choose a rainbow mix of colors (Easter Egg is a common mix.).
Pole beans are a good choice for kids: the seeds are large and the vines climb to the sky. Poles also produce more beans that often taste better than bush types. Kentucky Wonder and Purple Podded are suited to Northeast Wisconsin, both needing approximately 60 days to mature. Plant them at the base of a trellis, or make a bamboo teepee for support.
Add some whimsy to your tot's garden by growing Thumbelina carrots (also called Parmex or Paris Market). These round little carrots don't need deep soil to thrive and are a bit earlier to mature than traditional carrots. Plus, they're just cute.
What child doesn't like plucking a line of plump peas out of a pod? Shell peas are sweet and easy to grow. They prefer cooler temperatures, so plant them in late spring. Climbing types will need support (Green Arrow is a popular variety), but there are some dwarfs that do fine without, such as Tom Thumb and Little Marvel.
Cosmos are a fun, showy flower that appeal to youngsters. The big, daisy-like blooms are great for bouquets, and later the seeds will lure in the birds. Just sprinkle the seeds in a flowerbed and rake lightly. Cosmos also tolerate poor soil and will eagerly self-sow. Sensation Mix is one of the best for northern gardens. They'll grow about four feet tall. Deadhead the old flowers to keep new ones coming all summer.