“You can’t get down from the table unless you eat all your vegetables!”

This is often heard from the dining room table at dinner time in most homes at some point.  But it doesn’t bode well for encouraging kids to love veggies.  It makes them seem like a chore, and definitely not something fun.  But there is vegetable fun to be had.  Food can be played with, not at the dinner table but in the garden.

Now is a great time to get out into the garden and get the kids involved in something that provides a degree of instant gratification. I have found that while waiting too long for something to happen, my kids struggle and quickly declare “I’m bored” to that wonderful tune of moan! Or they lose interest all together and their projects become my projects.  Sowing seeds is always a fun activity for kids, but sometimes it can be a little frustrating as the seeds are too tiny and may get sprinkled a little too thickly ending up in a disaster later on; or they come up too slowly; or they come up quickly but grow slowly and don’t seem to do much.  Now don’t think I am discouraging you from gardening with your kids, as it is really worth the effort and together a family can produce an incredible harvest and learn about where food comes from.  But there is a perfect vegetable that kids can not only grow easily, but can have so much fun while doing so!

The humble pumpkin can keep kids engaged in the garden all season.  There is so much that can be done with a pumpkin.  Firstly the seeds are big.  Perfect for little fingers to feel the satisfaction of a job well done as they sow their seeds.  Then there is the decorating of the label and the pot and taking ownership of the plant that will emerge. They are also quite quick to germinate and so within six to ten days of excited anticipation and watering, the plant will emerge and it will reward the patient child with a big strong seedling right from the start.  It will grow quickly into a large plant that will soon need to be put into the garden and before you know it; it will have the biggest yellow flowers that will be visited by buzzy bumblebees.

pumpkin competition seedling

But the greatest fun is still to be had.  Once the bumblebees do their thing a pumpkin begins to grow and every day it is visibly bigger.  Once you have a baby pumpkin on the plant then you can make things a bit more interesting.  Take an ordinary ball point pen and write your child’s name on the surface of the pumpkin – not too deep, but enough to scratch the surface.  The pumpkin will quickly heal itself and create a scar that will stretch as it grows bigger.  If your family has a bit of a competitive streak then you could all write your names on a pumpkin and enjoy the challenge of seeing who’s name gets to be the biggest.

The other thing about pumpkins is they grow into huge plants that spread and sprawl all over the garden if you let them.  But this could be used to your advantage.  If you create a cubby house type frame – maybe with chicken wire and a few posts, although you will need to make sure it is quite strong and sturdy to hold the weight of a full grown pumpkin; then plant a pumpkin seedling or two at the base and encourage the plants to grow up it, then before long you will have created a secret shady little place for your kids to hang out, away from the heat of a hot sunny summers day.

pumpkin carving

But there is so much more that you can do with pumpkins.  There are so many different kinds to choose from – from the tiny and ever so cute ‘Baby Bear’ variety or the huge ‘Atlantic Giant’ that you could nurture as a family to see how big you can get it to grow and then enter it into your local A&P show – if you can fit it in the car!

Pumpkins are a crop where the fun just keeps coming.  Finally the last bit of fun can be had at the end of the season, where you decide to have one less pumpkin soup in the middle of winter and have some messy fun with your kids by cutting the top off a pumpkin, scooping out the seeds and carefully carving out shapes.  I have seen this done with a rubber mallet and metal cookie cutters which seem a lot safer than hacking at it with a sharp knife.  Then on one of those balmy late summer evenings, let the kids stay up late and when darkness comes pop a candle in the pumpkin and maybe make a wee bonfire and roast marshmallows and look back on all the fun your family has had with their pumpkin patch.


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Sarah O’Neil lives on a small 3 acre lifestyle block. The family moved from the big city to the country in 2007. Sarah has published 3 books, including The Good Life, four glorious seasons in my country garden. She's also an award-winning blogger, winning a Yates Vegie Growing Challenge and still writes regularly. Visit Sarah’s website at sarahthegardener.co.nz.

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