When I get home from my job of helping Grow Appalachia participants grow their gardens, it’s time to do some work in my own.  It’s also my turn to spend time with our daughters.   What follows is some wisdom gained by collaborating with a 1.5 and a 4 year old to grow vegetables.

11.  Babies don’t usually get sick when they eat dirt or earthworms.

I take the Hygiene Hypothesis to heart—the one that says kids that play in the dirt build up healthy immune systems and that most kids these days are just too clean for their own good.  No one will ever accuse me of being that kind of parent.  However, I did learn that babies under one year can actually get botulism by eating dirt!  (After one year, their digestive tract is acidic enough to kill the C. botulinum spores.  That’s also the reason why you don’t give kids under one honey.)  Fortunately for my sanity, I learned this after my youngest snacked on garden soil at every opportunity before her 1st birthday.  I also have seen the tail end of an earthworm disappear into her mouth, spaghetti style.

10.  If a toddler has the choice of stepping on a tomato plant or a dandelion, she will choose the tomato plant 9 out of 10 times.

She will also gravitate toward the sharpest gardening tool, the stinkiest soil amendment, and the one open envelope of seeds.

9.  Young children like to plant seeds,

entire packets of seeds, all in the same hole.  They also like to carry around open seed packets in the tall grass.

8.  Little ones are born knowing how to drink water from a garden hose.

I buy BPA free water bottles and give my kids glass cups to keep them safe from chemicals in plastic.  But time after time my efforts are foiled by their powerful instinct to slurp water from the black vinyl hose.

7.  Children love having their own tools.

Giving kids their own tools just might allow you use your own tools sometimes.  Little ones can be pretty effective dirt clod crushers, rakers, and hole diggers.  No one has gotten her eye poked out yet.

6.  If you’ve got a sheet of black plastic, a hose, and a slight slope, forget planting tomatoes for the moment. You’ve got the perfect hillbilly Slip n’ Slide.

The trick is to convince them that it has stopped being a Slip n’ Slide once you finally get the tomatoes planted in the sheet of black plastic.

 5.  Turning the children out to graze in the garden is easier than making a salad for dinner.

One more reason to go organic!

4.  An 18 month old can carry an earthworm in her pudgy little hand all day and you might not notice until bath time.

I think it was an earthworm?  Fortunately for my bean plants, toddlers are heck on slugs too.  Talk about organic controls…

3.  When all else fails, a bucket of water and a cup will keep children entertained for at least 5 minutes.

If you’re really lucky—you can get that watermelon patch watered and the shoes clean at the same time.

2.  Kids can learn to stay on the garden paths before they turn 2.

But it is really tempting to dance on that smooth fluffy soil where you just planted those lettuce seeds.  But, you know…that lettuce patch did really well this spring.  Perhaps baby-dancing seeds to the proper depth and coverage will catch on as an advanced technique.

1.  If your kids call kale flowers and peas “candy” then you’re doing something right.

And oh how they love to eat the beets and radishes they pull up themselves.  And what could be cuter than a toddler asking you for more “wooga” (arugula, of course).  And the photo opportunities could fill a calendar…

Gardening with kids is not without hazards, (for the people, the plants, the worms…), but I am betting that on balance we’re all going to be healthier because of it.  (Well, maybe not the worms.)

~by Erica