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In the Garden

Kitchen gardens are most fun when they are both practical and pretty. Mix up vegetables and flowers, because eating your own food at a table set with a vase of your own flowers is as good as it gets.

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  Sanna Delmonico
M.S., R.D., Editor
P.O. Box 5756
Napa, CA 94581
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Growing a Kitchen Garden

Choose a spot with at least 6 hours of sun a day
Most flowers and almost all vegetables like basking in full sun. Slightly shadier spots protect tender lettuces and leafy greens and keep them from wilting in the intense summer sun.

Start small
If you are starting out as a kitchen gardener, prepare a small patch of ground or a few big pots for your first endeavor. Large gardens take time to prepare, maintain, weed, water and harvest, and can be overwhelming. You will be more successful by starting small, easing the kitchen garden into your family's routine, and adding more each year.


Prepare your soil
Ideally, start in the fall by breaking up the soil, removing large rocks, then adding compost or other organic material and perhaps a cover crop to make the soil more fertile for spring planting. “Yeah, yeah, but we're starting now!” Well, do take time to remove sod or weeds from your plot, and add compost and manure. After planting, be sure to mulch with straw, wood chips, and/or cocoa bean hulls to keep the weeds down and the water in.

If you garden in containers, use good-quality potting soil and fertilize every week.

Grow up
In small gardens, growing vertically saves precious space. Peas, pole beans, cucumbers, sweet peas, the sprawling vine-like indeterminate varieties of tomatoes (determinate varieties grow into tidier, bushy plants), and even small pumpkins and melons can be grown up trellises, fences or poles.

What goes in a kitchen garden?
Kitchen gardens are most fun when they are both practical and pretty. Mix up vegetables and flowers, because eating your own food at a table set with a vase of your own flowers is as good as it gets. Here are some of our favorites:

growing pumpkinsPumpkins leap to mind immediately as great vegetables for children to grow. Large pumpkin seeds are easy to plant. Harvesting and carving their own Jack O' Lanterns makes kids so proud. Pumpkin vines get big and wander, so for small spaces or in containers, grow cute little pumpkins like Baby Bear, Jack Be Little or New England Pie.

Carrots do well in light, rock-free soil. On the other hand, you get interesting, leggy carrots in hard, rocky soil. Varieties that are harvested as baby carrots, like Little Finger, and round varieties like Thumbelina, are good for heavy soil or containers.

Green beans taste best eaten warm and raw right out of the garden. Purple varieties, like Royal Burgundy, are easy for kids to spot among the green leaves and gobble up. Make a teepee out of four long bamboo poles, tie it at the top with twine, put it in a pot or the ground, and grow your green beans up the poles.

Calendula (also called pot marigold), with their prehistoric-looking seeds, and nasturtiums are two easy-to-grow flowers I love. They both reseed themselves in our garden and are bright orange, yellow and red contrasts to green leaves and vegetables.

Melons deserve a place in a family kitchen garden. We grow sweet small cantaloupes, a French variety called Charentais, and are still trying for success with watermelon - maybe this year.

Cherry tomatoes like Sweet 100s, Sun Gold and red and yellow pear tomatoes make delicious, sweet snacks for kids taking a break from tree-climbing or hide-and-seek. Cherry tomatoes ripen much earlier than bigger tomatoes making them favorites of impatient gardeners.

Potatoes are indescribably amazing to dig up. They seem to magically pop out of the dirt. Potatoes are easy to grow in containers or even a bag of potting soil, and homegrown, freshly dug potatoes are the most tender you will eat.

growing herbsHerbs, especially herbs with fruity fragrances, encourage children to touch and smell and taste in the garden. Some really luscious herbs are lemon basil, lime basil, tarragon, rosemary, pineapple sage, cinnamon basil, and lemon verbena .

Use vegetables as ornamental plants
Eggplant, red chard, Bright Lights chard, oak leaf and Red Sails lettuces, kale, artichokes and many other vegetables are attractive plants that would deserve a second look even if they weren't edible. Slip beautiful vegetables into flower pots, flower beds or along the driveway to increase your harvest.

However large or small your kitchen garden, there is nothing like growing and eating your own.

Growing a Kitchen Garden


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