Building a raised garden bed and why you should garden with your kids

Producing their own food helps kids connect with what they eat



This is the summer to try to plant your own vegetable garden. While it takes some work and devotion, growing your own food is fun and rewarding. And make sure you get the children involved. Working in a garden connects children with their food and inspires even the pickiest of eaters to become try-most-anything food adventurers.   

How to start? Like most things, a good garden starts with a plan. Before you head to the garden center filled with ambition and good intent, stop to consider how much time you will have, the amount of sun in your yard and your children’s ages and capabilities.

It’s best to start small. It is better to be frustrated by too few vegetables than an unruly garden filled with weeds. You can always visit the pros at the farmers market on Saturday morning if you run short of zucchini. If this year is a brilliant but too small success, go big next summer.

How small is small? My first garden was a handful of pots on an apartment balcony. It was a salad garden. One large pot was filled with mixed greens; a second held a cherry tomato plant; and a few more sprouted basil, chives, cilantro and parsley. With my busy schedule it was just enough. It still is. If you want to take it a step further, build a small, raised bed. Keep it simple this first year; remember it’s better to add a bed or two than pull them down.

What to grow? Since it is already June, seedlings are your best bet. Encourage the kids to pick a nice assortment. Cherry tomatoes and small pickling cucumbers are good for children. Zucchini is easy to grow. A few herbs like basil and parsley are nice. After all, who doesn’t like pesto?


Building a raised bed garden frame

A raised bed is easy to build, provides good drainage for your plants and less back strain for you. A simple 3x3 or 4x4-foot bed is a great way to start. Any larger and you will have trouble weeding and harvesting the center row.

You will need:

• Naturally weather- and rot-resistant wood or recycled composite plastic lumber:
— 2x6-inch boards cut into 3- or 4-foot lengths for the sides
— 4x4-inch boards cut into 18-inch lengths for the corner posts
• 3-inch galvanized screws
• Garden soil
• Compost or manure
• Bark mulch (optional)
• Seedlings

Tools:

• Chop or handsaw, hatchet, drill and screwdriver
• Mallet
• Shovel or garden fork, rake and trowel
• A garden hose with a fine mist spray

Build the frame for your raised bed:

1. Cut the corner posts and sharpen one end of each piece with a handsaw or hatchet to make stakes.

2. Cut the sides of the bed. You will need two pieces of 2x6 lumber in 3- or 4-foot lengths for each side, a total of eight.*

3. Pre-drill screw holes on the 2x6's and stakes. Attach the 2x6's to the corner posts with galvanized screws.

*Many lumber yards and do-it-yourself stores will cut the wood for you.

Install the frame:

1. Find a nice, sunny, level spot in your yard. Remove grass and weeds. Turn over the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches with a shovel or garden fork and pile it up in the center, away from the edges.

2. Set your frame in place and tap down the corners. Use a mallet to drive each corner down a few inches at a time and repeat until the frame is level.

Fill the garden:

1. Add compost or manure to the soil piled in the center and use a rake to spread the mix evenly.

2. Add more soil and compost and rake again.

3. Gently water the bed with a fine, even spray.

Now that the bed is ready, avoid stepping in it. If you like, create a walkway around the outside of the frame with a thick layer of bark mulch.

Plant your seedlings

Leave plenty of room to grow between each plant. Your garden shop can advise you or check out spacing guides online. It’s okay to grow only two, three or four plants in your first year. Those tomatoes will taste even sweeter!

Use a trowel to dig a hole for each seedling and pop them in. Pull the dirt back around the base of each plant and gently water. Keep the seedlings moist for the next week or two and then water as needed.

One last thought… what about fruit? While you won’t get enough for a pie this year, think about adding a blueberry, raspberry or blackberry bush or two to your cart when you are at the garden center. In a year or two, your kids can go out every morning and pick fruit for their cereal. In addition, consider adding a rhubarb plant to your flower garden and planting an apple tree in the backyard. The muffins, cakes, pies and crisps will be delicious!    

Susan Nye writes for several New England magazines and newspapers. She is the longtime author of PNH’s Cook with your Kids.

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