Sweet Happy Life

Our Toddler Snacking Garden

Toddler Snacking GardenSpring 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.

Toddler Snacking Garden

1. Tomato and cucumber plants. 2. Sage. 3. Basil. 4. Purple basil. 5. Purple pansies. 6. Spinach. 7. Red pansies surrounded by carrot seedlings. 8. Mint. 9. Lavender. 10. Rosemary. 11. A tiered container holding parsley, oregano and thyme.

The pansies were added to the garden mainly for aesthetic purposes. I wanted that extra pop of color!

Toddler Snacking Garden

1. Purple pansy plant surrounded by chard and spinach. 2. Tomato plants surrounded by salad seedlings. 3. Sungold cherry tomato plant surrounded by sugar peas and snap beans (these haven’t sprouted yet).

Garden-to-Mouth Snackables:

– Carrots
– Snap beans
– Sugar peas
– Sungold cherry tomatoes
– Cucumbers
– Tomatoes
– Salad greens
– Spinach
– // 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.

Toddler Snacking Garden

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.

Toddler Snacking Garden

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:

Toddler Snacking GardenClockwise 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.

Toddler Snacking GardenIt 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.

Toddler Snacking Garden

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:

Happy gardening!

Our Snacking Garden Update

9 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I love your idea IMMENSELY! Just be careful what plants you use… I would only use 100% edibles, like lettuces or herbs!
    Definately not Tomatos which is a cousin of the Nightshade- only the fruit is edible, everything else on a tomato plant is poisonous (poisonous roots/stems/and leaves!)!!! Any plant that has any poisonous part should be avoided! All it takes is you not noticing for one second and you might find yourself heading to the doc with a vomiting child (or worse)!

    • Yup, I’m aware that tomato is a member of the nightshade family. In fact, I wrote a post about using the leaves as a natural insecticide. That being said, we love having tomatoes in our garden. Part of gardening with children is teaching them what is OK and not OK to put in their mouths. The munchkin has never tried to put anything other than the fruits/vegetables from his plants in his mouth because I taught him from an early age what parts of the plant are OK to eat. (For the same reason he’s never tried to eat the dirt in his mudbox.) Plus just because you have a garden designed for kids that doesn’t mean you head outdoors and ignore them. Whenever we are in our garden we’re doing something together or I’m letting him explore under a watchful eye. Under these conditions having tomatoes in the garden is not dangerous and is a great step towards teaching kids to eat their veggies.

  • That is good to hear! I love all of my preschoolers, and my mom is in the medical field… I want to cry everytime she vents about how neglectful so many parents in today’s society are! “Some lady did this”… or “you would not believe what some guy did” I hate it!!! I wish all of “my” kids’ real parents loved their little ones the way you and I do! THANKS for being a good Mom and taking the TIME to LOVE your kid! I wish there were more parents like you!

  • Ari, what did you use to make your railings safe–looks like some kind of mesh? I’ve been searching all over for a product like this!

    • I used two packages of the No Climb Deck Guard from One Step Ahead. Not a completely toddler-proof solution but it did prevent the munchkin from climbing, sticking his hands/head through the fence, and throwing things over the edge of the balcony. (At least, until he got a bit older and figured out how to wriggle toys past the mesh.) It was a great solution but of course I still had to keep an eye on him at all times!

      Here is the link: http://www.onestepahead.com/product/No-Climb-Deck-Guard/_/R-353763

  • Ari! This is amazing and very inspiring! I’m in the process of starting an edible balcony garden for my 19-month foodie daughter and was blown away by what you did here! Can you tell me what you put in the containers? Potting soil and what else (sand? Worm casting?) and in what combinations? I feel like whenever I transfer small plants into larger containers I wind up killing them so I’m wondering if my soil mixture is off… I’m going shopping for supplies this week! Much thanks!

    • Thank you for your sweet comment! So last year I used ~20% compost and the rest was container mix from Gardeners Supply. I would mix some compost in with the dirt and use that to fill my containers about halfway. Then I’d add the seedlings and finish filling the container with plain dirt. I didn’t want compost too near the top because it’s kinda stinky.

  • Ari,

    I so glad I have discovered your page, thank you!
    Whilst we have a large garden it is over grown and not safe due to previous owners leaving junk on the grass. So my monkey is confined to the patio area for now but loves plants/trees etc and I was searching for toddler friendly ideas…

    This is even better as he is a salad dodger unlike Daddy and I so hopefully this might encourage him to try new things. I will be checking out the rest of your blog/pininterest/facebook as I am looking for things to do together to make our days off quality time.

    • So happy you found us & hope you have fun with some patio area gardening. There are so many options! The blueberry bush we had on our balcony last year is still going strong this year. It has no problems being in a container. :)