Children’s Taste Sensations
For the impatient toddler, this design has quick-growing radishes and lettuce. For the more sophisticated taste-buds we have pickling cucumbers and pumpkins. For the adventurous, brew homegrown chocolate mint tea sweetened with stevia. With old-time favorites like corn, watermelon, and strawberries and bright, cheery flowers this design has something for everyone. All the plants in this design are edible, even the flowers, so do not worry if the little ones sneak a bite. If the thought of gardening with children overwhelms you, check out this article for some encouraging thoughts.
Normally, watermelons take up a huge amount of space, too much to place in a small garden, but with these two personal size varieties, that can be trellised to boot, who can resist?
- Citrullus lanatu; Try varieties “Blacktail Mountain” or “Little Baby Flower” for delicious flavor.
- Sow 1/2″ deep in garden two to three weeks after last spring frost or indoors at time of last frost.
- Transplant seedlings (if started indoors) when small and soil has reached 70 degrees F.
- Spacing: one or two plants per sq. ft.
- One crop per season
- Days to harvest: 75 days from transplant. Not frost-hardy.
- Hint: Cover soil surface with plastic, or grow vines on trellis to keep melons off soil. What’s the trick to growing a super-sweet watermelon? See here.
Lemon Gem Marigold
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, “No annual is more cheerful or easy to grow than marigolds.” This particular species is even edible with a lemony flavor!
- Tagetes tenuifolia
- Sow seeds directly in the garden once the soil is warm.
- Spacing: one plant per sq. ft.
- Days to bloom: 60
- Companion: The scent of marigolds repels animals and insects, and underground, it even repels nematodes (microscopic pests).
- Uses: May be cooked with rice to impart color. Petals may also be added for color and tang to salads and other summer dishes.
- Hint: Deadhead the spent blossoms, and the plant will continue to bloom profusely. A little skeptical about their edibility? Read on.
They do not taste like lemons, but they do look similar. Try these for a fun divergence from your average, everyday ordinary cucumber. This particular variety also works well to make pickles.
- Cucumis sativus “Lemon”
- Plant seeds indoors 1/2″ deep three weeks before last frost, or seed in garden after frost.
- Transplant into garden after frost and when soil is 65 to 70 degrees F.
- Spacing: two per sq. ft. for vining type (of which, the lemon cucumber is one).
- Extend harvest with a second crop, planted two weeks later.
- Days to harvest: 50 to 60 days after transplanting. Not frost-hardy.
- Hints: Use row covers until flowering to keep off insects. Grow up a trellis to save space. For more pickle information, see here.
Crunchy, sweet edible goodness, pod and all. Irresistible fresh out of the garden (That is when the sugar content is highest). Mom and Dad may not get to try any, because there likely will not be any left by the time your child gets home.
- Pisum sativum var. saccharatum
- Spacing: nine to 16 per sq. ft. Provide support with string or wire trellis.
- For a fall crop, plant again six to eight weeks before frost.
- Days to harvest: 50 to 60 days from planting seeds. Very frost-hardy.
- Hint: Add legume inoculant to soil when planting to increase vigor and yield.
Pumpkins can be gi-normous, but these two little guys are just the right size for an Asbury personal garden plot. Go ahead and grow your own fall fun!
- Cucurbita pepo “Jack-Be-Little” (orange) and “Baby Boo” (white)
- Start seeds indoors three to four weeks before last frost or sow directly after soil has warmed to 60 degrees F.
- If transplanting, handle carefully to avoid disturbing roots.
- Spacing: one per sq. ft. Locate at outer edge of bed and let vines run up a trellis (or, as we are in our design, let them run through the corn, so their prickly vines and leaves can help you keep down the weeds and keep pesky critters away from your corn). Smaller pumpkins, like these, have shorter vines.
- Hint: For best storage, leave stems long and cut stems cleanly from vine (do not pull or tear).
Wow, these monstrously huge blooms are a wonder to behold. They can be bigger than your head! Roast and salt the seeds for a deliciously healthy snack, or if you are feeling generous, save them for the birds.
- Helianthus annuus “Sunzilla”
- Plant seeds directly in the garden, 1″ deep, as soon as all danger of frost is past and night temperatures are about 50F.
- Spacing: ideally, 20″ apart, but sow several about 6″ apart, and thin when 3″ tall to the most vigorous three or four. Then again when 1′ to two plants. If you are going for a real giant, thin again when 2′ tall to one.
- Germination: if the soil is kept moist, 5-10 days
- Hint: Protect emerging seedlings from birds with bottle cloches or netting. Feed with aged manure, compost, or fish fertilizer regularly (even weekly). If using liquid fertilizer, place it in a shallow moat, about 18″ in circumference, around the plant. For more information and pictures, see this article.
Calendula offers a cheery face in the garden, but it is more than just good looks. This flower has been grown for centuries for its healing properties, and its ability to color butter, cheeses, rice, and pasta dishes.
- Calendula officinalis
- Sow seeds directly in the ground in early spring.
- Spacing: two plants per sq. ft.
- Replant any time you have a little space in the garden. Fast-growing.
- Days to bloom: 55 days from planting seeds
- Hint: Pick off spent flowers to keep plant blooming. To see other uses for calendula, start here and then scout around some more.
‘Nough said. Kids and sweet summer strawberries belong together.
- Fragaria × ananassa varieties “Sweet Charlie,” “Jewel,” “Tristar,” “Fort Laramie,” and the original cultivated strawberry, Alpine or Fragaria vesca sempervirens
- Sweet Charlie: June bearing, compact plant, medium berries, deliciously sweet
- Jewel: mid-season summer bearing, winter hardy, large berry, excellent flavor
- Tristar: day neutral, produce runners, medium berries, excellent for fresh or frozen use, very sweet and solid
- Fort Laramie: everbearing, produces runners, very cold hardy, large berries, exceptional aroma and a firm, honey-sweet flesh
- Alpine: continual summer-long crop, compact, no runners, tiny 3/4″ berries, intensely concentrated delicious flavor
- Plant in very early spring as soon as the ground can be worked.
- Space plants 12″ apart. Position carefully, keeping the crown of the plant even with the soil surface.
- Everbearing cultivars (Fort Laramie) will bear a more abundant crop if all flowers are removed until the end of June.
- Provide 1″ of water per week. Keep soil mulched to retain moisture and protect fruit from rot.
Purple and Red Potatoes
Color intrigues kids, and texture can win or lose them. These potatoes are both colorful and well-textured, and they are super fun to dig – a treasure hunt for dinner!
Solanum tuberosum subsp. tuberosum and Solanum tuberosum subsp. andigenum (purple)
- Plant 1-1/2″ chunks 4″ deep, two weeks before last frost or when soil reaches 50 degrees F.
- Purchase seed potatoes or use organic potatoes that were not treated to resist sprouting.
- In Kentucky, plant potatoes twice – around Easter for use in early summer and again in mid-June for use in winter. Not frost-hardy.
- Spacing: one to three plants per sq. ft.
- Days to harvest: 55 to 90 days. Harvest anytime after flowering and before frost.
What a controversy surrounds this plant! Take it back to the simple days when corn was so delicious and lovingly grown you could eat it straight from the stalk.
- Zea mays variety “Luscious F1 Sweet” – hybrid, organic, non-GMO
- Sow seeds 1″ deep directly in garden.
- Spacing: Plant four seeds per sq. ft.; thin to two plants per sq. ft.
- Plant after frost, when soil reaches 60 degrees F.
- Need to grow at least 12 to 18 plants of same variety to ensure good pollination.
- Days to harvest: 65 to 75 from planting. Not frost-hardy.
- Hints: Use garden fabric (row covers) early in spring to protect against frost and crows.
Mint plants come in many varieties these days – banana, apple, and lots of others in between. The chocolate taste of chocolate mint is unmistakable. For a guiltless chocolaty treat, brew some chocolate mint tea, and sweeten it with your own stevia leaves.
- Mentha x Piperita hybrid (M. aquatica × M. spicata)
- Transplant plants after the last frost date. Flavor from seed-grown mint is highly variable.
- Spacing: one or two plants per sq. ft. Mint spreads rapidly.
- Days to harvest: Harvest leaves and stems as desired. Cut back to 1” above the ground to harvest the whole plant and encourage fresh growth.
- Uses: Milder than peppermint, these mints make excellent tea for children and can be used to flavor savory and sweet dishes. Pair well with fruits and spring vegetables.
- Hint: Plant in a bottomless pot set into the garden with the rim 1″ to 2″ above the ground to prevent plants from spreading.
- Physalis pruinosa, also known as strawberry groundcherry
- Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost. Frost sensitive.
- Harden off before planting out in the garden.
- Transplant after all danger of frost has passed. Plant seedlings deeply, leaving three sets of leaves above the soil line. They will sprout roots along their buried stem.
- Spacing: 1 plant per sq. ft.
- Days to harvest: 70
- Hints from Rodale: “The fruits have the peculiar characteristic of falling to the ground before they are ripe. Simply gather them up after they drop, and keep them at room temperature in a basket without removing their husks. In a week or less, their color will deepen from light yellow to the warm apricot gold that signals ripeness. Store ground cherries in their husks. They will stay fresh for up to three months if placed in a mesh bag and kept in a cool place (50 degrees).”
- Drawing by Kate Lagaly
Purple Podded Yard Long beans are an utter delight. They grow to shocking and beautiful lengths, producing dainty purple flowers in the meantime. Scarlet runner bean flowers are gorgeous enough to be grown as an ornamental, but the beans are a tasty side benefit.
- Vigna unguiculata sub. sesquipedalis var. “Thai Purple Podded Yard Long” pole beans, Phaseolus vulgaris var. “Purple Queen” bush beans, and Phaseolus coccineus var. “Scarlet” runner beans
- Sow seeds 1″ deep directly in garden after all danger of frost.
- Spacing: four plants per sq. ft. for bush beans, six to eight plants per sq. ft. for pole beans
- Plant second crop of bush beans (if needed) two weeks after first planting.
- Days to harvest: 50-80 days from seed, depending on variety. Not frost-hardy.
- Hints: Add a legume inoculant when planting to increase vigor and yield. For information on cooking dried beans properly (to remove toxicity), read this article under the heading “Toxicity.”
Ah, sweetleaf! You satisfy the palette while saving the waistline. Children enjoy making a mint sandwich with stevia in the middle and nibbling it straight from the garden. Why wait to boil water for tea? Be sure to look at the links below for the calorie saving benefits of stevia, recipes included.
- Stevia rebaudiana; also known as sweetleaf
- Start seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before last frost of spring. Seedlings should emerge in 7 to 14 days.
- When seedlings are 5″ tall trim 1″ to 2″ off the main shoot to encourage branching. These trimmings may be used for sweetening.
- Around the time of the last frost, begin to harden off the plants by bringing them outdoors during the day in an area protected from direct sun and wind. Transplant outside after danger of frost has passed.
- Spacing: four plants per sq. ft.
- Hint: Plan to bring your plants in for winter. For more information about this interesting and useful plant, see here. For tips on how to cook with stevia, see this site.
Yellow Pear Tomatoes
This little guy just keeps giving and giving. Sunshiny yellow when perfectly ripe, its sweet flavor lacks the acidic bite of other tomatoes. Its just the right size for snacking fresh out of the hand while roaming around checking on the garden.
- Lycopersicon lycopersicum “Yellow Pear”
- Sow seed indoors 1/4” deep, six to eight weeks before last frost.
- Transplant into garden one to two weeks after last frost or when soil reaches 65 degrees F. Install a support for this prolific variety, or it will take over the garden.
- Spacing: one plant per sq. ft. if grown on trellis. (Four squares required if grown with cage, nine if grown with no support). May grow early season crops nearby to allow more room later.
- Days to harvest: 55 to 100 days from transplanting, depending on variety. Not frost-hardy.
- Hint: Remove lower leaves before planting and bury extra stem.
Easter Egg Radishes
Easter Egg radishes are a mix of red, white, rose pink, purple, and bi-color (red top, white base) radishes. Have fun hunting with your children for each of the possibilities.
- Raphanus sativus var. “Easter Egg”
- Plant 1/2″ deep directly in garden four weeks before last frost or after soil reaches 45 degrees F.
- Plant successive crops anywhere there is unused space in the garden.
- Spacing: 16 plants per sq. ft.
- Days to harvest: 21 to 28. Frost-hardy.
- Hint: Harvest as soon as possible (when no larger than 1 1/2″ in diameter). Roots get woody and hot when large.
Lovely Leafy Lettuce
Merlot could win a beauty contest. It may be too pretty to eat, but it and the other varieties below are chosen for their looks, their taste, and their ability to handle some heat. Keep them well-watered, and they are sure to please.
- Lactuca sativa – early variety”Merlot,” and later “Freckles” and “Flame.” Merlot is best grown early and then again for fall, because its dark red color absorbs more heat than the other two.
- Sow seed indoors 1/4″ deep, eight weeks before last frost or directly in garden when soil can be worked.
- Thin seedlings when four weeks old.
- Spacing: 16 plants per sq. ft.
- Plant more lettuce every two to four weeks for a good supply.
- Days to harvest: 28 days for baby lettuce, 45 days to full size. Frost-hardy.
- Hint: Harvest outer leaves anytime, or use scissors to harvest entire plant, leaving an inch of stem to encourage new growth.
Heady Head Lettuce
Their looks will make your head spin. They are comfortable in center stage and can be grown as ornamentally, but who wants to miss that great nutrition and taste?
- Lactuca sativa – early variety “New Red Fire,” and later “Lollo Rossa” and “Butterhead Speckles.” Just as with Merlot, New Red Fire will appreciate being planted early in spring and again in fall to protect its dark skin from the sun’s intense summer rays.
- Sow seed indoors 1/4″ deep, eight weeks before last frost or in garden when soil is 50 degrees F.
- Transplant seedlings when four weeks old.
- Spacing: Start with five seedlings, eat four as they grow and let one head mature to full size.
- Plant more lettuce seeds every two to four weeks for a continuous supply
- Days to harvest: 50 days to full size. Edible anytime. Replant every two weeks. Frost-hardy.
- Hint: Lettuce dislikes heat. Give plants afternoon shade and lots of water.
Would you like a sugary, pine-parsley, or woody tasting carrot? Apparently, those are the three inherent choices carrots offer. Interestingly, the sweetness of a carrot is genetic and develops with time and as the days are warm, but the nights have turned cool. Most likely, children will prefer the sugary carrot, so below are three of the yummiest.
- Daucus carota subsp. sativus var. “Little Finger,” “Purple Dragon,” and “Royal Chantenay”
- Sow seeds in garden 1/4″ deep three weeks before last spring frost.
- Spacing: Plant 30 seeds per sq. ft.; thin to 16 plants per sq. ft.
- Replant six to eight weeks before fall frost for late crop.
- Days to harvest: 55 to 70 days from seed. Frost-hardy.
- Hint: Before planting, loosen soil to 12″; remove stones and add compost. For tips on the best carrot flavor, see here.
Many thanks to Nikki Phipps for her very helpful article, whose thoughts sparked the inspiration for the children’s plot designs.