ISSUE 29  |  Urban Escape

Garden Visit: A Family Friendly Vegetable Garden (Chickens Optional)

July 23, 2014 10:00 AM

BY Michelle Slatalla

Some people make it look so easy. On late summer afternoons, blogger Christine Chitnis heads to her community garden plot to tend her vegetables–toddler in tow. “This part of my day is so idyllic,” she says. “Vik is such an easygoing soul, he’s happy to eat some dirt and hang out while I fuss with my plot.” Here are her secrets to creating a kid-friendly garden:

Photographs by Christine Chitnis.

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Tip No. 1: Let go of your expectations. Kids want to “help,” and that means plants will get uprooted, herbs over-watered, produce picked before its time, and pots knocked over, says Chitnis. All of which is a good thing. “By letting kids help, and giving them the space to get messy and make mistakes, you will nurture their love of gardening,” she says.

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Tip No. 2:  Plant vegetables and fruit that your kids like–and some they don’t. “Planting produce that your kids love is a no-brainer. But try planting a few things they claim not to like,” Chitnis says. “Once they help it grow, and pick it straight from the vine, they may change their minds.”

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Above: “My older son claimed that he didn’t like tomatoes,” she says. “But when I let him pick some sweet cherry tomatoes right from the vine, he decided they were his favorite.”

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Tip No: 3: Set yourself up for success by laying the groundwork, so to speak. Growing vegetables in raised beds “is the best idea, in my humble opinion–the soil is so rich and the weeds so few,” she says.

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Above: “My garden certainly doesn’t look perfect, but it’s a place where my boys are welcome and encouraged to get their hands dirty,” says Chitnis.

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Tip No. 4: Keep a journal, recording successes (and failures) that your kids can page through with you during the winter months. It will also remind you what you want to plant, come next year.

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Tip No. 5: Make it a family affair. “We all help in the garden and with the chickens,” says Chitnis. “Kids love chores that involve shovels, rakes, and other tools, not to mention hoses and watering cans.”

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Above: “And then comes the most laughable part of our urban gardening experience–chicken wrangling,” says Chitnis. “Our four ‘girls’ don’t seem to understand the concept of coming back to their coop once night falls. And so we head out into the backyard to chase them down. It’s always comical, with one of us wielding a rake, Vijay making matters worse by scaring them away, and my husband cursing lightly under his breath as he crawls through the bushes.”

Chitnis wonders if any experienced backyard chicken farmers can offer advice on corralling the flock: “We’d appreciate some tips.”

kids garden by christine chitnis 3Tip No. 6: Stake your peas as soon as they start to sprout. Otherwise? They’ll turn into “a tangled disaster,”  says Chitnis.

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Above: Of course . . . “We’re still getting a lot of peas,” says Chitnis.

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Above: “We load our basket full of kale, spinach, lettuce, and peas,” says Chitnis, “and make our way home to start dinner.”

Is your gardener’s trowel too big for little hands to handle? See 5 Favorites: Kids’ Garden Tools from Burgon & Ball. And check out For Kids Only: A Hidden Garden in Brooklyn.

Updated from a post originally published July 11, 2013.