Cultivating a Fall Vegetable Garden with Your Children
Vegetable gardening isn’t just for spring. In fact, fall’s cooler temperatures are a perfect time to plant a vegetable garden. It’s a fantastic opportunity for your kids to learn about the changing seasons, science, math, and where food comes from. Plus, it’s loads of fun! If you are interested in learning more about how to start a vegetable garden, read on.
Leafy greens such as kale, collards, and spinach thrive in autumnal weather, as do small crucifers like broccoli, cauliflower, and kohlrabi, and many lettuce varieties. These hardy plants can handle a light frost and actually prefer the cooler weather. Plan wisely and you can harvest a bounty of homegrown produce in forty to forty-five days, just in time for a spectacular fall feast! And if you have a picky veggie eater in your family, growing your own greens may encourage your kids to try something new.
These days, growing vegetables doesn’t require a huge outdoor garden. When you’re growing a small garden, deck containers can help promote plant growth. Small produce, like radishes and lettuce, can even grow in a window box, colanders, and repurposed shoes!
Tips for a Fabulous Fall Garden
Gardening fall vegetables requires more than a green thumb. It involves science, math, and timing, and will inspire an appreciation of nature.
Know your zone.
Before you get dirt under your nails, you’ll need to know when to expect your first frost. There are eleven different “hardiness zones” in North America, each one differing by 10° from its neighbor (warmer or colder). Help your children research what zone you live in, and discuss what plants will grow best in your autumnal garden.
Confirm your veggie due date.
Check the expected length of time of growing plants from seeds to harvest-ready fall vegetables. This information is typically found on the back of a seed packet. If you live in a cooler climate or have a lot of shade in your garden, add an extra two weeks to your harvest date, as fall veggies take longer to mature in the shortened autumnal days.
Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to weed you go.
Now it’s time to toss old plants and prepare for the new. Yank out weeds and discard summer crops, such as tomatoes, peas, beans, cucumbers, and peppers. You won’t necessarily need all-new soil, but adding nutrients or compost matter could help plants grow successfully.
Prep your soil.
Math skills are important if you plan to feed your plants. Kids can learn the differences between liquid and dry weight measurements when adding plant food. Many of these nutrients are based on how much water or soil each plant requires.
Fall is also an excellent time to learn the importance of preparing a garden for early spring vegetables, such as garlic and sweet peas. Make sure to rake away dead leaves now and plan on feeding your compost through the winter, simply by turning it once a week. During the cold winter months, bring your crops indoors, growing herbs and lettuce varietals. You can invest in a hydroponic garden, or keep pots in a sunny, draft-free area.
Children love getting their hands dirty and exploring the world around them. Before you start digging in the ground, enjoy one or more of these learning activities with your kids:
- Create a Fall Veggie Vision Board. Cut out photos of what you’re going to plant and items you may need, like gardening gloves or pretty new planters. If young children aren’t scissor-savvy yet, have them draw colorful pictures or use garden-themed stickers.
- Check out books from your local library about gardening, the weather, and the four seasons.
- Kids have growth charts, so why shouldn’t plants? Create a chart and note each stage of your garden’s growth. Your kids will love checking for new shoots and buds, as well as discovering the first signs of a vegetable. Take it a step further and make it a science fair project, having kids record weekly height measurements, take photos, and observe the plants’ life cycles.
- Map out the chores, from weeding and deadheading to watering and pruning overcrowded shoots. Tasks can be designated per person or rotated on a weekly basis.
- Future chefs can begin gathering garden-fresh recipes. Encourage your children to find dishes the whole family will enjoy.
Whether you create an amazing side dish or cook up a satisfying main meal, nothing tastes better than homegrown veggies. Here are some quick and easy ideas on how to use your fall harvest:
- Most greens can be eaten raw, such as in salads or on sandwiches, or baked into healthy chips, as with kale and spinach. Sautéed greens also brighten up pasta and rice dishes.
- Throw your fall vegetables into a tasty stir-fry, or quickly steam them for a healthy side.
- Bell peppers aren’t the only vegetable that can be stuffed; kohlrabi roots can be too! Gently dig out the bulb and fill it with a delicious mixture of ground beef, sautéed onions, garlic, spices, and more.
- Roast a colorful platter of vegetables. Simply pick your favorites (cauliflower, beets, carrots, etc.), then add sliced onions, whole garlic cloves, and thinly cut potatoes. Toss everything into a large bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the vegetables onto a baking sheet and roast for approximately thirty minutes at 450°. If you’re including kale or beet greens, add them during the last five minutes lest they burn to a crisp.
- Radishes are delicious raw or roasted, but did you know they also make great art projects for kids? Help your children cut shapes from large radish slices with miniature cookie cutters. Take it a step further and have them design their own stationery or wrapping paper—simply dip the die-cut radishes into food coloring, then stamp away!
Whether you live in the Deep South or the Northwest, if you have a big backyard or a cozy patio garden, your family will enjoy growing their own fall vegetables. It’s a marvelous opportunity to observe nature at work while learning about math, science, and the environment. Your mini farmers will delight in watching tiny seeds grow into delicious, colorful vegetables. And don’t forget to celebrate your hard work with a festive harvest feast because before you know it, it will be time to plant your springtime garden.
To learn how you can enjoy hands-on activities with your child with a more flexible learning schedule and the opportunity to be more involved in your child’s education through online public school, visit the Connections Academy website. Or to learn about online private school, visit International Connections Academy’s website.
Today’s special guest blogger is Jennifer Buchet, gardener, foodie, mom, and award-winning children’s author who frequently contributes to Faces magazine.