One of my earliest food memories takes me back to my family’s backyard garden on Long Island in the 80s. I’m not sure how big that garden was, but to me it was enormous. We grew so many things, and I even got to choose some of them (I always liked to try the new ones I had never heard of.) Alongside my parents, I planted and tended and picked and prepared, taking pride in every ripe tomato and Brussels sprout. My favorite was kohlrabi, but I ate them all, and I have ever since.
To this day, I credit my parents with cultivating my love of vegetables. It led to a love of adventurous eating, and a willingness to try just about anything, which, as an adult, I recognize as an invaluable gift, and one I plan to pass on to my children.
During last year’s planting season, we were knee deep in infancy and all its sleepless glory. While I was busy getting into the groove of motherhood, my husband put his efforts into a heartwarming baby food garden, and its peas, beets and butternuts saw us through the pureed stage nicely. But this year, we have a toddler. So, naturally, we’ll need a toddler garden! These days, there’s no doubt that our son notices what we’re doing. He watches intently, figuring things out as he studies us. The wheels inside that tiny head are always turning, and he amazes us with how quickly he picks things up. That’s why this year’s garden will be a splendid toddler-sized lesson in planting and playing.
My husband and I have it all planned out…
We’ll start inside, with a few small seedlings. It might take our boy a little while to catch on to the whole seed+dirt=grow idea, but I have a hunch he’ll be intrigued. With a little luck I might be pregnant again by then, and Daddy will have to do most of the outside planting, but either way I can tend the plants once they begin to grow.
In order to draw and keep the interest of our little one, color will be key. Rows of red, green, yellow and purple peppers will lead to a patch of rainbow chard. Dainty rows of red and yellow pear tomatoes will dangle on the vine next to a trellis of purple yard long beans (notably, the spot where my husband proposed!) The colors of a well-rounded garden are beautiful, and if we want our little man to eat a rainbow, we have to plant one, right?
There’s got to be a place to play, so a sweet pea teepee will take shape in the early spring, right next to a sprawling strawberry patch dotted with red berries. A small bench will sit beside it, along with a watering can and trowel perfectly sized for little helping hands. Tall sunflowers will sway overhead, and we’ll use them to entice our bird friends later in the year.
The season will end with the excavation of our sweet potatoes from the compost bin we use to house them, along with a crop of squash – so beautiful in their bumpy, irregular, multi-hued way – and Mommy’s favorite, fairy tale pumpkins. Some will be made into muffins and pies while the others will be decorated to help us welcome the fall once again, when we will busily preserve and freeze what we can, and begin to watch the mailbox for the next batch of seed catalogs.
See tomorrow’s post for some easy tips on creating a toddler garden!