Happy seedling season Farm Friends! Here in Maine the snow is melting, the days are getting longer, and Spring is in the air. You know what that means, time to dust off your seed packets and get daydreaming about your garden for this season.
My name is Farmer Steph, I am the founder and Executive Director of Farm to Table Kids Inc., a non-profit educational farm in N. Yarmouth, Maine. Farm to Table Kids (FTTK) is a fully operational, organic farm that incorporates kids into all that we do and grow. We operate an organic wholesale operation to supply local restaurants, we offer a summer and fall flower CSA , we host one-day workshops for all ages, we visit school classrooms in the off season, and we host a wildly fun Summer Farm Camp all weeks of the summer. We farm with kids and for kids – it is what we shine at and we love sharing our work with others.
The mission at Farm to Table Kids is to help children find what lights their heart in nature through organic farming, farm to table cooking, and nature crafting. Not everyone will grow up to be organic farmers, but if we can teach children to go to nature to find peace and wonder, that is a gift they will cherish their whole lives. I’ve been farming with kids by my side and on my back for over a decade. Here are some of my most loved veggies to grow to open children’s minds and senses and to make a gorgeous, playful garden!
All these seeds can be found in “Johnny’s Selected Seeds” catalog or online here. They are a Maine employee-owned company and offer a tremendous selection of organic varieties. Always read the back of your seed packets, they give you all the information you need. Checkout Farm to Table Kids on Youtube for growing videos with kids.
Farmer Steph’s Favorite Vegetables to Grow with KIDS:
Rainbow carrots = SMILES!
Have you ever seen the look on a child’s face when they pull a carrot out of the ground and all big eyed and ambitious they ask you if they can eat it? …it is one of the sweetest sites at farm camp and it fills my heart every time! Pulling rainbow carrots with kids is must-have summer fun!
With rainbow carrots, you can often find a “rainbow carrot mix” of different colored carrots, but I’ve planted several mixes and varieties and prefer the following blend for FTTK Rainbow Carrots:
- Rainbow Carrot Mix. Has a blend of yellow and orange tones. Excellent 7”-9” tapered roots. I like to add Purple Haze carrot seed to this mix for a pop of purple with yellow.
– Purple Haze. This carrot is amazing. If you only plant 1 colored carrot this should be it. It has a deep purple outer skin and a wonderful vibrant orange center. When I slice this carrot to use for an afternoon carrot stick snack it is always a big favorite!
– Romance. Technically this carrot is not a “rainbow” because it is a traditional main crop orange carrot. It is however my “go to” carrot and main carrot producer. It has a striking orange color, produces high yields, and carrots have very uniform, full, and long roots (7″). This carrot is a medium size which makes it great for raised beds at our restaurant gardens.
Grow info: plant direct, order “pelleted seeds” for kids to plant (carrot seeds are so so so tiny); 70-73 days to maturity. Plant in spring throughout summer for continuous harvest.
- Sweet Ann Snap Pea
Peas are one of the first crops we harvest at the farm and from the very first crispy, crunchy bite your heart and sense will come alive with the new grow season. KIDS WILL DEVOUR THESE. My only advice is to plant more than you think! Sweet Anne peas are great because they are usually the earliest variety and they grow about 20” so you don’t need to trellis them, but if you can you should. It helps with airflow and disease prevention.
- Lunchbox Peppers
The person that named these sweet, tiny, colorful, seedless peppers absolutely knocked it out of the park with the name – LUNCHBOX PEPPER. It fits in lunchboxes and happens to be one of Farmer Joey’s (my son’s) favorite lunchbox snacks. These peppers are incredible because:
- They are mini – about 4-5”
- 2. They are colorful: red, yellow, orange, green
- 3. They are seedless – which means awesome for fresh off the plant snacking or stuffing!
Grow info: start seedlings indoors; 55 days green maturity, 75-80 days red/orange/yellow maturity
- Trilogy Beans
Beans and farm kids are such a magical combination! Harvesting string beans is a great scavenger hunt for little hands. These Trilogy Beans make the hunt even more fun because the tri-is for 3 colors. Trilogy beans are string beans but in shades of green, yellow, and purple! Kids love to find them, eat them off the plant, and pickle them into colorful dilly beans.
- H-19 Little Leaf Cucumber
These cucumbers are super fun, wicked prolific and perfect for pickling and fresh off the vine snacking. They are compact, space-saving vines which make them great for the field or raised beds and will climb great on a trellis. They are harvested small at 3-5″ and fit perfectly into mason jars for pickling…but they are also small so that when kids harvest them they are very cute and snack friendly so they often eat them off the vine just like carrots! They have nice crisp skin and small seeds.
Grow info: plant direct (you can start seedlings indoors if you wish); 57 days to maturity
- Tasty Bites Melon. These are really really fun and the kids LOVE eating them! They are personal sized cantaloupe-like melons (about the size of a softball). They are super sweet, juicy and basically taste like sunshine. They also have a long harvest period so they produce enough to eat right away and share with friends. These melons are on average about 2 pounds each.
Grow info: start as seedlings indoors; 80 days to maturity
- Pole Bean – Fortex. This bean is a dinosaur…at least that’s what the kids call them! They are so giant and so unusual and everyone snacks on them for those reasons. This bean is what we use for our pole bean tee-pees. They are incredible climbers, climbing over 12′ and the beans themselves grow 11″ (or you can harvest them around 7″ for filet beans). They are fun and unusual and our pole bean teepees are always a favorite kids hangout! If you want your kid to eat beans, just make a pole bean teepee with these guys!
(The Fortex is a hardy seed, I’ve found it can grow in pretty rough soil…here we planted a third teepee due to high demand by the kids. I didn’t have much time to cultivate the ground but it still grew beautifully up the twine supports)
Grow info: plant direct; 60 days to maturity
- Easter Egg Radish. This radish grows wonderfully fast so you can keep eager farm kids at bay by planting these every 2 weeks for continuous harvest. I rarely have a problem with them splitting or cracking. They are often one of the first things to harvest – great cool weather crop. These radishes are hot pink, purple, white and red and when you pickle them the brine turns hot pink and guess what..kids wanted to eat them! I’m pretty sure they only ate them because the pickling juice turned everything hot pink, but hey, a win is a win! They grow in a great mix of colors: white, pinks, purples.
Grow info: plant direct, early spring
There you have it…my 8 Great organic veggie choices for farm kids! I’m sure if you are reading this you are savvy to note I did not include any tomatoes, pumpkins, flowers or herbs…you didn’t really think I could narrow down my favorites in one post did you?! This is part one of a multi-part series. The next Farmer Steph blog post will be all about our most loved FLOWERS to grow with kids. You won’t want to miss that one because if there is one thing I am good at, it is lighting the world up with flowers to make kids & people happy. Stay tuned and thanks for following along.
For more information about organic farming with kids visit: www.farmtotablekids.org
Farm to Table Kids is a non-profit 501c3 Educational Farm Campus in Maine
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