In this post, I’ll share with you 17 of my favorite vegetable varieties to grow in a kid friendly vegetable garden. These vegetables are small, colorful, tasty, and fun to grow. I find that the kids really love having their own space where they are responsible for everything that is growing, where they can dig where they want to, plant how they want to, and picnic and play.
During the growing season, we spend most of our time outdoors. I spend a lot of my time in the garden and the kids are always around too. They love running between the rows, digging in the soil, planting, picking and so on.
I love that they love gardening. I love that they make it a mini world and play games there. I used to think about the garden only from the food production point of view. The main focus for me was to grow as much as I could in the space.
It’s still the main focus, but after years of observing the kids, I now have the desire to make it pretty and fun in addition to it being productive.
I want to create a place where they can let their imagination go wild and their hands get dirty. And while they are at it, let’s make sure they have enough to keep their bellies full!
Best Varieties to Grow in a Kid Friendly Vegetable Garden
But let’s be honest here for a second… If you have young kids you know that gardening with kids when you actually want to produce food is not always easy. My kids are getting older now so I can incorporate the main garden with the kids garden and this makes it easy for me but I have to admit that when they were all under 5 years old I had more than a few garden meltdowns.
There were times when my three year old decided to dig at that spot where I just spent three hours working the soil, spreading manure, pulling weeds, and planting new tomato transplants that I spent 8 weeks babying. Did I mention he stomped on, crushed, and killed the transplants?
It wasn’t wonderful then.
Maybe it’s just me and my temper, God knows I have a lot to learn about being patient, but there were a few times I wanted to strangle the kid. In his eyes, though, he didn’t do anything wrong, he was just working in the garden, being a good helper like everyone always wants him to be.
If you have young kids, it might be a good idea to section your garden and give them their own space where they can dig, plant, pull, harvest, plant again, picnic, pretend they are insects, dig some more, get dirty, eat, dig again, and eat some more.
A place that you don’t count on for food production, a place where they can have fun and practice without messing your hard work. I struggled with this idea for a while because it felt like I was trying to keep my kids away when the whole point of living this homesteading lifestyle is to have them grow closer to me and to the land.
But I made peace with the fact that it’s ok for them to know that there is a space we can play in and a space we don’t play in because we rely on it to feed us.
I also found that my kids love having their own space where they can make decisions and create something the way they want to.
When I think about a kid friendly garden, a few things come to mind…
A Kid Friendly Vegetable Garden Needs to…
Be Colorful and Pretty – think red, pink, orange, purple vegetables. Kids love colors! It makes them so excited when they pull a purple carrot from the ground.
To make the garden prettier, we added a couple of varieties of flowers. You can choose a seed mix and get many colors even for just one kind of flower. Flowers are not only beautiful and fun for the kids to pick they also attract butterflies and bees which are fascinating for the kids (and their mama) to watch.
Include Small Vegetables – we chose small varieties, for example, cherry tomatoes instead of larger verities of tomatoes, small cucumbers instead of the big, full-size ones. I wanted it to be easy for them to pick and eat straight from the garden. A growing snack bar is the main idea here.
Have Cool Structures – there are so many cool structures that we can build in this garden like a bean teepee or an arched trellis for peas. I am thinking structures that the kids can sit in or play in/with. We will create a picnic area, maybe from hay bales or logs or other natural materials. A fairy garden will also be fun to make.
Include Things They Like to Eat – it would be a waste of time to plant okra, they are not going to eat it. We are looking for things they can eat right there in the garden. Zucchini won’t work either, cabbage or onions won’t do. You’ll see below that I mainly include varieties that they can eat right there in the garden. In the main “adult” garden I’ll grow the rest of the stuff.
Include Fruits Too – this is a tough one because there aren’t a lot of fruit plants that will give you fruit the first year. But there are a few, like watermelons or cantaloupe or ground cherries.
We now also have strawberries! I planted then two years ago and they are doing great. They usually don’t make it to the fridge. (Read: Planting Strawberries and Caring For Your Plants)
Vegetable Varieties For A Kid Friendly Vegetable Garden
Beans – I had a lot of success with Fortex beans in the past so I am sticking with them. They climb high and are great for a bean teepee and they produce a lot of beans. My kids eat beans fresh from the garden, I prefer them steamed with garlic and butter (read: Quick, Easy, and Healthy Fresh Green Bean Recipe).
I’ve never grown Red Noodle Beans but I think it will be nice to try them in the kids’ garden. They are so long and cool looking, I think my kids will love them but I’m not sure they are good to eat fresh from the vine.
Carrots – I grow two varieties: Danvers which are the standard orange carrot and Purple Dragon which is a purple variety. I think that orange carrots taste better than the colorful carrots but just for the fun of having a colorful carrot, I grow the purple ones too. They are also rich in antioxidants. Pulling carrots is my kids’ favorite activity! Many of the carrots don’t even see the kitchen. I do make sure to keep the tops for carrot top pesto. You won’t believe how good it is! (Read: Carrot Top Pesto Recipe)
Cucumbers – I am sticking with good old Marketmore cucumbers. I’ve grown them a few times and they’ve never let me down. They are my main crop cucumber variety.
Mexican Sour Gherkin is a new variety that I want to try. They are a 1” cucumber that looks like a tiny watermelon but tastes like a cucumber, isn’t that fun? I think any kid will love picking those, hopefully the flavor is good too!
We are also going to grow Arkansas Little for pickling. My kids LOVE fermented pickles and I hope that I can ferment enough for the whole year from the summer garden.
Cantaloupe – in the past, we had a lot of success with Sarah’s Choice here (pictured above). It is sweet and juicy. This year we are going to try Sugar Cube. Should be just as sweet but a bit smaller.
Peas – if there is one veggie I can’t grow enough of is peas. There are daily life-threatening fights in the garden over the peas. We grow Sugar Snap for fresh eating and Little Marvel Dwarf for shelling so they can mess with finding the treasure inside.
Peppers – I grow the red Lunchbox peppers from Johnny’s (in the picture is an orange Lunchbox pepper from the mixed Lunchbox seed pack. I find that the red peppers are the sweetest so I grow only them now). They are small, they are beautiful, they are sweet, and the plants produce a lot of peppers. You also don’t have issues like blossom end rot and such, the plant does not require as much from the soil.
Radish – Easter Egg radishes are colorful and fun. First, they are beautiful, and second, they are mild. They are also fast growing which is great because kids aren’t the most patient creatures.
Cherry Tomatoes – you can get a serious headache when trying to select tomato varieties for your garden. There are so many different tomatoes and they all look so tasty and beautiful.
After years of growing tomatoes, I have five favorite varieties. For the kids’ garden, Matt’s Wild tomatoes fit the bill just right. They are tinier than a cherry tomato and there are a ton of them on each vine. The kids pick them and snack on them in the garden and I throw them in a fresh summer salad.
Watermelons – we grow Crimson Sweet watermelon. They are not too big and so very sweet.
Ground Cherries – I came across this plant when I was looking for fruit plants that will produce fruit the first year. Ground cherries are smaller than cherry tomatoes, they are golden and are sweet and wild tasting with a bit of pineapple flavor.
They are so much fun! The seeds are tiny (smaller than carrot seeds!) but they grow into big plants with lots of little, yellow, round, marble-sized fruit that is inside the husk. They are fun to pick and peel (it’s like hunting treasure…) and they are tasty.
Marigolds – this year I’ll try Naughty Marietta. They have a strong stem so they will be great as cut flowers, they are annuals, and very beautiful. I am just hoping that the southern summer heat won’t be too much for them.
Zinnia – this is the only flower I have experience with (read: How to Grow Zinnias For Your Bees). I have grown zinnias a couple years and have to admit that sometimes they make it hard to concentrate on the vegetables. I’m sticking with Sunbow Mix here.
Gourds – I am so excited to try gourds! I think my kids will love this ornamental. Even though it’s not a plant they would eat right there in the garden I wanted to list it here because I can only imagine how wild they will go when I show them how they can GROW birdhouses. This is going to be super cool. I am going to try Brandshaw’s Ornamental.
I buy all of my seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I try to get everything I can from the Seed Exchange because they are much cheaper than Johnny’s but I will gladly pay more for a variety I like from Johnny’s if I can’t find it locally or at the Seed Exchange.
Of course, there are many other plants my kids love to grow and help with. One good example is potatoes (read: How to Grow Potatoes and How to Plant Sweet Potatoes), they love digging them out and they even love catching the Colorado potato beetles. But I didn’t include them here because they can’t eat them right in the garden.
For this kid-friendly garden, I wanted to choose varieties that they can enjoy right in the garden. The funny thing is that after a couple of years of doing this I find that it’s much easier to grow these small vegetable varieties. For example, one vine of Matt’s Wild tomatoes can literally produce all the tomatoes I need for fresh eating for all of us for the whole season!
There is no blossom end rot, I don’t need to pay attention to pruning, I don’t need to worry about the tomatoes being too heavy for the plant like Cherokee Purples are often… It’s just so much easier to grow these.
The same goes for peppers. Growing Lunchbox Peppers is so much easier than growing bell peppers. They taste the same but there is no blossom end rot or anything like that. Supporting the plant simply means tying it to a stick. It’s super simple and you get so many peppers from one plant.
So this experiment of a kid-friendly garden actually taught me a whole lot. I ended up changing many of the varieties in the main garden to the varieties that I chose for the kids and they became my main varieties. I found that it’s much easier and more productive to grow small cantaloupes, the same with watermelons and many others.
Now that I feel like I have my varieties set and I know what I’m doing in that department, I want to concentrate a little bit more on fun structures. Arches, teepees, a sitting area, butterfly houses… It will be so much fun having those around and it will be fun working on those projects with the kids.
How do you garden with kids? Do you have a favorite variety to grow for and with the kids? I’d love to hear from you so take a moment to comment below and share your experience!