Growing your own fruits, veggies, and herbs definitely becomes more & more important as your family grows. Fresh food, let alone organic fresh food, is expensive so growing your own is great for your bank account AND your health!
The only problem is that as your family grows & it becomes more important, it also becomes exponentially more difficult to get anything done in a garden, with babies and toddlers especially!
I want to share some ideas to help you have a productive garden even with a young, growing family. As a mom of a two year old, a one year old, and one due in August, I’ve had some experience trying to maintain a garden while taking care of yourself when pregnant, your babies, and your toddlers at the same time.
Tips for everyone:
- Be reasonable. Yuck. Who likes to hear that? I am the kind of person that would happily keep expanding my garden & plant enough for an army, while totally not considering that I am the only one available to weed, harvest, clean, prepare, and cook what I grow. Thanks to my husband, I am working on planting reasonable amounts and not getting in over my head.
- Work early and late in the day: Try to take care of yourself & your kids by not exposing them to the sun at the most brutally hot parts of the day. This will just lead to everyone getting pink & cranky really fast. Starting the day with some planting or picking a few things for supper is much more fun that melting in the middle of the afternoon heat.
- Make a Garden Bag: After realizing how many sippy cups/ water bottles I need to drag out with us today I decided I need a garden/outside adventure bag in addition to our diaper bag. Yes we might still be on our property, but having to drag everyone up/down the hill back inside for something little like a cup refill or a wipe is miserable. I got a BIG reusable grocery bag as a temporary fix then later grabbed an old messenger bag with pockets to hold our cups, extra sunscreen, bug spray, wipes/paper towels, foldable scissors/a pocket knife, a few bandages, a couple snacks if needed, a few little toys, my camera, my phone, hats, the seeds I want to plant, a sheet for setting the baby down, etc. It also contains whatever my toddler decided she desperately needed to bring out (stuffed animals, sunglasses etc) then quickly got tired of keeping track of. Make sure whatever you pick is sturdy, washable, and maybe waterproof. Being brightly colored so you can find it quickly in high-ish grass or plants is handy too.
- Find someone who loves your kids & trade baby watching for produce! My mom considers it a treat to come over and play with my girls, I consider it a treat to get outside by myself occasionally, and we can make sure none of the produce goes to waste. And the girls absolutely adore her. So it’s a win for everyone involved. Get a grandparent to watch the kids while you get a couple hours of work in, or set up a playdate with a friend & their family where one parent can watch all the kids and the other can get some garden work in.
Tips when you’re pregnant:
- Plan ahead around your due date: I’ve had a June baby, April baby, and will soon have an August baby. Work around the baby, your due date, and knowing you will probably feel miserable before & after for a good bit! Consider when the baby will arrive when planning your garden and buying seeds/plants.For example, if you are having an early season baby like my April baby, get some stuff in the ground before the baby comes & totally don’t worry about it for the next 8-10 weeks after the baby arrives. If your squash and green beans get extra weedy, oh well. Just get what you get without a ton of effort & be grateful. Get some winter veggies like snow peas, lettuce, spinach, kale etc in later for fun fall garden.
- Count gardening as exercise: Don’t kill yourself trying to squeeze in your baby bump exercise video if you can just be outside working in your garden! I’m a big fan of using everyday life as a workout and you will definitely get your squats in while planting, weeding, and harvesting!
- Be smart: Don’t overdo it and hurt yourself before the baby comes. Wear your back brace if you need to, be careful not to trip over anything going up or down hills especially (ask me how I know lol) Get your husband or older kids to help carry water & produce, etc. Wear sunscreen & bug repellent that is organic and safe. Use common sense is the bottom line.
Tips for when you have a new baby:
- Get cozy with your baby carrier! This is probably the best tip ever for keeping your sanity with a new baby. For my first I used a soft structured carrier and with my second I learned to wrap with a woven wrap that we just about lived in. They will be happy, cozy, sheltered from the sun and bugs, will be able to nurse & nap as needed, and you will have two hands free and won’t have to keep checking on them. The only thing I have to note is that my babies have never liked when they are in the front facing in and I lean forward. Putting a hand around them so they feel secure, squatting down, or working at waist height when wearing them can help eliminate this. As they grow, you can also transition to a back carry, but they will need a sunhat for extra protection.
- Use what they are comfortable in: Work with them, not against their preferences! If they love their stationary play stations, bring it out & tuck them in there for a bit. If they love their stroller, take them for a quick walk & let them keep you company in the garden while you talk to them. Strollers are great for transporting your harvest too!
- Get an extra Pack & Play: Though I have not personally done this, I have seen other moms have a designated outside play pen for their little ones that they can bring up to the garden when they need to work without holding a baby. Put a crib sheet over the top to provide shade & keep bugs out.
- Work during naptimes if you can: If you have a baby monitor or can open a window so you’ll be able to hear your baby cry, this could be a great option. It’s so nice to know I generally have a minimum of 1.5 hours to get something done by myself when the kids are safe in their beds napping. (they are both still secure in cribs; I probably will have to stay inside when my toddler graduates to a big bed & can get out by herself.) You could also move naptime outside if you have a portable bassinet or pack & play that your child will nap in. I’m not sure I would gamble on naptime by taking them outside unless I had a super good sleeper though!
Tips for Gardening with a Toddler:
- Have the right perspective: Nothing goes smoothly with a toddler & your project will probably take twice as long with “help” from your munchkins. More important that any task you are trying to accomplish is investing in your children though. The dishes will get dirty again, there will be more laundry to fold, & the plants will die. Use the time you have with them to instill a joy for work in your children, give them a passion for beneficial projects/hobbies, and show them that you value them & their contributions. This is an eternal investment. The faster you get this in your head the more enjoyable and satisfying working at toddler pace will be.
- Give them responsibility: I strongly believe toddlers can handle more than what the average parent expects of them, and giving them their own work to do occupies them, teaches them how to persevere, and makes the reward of a job well done much more satisfying. If you have the space, give them their own little plot of dirt to work in and plant seeds in. This didn’t work for us unfortunately because my 2 year old already commandeered the whole garden as hers.
- Let them work alongside you: This is in connection with my last tip. Let them be there near you, not necessarily working on the exact same thing, but working close to you on something similar. For example, it’s super hard to get dishes done with my daughter on her stool in front of me at the sink, but if she is right next to me wiping the clean dishes with a clean sponge or wiping down the counters she is super happy.
In relation to gardening, my 2 year old has a little shovel and has been helping us move giant piles of mulch around the garden. She has adopted one peach tree in particular that has probably a foot and a half more mulch on it than it will ever need. She also loves to weed; we were in the potato bed last week clearing it out to put our later batch of potatoes in. Though she only snapped the top 6 inches off & threw them over the wall (tossing them to her sister in the stroller more than not-uhg) she was super happy, contained, and it was a great learning experience as we talked about roots, bugs that we found, etc.
- Get them the right supplies: Again, in connection with the above tips. . . Get them gardening tools that are their size. My daughter has a shovel for scooping, her own watering can, specific “work shoes” for being in the dirt/duck pen, an “adventure hat” for being outside, and apron, etc. She loves the privilege of getting to be just like mama or daddy and we love working with her without her trying to “share” the tools we are using.
- Let them plant things that don’t need to be in rows: Our spinach, kale, cress, and lettuce are coming up right now, and they are not really organized by any stretch of the imagination. Letting my daughter help plant produced more of a “strewn in the wind” appearance because, well, that is what happened to the seeds. I don’t really care because I can tell them apart and I buy giant packets of seeds so there is enough to go around. For more precise things like lining up my sweet peas under the trellis or planting sunflowers in rows from tallest to shortest, I either let her hand me the seeds or do it myself while she is busy. Which leads me to the next tip
- Keep play equipment by your garden: Though I want them to learn responsibilities, I totally don’t expect my kids to have as long of an attention span for being productive as I do, and I want them to think gardening is fun. Having a set up so they can go from “helping” to playing safely is awesome. My absolutely amazing husband built a structure to hang 4 swings on right next to my veggie garden and got me a baby swing for my birthday one year. Once the baby is big enough I can just pop him or her in the baby swing and they are within chatting distance as I work in the raised beds. I even use my wrap to rig up some shade & give them a little extra cushion in the swing. My toddler is happy swinging on the big girl swing, pushing her sister, or playing on the little plastic slide that we also keep nearby. We are also planning to eventually put in a bigger play structure in our back yard near our berry patch-which will need plenty of time invested in it over the years.
- Teach them early what to pick & how to pick it: Little ones have excellent memories & love learning new things. I think it is totally worth teaching them how to harvest rather than spending your time outside yelling “No, don’t touch that.” every 5 seconds as they try to copy you in harvesting things. Last year when she was just turning two my daughter learned to pick the zillions of strawberries we have growing everywhere in beds & as groundcover. She learned not to touch the flowers, and not to pick the berries until they were all the way bright red. If she accidently picked a berry that wasn’t quite ripe, she would tuck it back in to ripen 🙂 For more subjective things like asparagus, she knows to ask me before she picks each one and to pick them low to the ground. All this to say that it CAN be done with little ones & makes the process more enjoyable.
- Start teaching them what is safe & what isn’t: Obviously as a rule, I don’t let my daughter just eat random things outside; she has to show it to me & we have to officially harvest it. Though my husband will nibble a dandelion or a piece of grass & complicate this, I’m working on setting some ground rules so I can trust her more & more to play outside less supervised as she gets older. For example, this saved us from her eating every trampled dandelion leaf she found at a community yard sale last weekend, though I had to say, “No that isn’t a clean healthy dandelion,” about 45 times over. Obvious things like knowing allllll mushrooms aren’t safe though the ones we eat for supper are healthy and knowing that a lot of red berries might be dangerous despite harvesting raspberries is a good place to start.
Hopefully some of these ideas will help you as you try to find the motivation to get a garden going & add one more thing to your list of responsibilities this year. I can confidently say that it is so worth it and becomes more and more enjoyable as your children get older. I am greatly looking forward to adding gardening, especially herb gardening, to our home school as we work into a formal program in a couple years. It is encouraging to know that by making the effort while your children are very young and enthusiastic, you can be doing your part to instill a lifetime love of natural healthcare, being outside, and working hard into your kids! Let me know how these ideas worked for you and share your own great ideas in the comments below! Happy gardening!