Get Thee to a Garden: How to Make Kids Love Growing Food

Mid-fall is the perfect garden cultivating time. Here's how to get the most of these final dog-days of summer.

At home my days have been surrounded with tomatoes, zucchini and lemon cucumbers: all grown this summer in our small backyard garden.

But for late starters the garden window hasn't closed. Beyond taking care of my two kids and writing this column, my other “job” is as the garden coordinator at the , where we've been busy planting a Thanksgiving garden.

In Sonoma we're lucky to have three or four gardening seasons. Many varieties of “cool-season” vegetables can be grown in Sonoma in the fall and winter; sugar snap peas, lettuce, leeks, broccoli.

So don’t pack your trowel away just yet: get some seeds and a few veggie starts from local nurseries like or and plant a fall garden for you and your kids to enjoy.

Here's the best ways to tackle your inner gardener:

1. Plant some fall vegetables.

Tomatoes and zucchini may still be taking over your garden, but tuck some lettuce, carrot, radish, or sugar snap peas in and you'll have a wonderful salad come Thanksgiving. Some other seeds you can start now are beets, spinach, turnips, Asian greens, cilantro and dill. For a full list full list check out I Grow Sonoma for a year round planting guide.

2. Use up that zucchini with some bread “bugs.”

My daughter told me yesterday, “I would never eat this zucchini if we didn’t grow it!” And you know what, I believe her! My kids love zucchini bread. We use this recipe here from allrecipes.com and I each time I add a little more zucchini and a little less sugar. They have never noticed. We also just found this new “bug” bundt pan for fun. These were gone the minute they came out of the oven!

3. Make some homemade salsa with all the tomatoes you have.

My kids aren’t into spicy foods, but if we make our own salsa they gobble it up. Here’s my favorite recipe that’s not too spicy and has a slightly sweet touch with a little balsamic vinegar:

1 shallot, finely diced
2 heaping cups of chopped tomatoes (whatever you have from the garden)
1 bunch green onions (my kids cut these with their scissors and toss them in).
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Mix together and chill. This is our go-to favorite salsa recipe.

4. Go to the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

The Expo runs Tuesday to Thursday, Sept. 13, 14 and 15 from 11am to 9pm. Kids are free; adults are $10.00. They will have 200 exhibitors, 55 speakers, and 4000 varieties of heirloom produce on display. Wednesday is "Kids Day" with fun activities planned every hour. Check out their website for more info.

5. Shop at today, Wednesday, to support the Sonoma Valley School Garden Project!

Five percent of the net sales for the day will be donated to the Sonoma Valley School Garden Project on Wednesday, September 14. The Sonoma Valley School Garden Project was established to support each and every school in the with existing garden programs and to assist schools without to develop garden programs.  For more info, go to www.svgreatschools.org!

Kelly Boydell September 14, 2011 at 04:49 PM
great ideas! I am planning on trying the salsa recipe this weekend. Another dish I make with the zucchini or any squash from our garden is: Saute slices of squash/zucchini in coconut oil (no trans or hyrdogenated fat) with frozen corn or fresh corn cut off the cobs and a little salt and pepper. The slight sweet taste of coconut oil and corn helps the kids gobble up the squash!
Tami September 14, 2011 at 08:31 PM
I thought your young gardeners would enjoy an gardening adventure, growing the TickleMe Plant (Mimosa pudica). Recently featured by the National Gardening Association, http://www.kidsgardeningstore.com/14-1030.html If you want to give your young gardeners an experience they will never forget, consider having them grow a TickleMe Plant. This is the plant that will close its leaves and lower its branches when you tickle it. They sprout in days and can be grown indoors any time of year. Just Google TickleMe Plants or go to Http://www.ticklemeplant.com for information seeds and growing kits. This plant has turned many kids into plant and nature lovers. I know, because I grow TickleMe Plants in my classroom. Happy Growing
Craig September 15, 2011 at 09:30 PM
I think its important to get kids interested in gardening. Its something I loved as a kid and still do. I think kids like to see things growing. Its best to grow veges with short germination and maturation times as it helps keep children interested. I've started up a site http://www.ultimateherbguide.com which has a growing number of guides for growing popular herbs. Herbs generally grow pretty quickly and the smells can be another attraction for children.


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