Free Vegetable Plant!
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There are plenty of tasty edibles we routinely grow with our kids… but let’s look at some not-so-obvious options.
Most children are naturally drawn to playing in the dirt, or “soil,” as we gardeners like to think of it. Why not encourage that by planting a few out-of-the-ordinary things they can grow now and eat a bit later in the season?
Start by planting some spaghetti squash
The name says it all. Spaghetti squash is a beautiful bright yellow “winter” squash. That means it has a hard rind that helps preserve it for weeks after you pick it. Inside you’ll find long strands of stringy flesh that make a great substitute for pasta.
Spaghetti squash grows on a sprawling vine, so it will need some room to spread. It requires a long growing season of 90 to 100 days to mature, but it’s worth the wait. Hold off harvesting it until our first frost has taken down the foliage but before a hard freeze.
As long as you and your little gardener can give it full sun and consistent moisture, you should get a nice crop of several large oblong squash. (Or is it “squashes?”) Take the “consistent moisture” advice to heart. Squash plants can look healthy and still be underwatered. That’s when you get lovely, but very bitter fruit. What a disappointment after waiting all summer long!
Tagawa Gardens carries spaghetti squash as small plants or you can start it by seed, but you’ll want to plant those seeds soon! Either way, have the spaghetti sauce ready and see if your kiddos don’t approve!
Plant “pattypan” squash, too!
Nothing against zucchini, but why not expand your squash horizons by planting some “pattypan?” Aside from having a silly name, pattypan squash look like little flying saucers. They’re also known as scallop squash, but what fun is that to say?
Pattypan was grown by Native Americans in the Northeastern U.S. for hundreds of years. Like all squash, pattypan needs full sun and consistent moisture. Unlike spaghetti squash, pattypan is ready in just two months or so. It’s sweet and tender when it’s harvested at just two-inches across, and then steamed or grilled. A little salt and pepper and yum!
From little flying saucers to aliens…
Ever see a kohlrabi? They’re positively otherworldly! That’s the whole point of growing them with children.
Kohlrabi is related to broccoli and brussel sprouts, but has a much milder flavor. The taste is like a sweet version of cabbage.
Like its cabbage cousin, kohlrabi is best when it matures in somewhat cooler temperatures. If our Front Range weather doesn’t crash from our mild spring right into the full heat of summer, putting in kohlrabi plants available now at Tagawa’s should be okay. Otherwise, wait until early August to plant seeds for a fall harvest.
Kohlrabi requires full sun and rich, well-drained soil. For the sweetest flavor, kohlrabi should be harvested when the “bulbs,” (actually large round modified stems), are between one and two inches across. The leaves are also edible.
As a bonus, kohlrabi is rich in vitamins and fiber and low in calories, but you don’t have to let your kids know that if it would take away any of the fun from growing this unique veggie.
How about some wee tomatoes?
Kids who eat tomatoes usually love cherry tomatoes, but here’s a tiny ‘mater that’s even more their size: sweet pea currants.
The fruit of these currant tomatoes is just a quarter-inch across. They’re juicy and bite-sized even for tiny mouths.
Tagawa’s sweet pea currant plants will start producing mature fruit about 65 days after they’re planted and will keep producing until frost. Even though the tomatoes are tiny, the vines themselves are about four feet tall and will need stakes or cages. Grow them as you would other tomatoes, giving them full sun, occasional fertilizer and consistent moisture.
A crop from my childhood….
Growing up in Boulder, my dad always grew a long, tall row of scarlet runner beans to shade our breezeway. The hummingbirds loved the vines scarlet flowers! I loved these beans because they’re so pretty… large, shiny, pinkish-purple and black.
Tagawa’s sell packets of these beans as “Scarlet Emperor” beans. They’re especially easy to grow as long as they have a good support to climb up, bright sun and consistent water.
My family never harvested and dried the beans to eat. I’m told they make excellent soup for chilly fall days. But we did let the pods dry on the vines. It was always my job (which I loved) to shell the dried pods and collect beans for planting the next year. It’s a very fond memory to this day.
And for something just a little bit different…
I rarely recommend planting mint. It’s a bully. The moment any part of a mint plant touches soil, it takes off! But if you’re careful and grow mint in a container well away from ground level, it can be delightful. And my favorite mint? Here’s a clue.
I love the fragrance of chocolate mint. As a dark chocolate fiend, I’m waiting for dark chocolate mint, but for now, the chocolate mint Tagawa’s carries in our herb department does quite nicely.
Most of the children we take on tours through Tagawa’s love it too. We tell them to rub the leaves gently then smell their fingers. What a treat!
Chocolate mint leaves can be minced and sprinkled onto ice cream or vanilla yogurt. Whatever strikes the kiddos’ fancy. Tuck a small plant into an eight-inch pot, give it full sun and regular water, and enjoy!
Sharing any gardening adventure with children can be fun for all ages. But if a veggie garden is an option, why not experiment with a few crops that are a bit different? You might be planting the seeds for a love of gardening that will just keep on growing.