Starting a Preschool Vegetable Garden

When I asked my daughter’s teacher if I could help with an Earth Day project, I was expecting to make peanut butter bird feeders or decorate paper bags for “recycling bins.” I was OVER THE MOON when she suggested we do something with the school vegetable garden. Get kids involved with where their food comes from? Find a future home for a few of my extra tomato and pepper transplants? Yes, please.

Here’s the awesome eighty square feet of dirt we get to work.

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We cleared out most of this bed last week. My daughter and her 4 year-old friend loved digging up the flowers and finding them new homes, relocating them to planters and window boxes throughout campus.

With the garden prepped, it was time to get vegetables in the ground. (In Florida, most spring vegetables need to be planted by March so they can produce before the scorching summer heat sets in and they stroke out.) This morning, I helped my daughter’s class and the 2-year-old class seed and plant their garden.

I picked a variety of colorful kid friendly vegetables that would work in our small(ish) space. For the “twos,” I thought sugar snap peas would be easy peasy for them to plant since the seeds are so large. Plus, they can be planted as close as 2” inches apart and will still grow well if they are planted on top of one another. The Bear has been planting our sugar snaps since she was 18 months old; they are almost impossible to mess up.

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Sugar snaps don’t need to be trellised, but they can grow about 3’ high and will do well with a little support. I picked up 4 of these short trellises at The Dollar Store. Letting the peas grow up a trellis will not only make it easier for the little ones to harvest, it will keep the peas from spreading further into the garden where we hope the cucumbers (pickles!) will thrive.

First, we let the 2-year-olds get digging. They lined up along the edge of the garden where we were going to plant the peas and turned the dirt over with their shovels to loosen it up. They were very careful to keep it inside the bed.

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Once the kids had flipped the dirt a few times, they were ready to seed and water.

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Next in the garden was The Bear’s 3-year-old class. We started by planting green, yellow, and purple bush beans. If you’ve never had purple “green” beans, cooking them is a fun experiment–they turn green when tender and done!

In planning today’s visit, I came up with a few planting hacks to make it easier for the little munchkins to make this garden successful. First up was the bean board, another card-boredom cure, I assure you. (And it was actually recycled from our first card-boredom cure, the toddler library box we made a few weeks ago.) The holes I poked, roughly 3” apart, helped the students with spacing. Unlike the peas, beans are more likely to spread fungus or disease, and share pests if they are crammed in together.

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The green bean game was a hit. Each student got a cup with half a dozen or so seeds to plant. In no time, they had filled all the holes. Then, we removed the cardboard so they could push the beans deeper into the dirt.

Moving on to the radish box, The Bear’s classmates were very thorough in filling up the planter with soil and patting it smooth. Another planting hack I was going to use here was filling up empty spice shakers with the radish seeds (which are pretty small) to make them easier to distribute. As it turns out, I didn’t have any empty shakers. Next time!

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The rest of the students got to dig holes. We planted two tomatoes (a cherry and a San Marzano), two sweet banana peppers, and a bunch of dwarf marigolds.

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When we pulled the tomatoes out of their pots, the students had fun “tickling” the roots. Gently teasing the roots will hopefully tell these veggies to get growing.

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My last planting hack is silly simple. I laid out string to serve as the “border” for our dill. That way the kids had a general idea of where to contain the seeds to. In our home garden, I also use string stretched out in a line to help The Bear plant in a straight row.

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Stay tuned for the next update. Hopefully, we will be harvesting and tasting our radishes in mid April. Until then, say a little prayer for our garden and all its wonderful helping hands!

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