First, consider kid classics such as beans and sunflowers. You need some serious vertical space for both of these fast-growing plants, but it's worth it. Their rapid growth make them extremely gratifying crops for young gardeners.
Some other ideas:
Plants that mature in 3 to 4 weeks:
- Sweet corn – Corn needs to cross-pollinate, so it's suitable if you have space to plant a crop of at least a dozen or so plants.
- Cucumbers – My kids love fresh cucumbers thinly sliced and lightly salted. Like potato chips, but healthy.
- Summer squash, such as zucchini – Consider trellising or caging your zucchini to train the vines upward. It takes up less space, discourages slugs, and makes harvesting easier.
Plants that mature in 5 to 7 weeks:
- Lettuce of all kinds – There's nothing like picking your own salad right before dinner. I like to create my own "salad seed mix" by combining four or five different kinds of leafy greens, such as radicchio, spinach, rocket, and arugula. I schedule three plantings, about three weeks apart, so I have greens all through the summer and early fall. Tip: Plant in pots, which makes it easier to differentiate weeds from seedlings.
- Broccoli – A single broccoli plant is surprisingly big, but definitely fascinating, even for adults. And it goes without saying that homegrown broccoli is vastly superior to store-bought. If your kids don't already love broccoli, growing their own may change their minds.
- Cauliflower – See above!
- Brussel sprouts – Or "baby cabbages" as my children call them. (Note: The cuteness of said baby cabbages has not yet convinced my kids to actually eat them.)
- Cabbage – Raised beds or pots are recommended, to keep slugs away from these low growers.
- Tomatoes – Tomatoes are what got me into gardening. The difference between a store-bought tomato and one you grow yourself is absolutely staggering. A full-size tomato plant can be enormous. If you plant yours in pots, remember to use big ones and prune strategically.
- Herbs, such as basil, chives and mint – We have a little friend who loves basil so much that he eats huge leaves of it plucked fresh from the plants. Tip: Grow mint in pots. It can be super invasive if planted directly in the ground.
For more tips on gardening in small spaces, check out the epicenter of small-space gardening: Square Foot Gardening. Good luck, and happy planting!
(Image: Flickr member Dylan Duvergé, licensed for use under Creative Commons)