Spring is here and I can’t tell you how happy I am to see the sun shining more often. Best of all, the munchkin and I were finally able to do something I’ve been looking forward to for months: plant those seeds we started back in April and setup a toddler snacking garden! (Plus an herb garden for mommy.)
The idea for a snacking garden came from one of my favorite books on gardening. It’s called “Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots” and in it author Sharon Lovejoy shared the concept of an edible garden filled with tasty treats that kids could pluck off the plant and pop right into their mouths. I took that idea and ran with it, modifying her garden map so that it would be doable as a balcony container garden.
Some of our edibles are just starting to sprout but already the munchkin loves his garden. Our balcony is truly turning into a little piece of heaven.
The pansies were added to the garden mainly for aesthetic purposes. I wanted that extra pop of color!
- Snap beans
- Sugar peas
- Sungold cherry tomatoes
- Salad greens
- // Edit: Since publishing this post we’ve added strawberries to this list! Check it out.
If you want to setup a snacking/herb garden of our own, here are some tips based upon our own experience.
1. Choose your plants together.
First, figure out how much space you have, what size containers you can fit in that space and how much sun your plants are likely to get. When we went to the garden center I had a little sketch of our balcony along with diagrams of our containers and their dimensions. With that information in hand we were able to select plants that would thrive on our balcony and that could also be combined in containers. You can pair plants that like the same kind of soil/moisture and can also take advantage of deep/shallow root patterns to maximize your growing space. For instance, a tomato plants (deep roots) can share a large container with lettuce plants (shallow roots).
Once I knew what plants would do well in our space the munchkin helped me select seed packets and “baby plants” to bring home. As he gets older he’ll be able to take an even more active role in selecting what plants we grow.
2. Plant your garden together and let your child help take care of it.
Yes this will be a messy process but hey, it’s just dirt right? And what better way to encourage little ones to eat their veggies than to let them grab a seed, press it into the dirt and watch it transform into a plant they can eat? My son loves pointing to the seeds that have begun to sprout and shouting “We are going to eat them!” He’s also the one who is in charge of watering the plants and keeping an eye out for new seedlings.
3. Add some magic.
I wanted to add a bit of magic to our garden so each of our containers is decorated with something special. Rocks and acorns gathered during our hikes in the hills beside Lake Champlain, a pinwheel that swirls in the wind, a piece of driftwood we found on the lake shore. I also found some neat stuff online and at the garden store:
Clockwise from the top left: Hand painted fox rock by BillieRocks; garden gnome house nestled amidst the spinach; turtles on a log that glow in the dark after being charged by the sun; an “owl rock” from our garden center. We have 5-6 of these animal rocks scattered throughout the garden.
4. Give your child their own place to dig in the dirt and play.
It is nearly impossible to prevent a little boy from digging in the dirt so I setup a little “mud box” with dinosaurs and his favorite plastic construction vehicles. It fits neatly beneath his Step2 water table and lets him play with dirt as much as he likes without disturbing the plants.
You’ll notice I included an image of him sweeping in the collage above and that’s because he also likes sweeping up the dirt after he’s made a mess. (Score!) He pretends the dustbin is a bulldozer and makes vehicle noises while he’s sweeping. As you can see below, his water table also gets a fair amount of use when we’re on the balcony. He likes to water his plants with water from his table.
5. Don’t expect perfection.
I’ve been gardening in containers for about three years but this is the first time the munchkin and I have created a garden together. This is the most important lesson I’ve learned: relax and don’t expect perfect results.
Whenever we planted seeds only about 60% of them ended up in the dirt. The rest were flung around the place when the munchkin discovered how fun it was to see them bounce on the ground. When we potted plants, half of the dirt ended up in a dump truck. And when he waters his garden? Without fail some of the water is poured poured out so he can splash around in it or just laugh hysterically. All of this is OK. The last thing I want to do is constantly be telling him “no” while we’re in the garden. I want it to be positive experience that becomes something special we do together every year. :)
My favorite gardening books!
If you want to learn more about gardening with kids or setting up a container garden, below are my favorite books: