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Guest Spotlight: A Kid-Friendly Guide to Growing Tomatoes

Noah Lee

Written by: Jackie Edwards

Photo by Thomas Martinsen

Photo by Thomas Martinsen

Growing a garden can help to teach school-aged kids responsibility by showing them the end results of hard work and dedication. Gardening can also get children involved in proper nutrition early on, setting a lifelong foundation for healthy eating habits. Tomatoes are a hardy fruit that’s relatively easy to grow, even for young kids. Helping schoolchildren to care for their very own tomato plant teaches them about the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables in a way that’s fun, interactive, and an activity that the whole family can enjoy.

What you’ll need:

  •  A packet of seeds or a young plant
  • Seed trays and different sized pots
  • Seed or potting soil mix
  • Plant labels
  •  Gardening gloves

Planting and Potting

If you’re planting from seed, fill one or more compartments of a seed tray with compost until the soil almost reaches the top. You can lay down a newspaper as you work to make cleanup easier afterward. Level the soil and use a finger to poke a shallow hole for the seeds. Cover with soil, water well, and leave on a sunny windowsill to sprout. If you want, you can cover the seedling with plastic to keep it warm and moist as it grows. The best time to plant tomato seeds is from late May to mid-June after the frosts have passed. This also gives your plant plenty of time to produce fruit before it starts to get cold again in the fall.  Once you see leaves start to sprout, carefully transfer the plant to a small pot so that the root system has room to grow.

Caring for Your Plant

Tomato plants need plenty of sun in order to produce healthy fruit. As it grows, your seedling should get at least eight hours of direct sunlight each day. You also want to make sure your plant is getting the right amount of water. While seeds should be watered generously for the first few days of germination, adult plants don’t need an excessive amount of water. Soil should be damp, but not waterlogged. You can add liquid fertilizer to the soil when you pot your tomato plant in your garden, but it won’t need extra nutrients again until it starts producing fruit. You may need to stake your tomatoes as they grow taller to provide enough support.

Harvesting Your Tomatoes

One of the best indicators of when a tomato is ready to harvest is its color. Different varieties of tomato turn shades of red, pink, orange and even purple when they’re ready to eat. Ripe tomatoes should also feel firm to the touch, but not hard. Gently pluck ripe tomatoes off the vine and store at room temperature for a few days, or in the fridge for longer. Once you’ve harvested your tomatoes, you can enjoy them in salads, on pizzas, as a sauce, or just eat them whole. 

Nutrition 101: from School Garden To Table

Noah Lee

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Our Washington Youth Garden FoodCorps Service Member Theo Banks, asks a class of 4th graders at Friendship PCS-Woodridge Elementary, "What is something you want to do when you get older?"  One student answers, "I want to be in the NBA," another students says, "I want to be a football player and be a natural cook." At Friendship Woodridge, it's not uncommon to hear a student say they want to be a chef and in the Olympics. Theo follows-up with a cooking lesson that reinforces the concept that making healthy food and lifestyle choices are important to helping them achieve their grown-up aspirations. Washington Youth Garden, in partnership with the Department of Health's SNAP-Ed Program, builds integrated school gardens at DC elementary and middle schools. Our educators teach students and families about science and nutrition through hands-on cooking and gardening lessons and community focused garden events. View our website to learn more about our  Garden Science Program. Try one of our healthy recipes here.