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5 Expert Tips on Gardening with Kids

I love everything about gardening. Well, I love everything about the idea of gardening, anyway: being outside, cultivating the land, bucking the system and growing my own food. I'm all about it. Except that in practice I've failed every time. I do not have a good track record when it comes to keeping plants alive.

I'm determined to succeed, though, especially because I really want to garden with my kids. Digging in the dirt is what kids do best, after all. (It also happens to be really great for their immune systems.) We moved from Texas to Seattle last fall, and one of the first things I noticed about our neighborhood is that there are gardens everywhere. Thanks to its rainy climate and early spring, the growing season here is long and —the locals tell me—nearly effortless.

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We planted some bulbs in the fall, as a baby step. And guess what? They're blooming now, and they're gorgeous. My kiddos are thrilled. So am I. So we've built a small raised bed in our front yard -- where we get the most sun -- and planted seeds: zucchini, bell pepper, broccoli, and a few of our favorite herbs. I'm lucky to have a good friend back in Austin who's a real gardening guru, Caitlin Moore of Shepard's Flock Canning Company. She's cheering me on, and giving me tips, from afar. Follow her on Facebook and you'll get garden envy, but also lots of inspiration, especially when it comes to getting your kids involved in the growing. (Caitlin has two adorable small kids who plant, weed, harvest and preserve right alongside her.) I asked Caitlin to share her top five pointers for gardening with kids. Here they are:

1. (Seed) Size Matters

"Some seeds work better than others for little fingers to plant. Broccoli and carrot seeds are frustrating even for the most seasoned gardener. Beans, peas, cucumber and squashes all offer larger seeds that are easier to hold on to. Involving kids in the planting process gets them invested in your plants once they begin to grow; your little ones will be less likely to destroy the fruits of your cooperative labor."

2. Encourage Snacking

"Grow veggies that can be eaten raw - beans, snap peas, and carrots are all great right out of the ground. And by all means let your kid eat out of the garden!

3. Get Them in Gear

"If you wear gloves, get some for your kids. Same goes for a watering can, rain boots, a small trowel, and so on. You don't have to break the bank, though; check Craigslist or thrift stores for great deals. Teach your kids how to use, and care for, their tools. When it's time to garden, say 'Let's find all of your gardening tools.' They'll love gathering their own things, and will be more likely to stay engaged in gardening tasks."

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4. Relax!

"Gardening is fun and shouldn't be stressful. Make sure the area is safe before you begin—no rusty nails, open containers of fertilizer or pest control. I use all organics, but even organic fertilizers can be unpleasant for a child to eat, so consult with your local nursery and plan for a child-friendly gardening space.

5. Share the Love

"I don't give my kids their 'own' gardens because I want to share the experience with them. We all help water, weed and harvest. You can teach a child to be gentle with tomatoes just as well as being gentle with a baby or family pet. Positive reinforcement helps along the way, and if your kiddos picks every last tomato before it ripens? There's always next year. Enjoy watching your child learn and grow and don't worry too much about results. There is more to gardening than perfect produce."

Images by Taylor Hengen Newman

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