When learning about plants, like most other subjects, regular observation and participation is the best teacher. For a child (and most of us adults) there is no better incentive to garden than harvesting food to snack upon!
When creating a snack patch for children, consider creating a low, narrow garden bed or use pots so that they can reach to sow seeds, water plants, remove weeds and eat their crops. Garden beds can be made from recycled objects quite inexpensively. Starting with a small area or a few pots, even one planter box is enough to assist the child in developing an understanding of producing food from seed to table.
Other useful items include small garden tools, a watering can, and a basket or bucket to collect produce. Hats, garden gloves and boots offer protection for gardeners of all ages.
Examples of food plants which are quite easy to grow and fabulous to snack on include snow peas, green beans (climbing or bush varieties), cherry tomatoes (all varieties), nasturtiums and gooseberries. These all tend to ramble and require at least a little space and usually staking as well.
Sweet corn is tall and best suited to a garden bed or individual pot, as they are heavy feeders. It is delicious to eat raw, though, and some varieties grow to an impressive three metres in height!
Strawberries, the many varieties of mint (including chocolate mint), baby carrots and radishes are all very tasty and suit a variety of growing conditions. Children who normally don’t like to eat spicy foods will often nibble a young, freshly picked radish from their garden.
Passionfruit vines ramble upon fences or trellises, and even up trees. Our children love to ‘pop’ these sweet baubles and eat the pulp whilst playing in the garden.
Sprouts are another snack-able crop, which suit just about any gardener, anywhere. Information on growing them is widely available in books, on the Internet and on packets of sprouting seeds often found in health food stores.
A lovely little bush which most children love to snack on is Sweet Leaf, a tropical plant that is very high in nutrients. Young leaves taste like green peas, but are much more prolific and easier to grow. Sweet Leaf will do well in a large pot, to be moved indoors in temperate and colder climates as required.
Whilst working in their gardens discuss with children what’s safe to eat. You can make labels together from any water-resistant material such as pieces cut from plastic container or pop sticks to identify ‘their’ plants.
Washing produce is recommended to remove soil and surface microbes. Hopefully the use of all sprays is avoided in your home garden, so these are not a concern.
The produce from a snack patch can be eaten right away or brought inside for a salad or other meal. Fresh, home grown, organic food is brighter, crunchier, tastier and most full of nutrition the minute it’s picked. It is the highest quality of all snack foods available.
Many natural health practitioners and biodynamic growers attest that food even has a vibration or energy which is at its peak upon harvest, compared to food which has been handled, transported, stored, processed, etc. Therefore it is touted that the freshest of garden snacks feed the soul as well as the body. This theory you may or may not subscribe to, but it’s another exciting benefit of snacking from the patch if it’s true!
Having their own edible garden encourages children to try foods, especially raw foods that they might not eat at the table. Right from toddlerhood our seven children have been provided with a small bowl of fresh-picked goodies to nibble upon whilst watching me work in the garden. They’ve progressed to helping harvest the ripe berries and pods themselves. And then to planting seeds with me, preparing beds, labeling specific plants, and all gardening and kitchen tasks. This is a normal part of our family life, as basic as going to the store, opening the refrigerator and rummaging in the pantry… But intensely more real, healthy and important for them and the planet.