Growing Tomatoes with Children
Growing tomatoes with children is a fun way to get children gardening! I’ve grown them with my children and it has made them excited to grow plants and also got them interested in eating tomatoes. They both used to refuse to eat tomatoes. However, through growing the plants from seeds they both became interested in tomatoes and wanted to try them. It didn’t take long for them to begin fighting over them!
There are many good reasons for growing tomatoes with children. There is a plethora of research that shows that children who garden and grow their food are more likely to eat vegetables (Bell & Dyment, 2008; Libman, 2007; Morris, Neustadter, & Ziden-berg-Cherr, 2001; Pothukuchi, 2004). They also are more inclined to have a better knowledge of nutrition (Koch,Waliczek, & Zajicek, 2006; Pothukuchi, 2004). Additionally, children involved in gardening tend to eat healthier food throughout their lives along with better fruit and vegetable consumption in adulthood (Morris & Zidenberg-Cherr, 2002; Heimendinger & Van Duyn, 1995).
I also like growing tomatoes with children as they are relatively expensive to buy, and growing them yourself is a way to save some money. In addition, the whole process is not too difficult for them to manage.
How to Grow Tomatoes with Children
Planting Tomato Seeds with Children
I like to grow cherry tomatoes with children because they are a nice size for children to pick and eat. There are lots of different varieties so you may want to explore growing some other types after some experience.
Sow your seeds in seedling trays or pots around 6 weeks before your last frost date. This is usually around March or April (See My Garden Life for a frost map for the USA and Roof Top Veg Plot Coffee in the Square for a frost map for the UK). You can have children fill the containers with soil. I find it easier to water the soil before having children place a few seeds in each container. Then children can then sprinkle a little bit of soil over the top.
It’s best to germinate and grow your seedlings indoors if you have space. It also gives children a great opportunity to be able to watch the seeds sprout and begin to grow. If you don’t have inside space you can also get a mini-greenhouse such as one of these options (Little Gardner’s Mini Greenhouse or VonHaus 4 Tier Mini Plastic PVC Greenhouse). Your seeds should grow into seedlings in about 6 to 8 weeks and then can be planted outside.
Planting your Seedlings Outside
When they have grown into seedlings they can be taken out of the small pots or trays. Have children gently hold the plant in one hand and squeeze the pot or tray with the other until they slowly come out. This is a great opportunity for children to see the roots that have grown below the soil. Plants should be planted 12-36 inches apart depending on the variety (check your seed pack for advice). This is a great hands-on and purposeful way to get children to practice measuring using a ruler or measuring tape.
*Pro-tip – sprinkle some bicarbonate of soda on the soil as a more basic (alkaline) PH makes the tomatoes sweeter.
Keep your Tomato Plants Healthy
If you live in a dry climate, you may need to water your tomato plants regularly. We live in England and it rains regularly so we only have to water them when the soil starts to look dry. Children enjoy watering plants, so they will be eager to help with this! Carrying watering cans is a great gross motor skill activity that will help children build strength for writing.
Once you start having some tomatoes growing, you can start cutting back some of the leaves and branches. This will help the plant focus its energy on growing the tomatoes. Children can use small scissors to cut off the branches and leaves which is a great cutting and fine motor skill activity. My son thinks that this is fun! If you start having a lot of buds growing on your plants you should also pinch off some so that it will help the more developed tomatoes grow better. This is another nice thing that children can also help out with and is something fun to do with your children.
The best part of growing tomatoes with children has to be eating them! 🙂 When they are nice and ripe, you can have children pick them and then enjoy eating them together! They are lovely to eat fresh but equally delicious cooked in a pan to top pasta or cooked in the oven to go with a roast! However, you eat them, I hope you and your children have a lovely time growing them together!
At the End of the Growing Season
Make sure that you pull out your old tomato plants at the end of the growing season. Tomato plants can get blight and other diseases so it is important to dig them out rather than leaving them to rot. This will make sure your soil will be ready for the next growing season.
Bell, A. C. & Dyment, J. E. (2008). Grounds for health: The intersection of green school grounds and health-promoting schools. Environmental Education Research, 14(1): 77-90.
Heimendinger, J. & Van Duyn, M. A. (1995). Dietary behavior change: the challenge of recasting the role of fruit and vegetables in the American diet. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 61(6): 1397-1401.
Koch, S., Waliczek, T. M., & Zajicek, J. M. (2006). The effect of a summer garden program on the nutritional knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of children. Hort-Technology 16(4): 620-625
Libman, K. (2007). Growing youth growing food: How vegetable gardening influences young people’s food consciousness and eating habits. Applied Environmental Education & Communication 6(1): 87-95.
Morris, J. L., Neustadter, A., & Zidenberg-Cherr, S. (2001). First-grade gardeners more likely to taste vegetables. California Agriculture, 55(1), 43-46.
Morris, J., & Zidenberg-Cherr, S. (2002). Garden-enhanced nutrition curriculum improves fourth-grade school children’s knowledge of nutrition and preference for vegetables. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(1), 91-93.
Pothukuchi, K. (2004). Hortaliza: A youth ‘nutrition garden’ in southwest Detroit. Children, Youth and Environments 14(2): 124-155.