People often ask me how we manage to have our little urban (ish. Urbanish. Have you been to Lynchburg? Then you know what I mean.) homestead while also having small children. The honest answer? We just do it. Sometimes it's fun and easy and sometimes it's comically awful. But it's something we enjoy and are committed to doing, so we do it. Some people do that with exercise, and I ask them the same thing: But you have small kids...how do you do it?! Because for me, trying to exercise when my kids are awake and/or around usually results in someone getting injured, namely, me. To each their own, I guess.
But, in case you would actually like some ideas of how to do this whole backyard homestead thing while you have small children running around, I've come up with a short list of tips to help. We're by no means experts and it's mostly trial and error all the time...these are just some things I've learned along the way so far.
- Make it accessible to the kids.
- Use kid-friendly tools! You can find durable yet inexpensive tools for kids. It gives them a sense of ownership and it's fun to have things their own size.
- Plan around them...the things that you know are easy to do with them (pulling carrots, for example), do when they're with you. Save the more detailed things (pruning plants, planting seeds just-so) for later.
- Set aside a patch for them to 'garden' in themselves. This could be an actual garden they tend if they're a bit older (say, 6 and up), or just a square of dirt that they can dig around in and play if they're younger (this is what we currently have and it works really well!)
- Give them some responsibility.
- Have things that they get to do by themselves, things that are 'their job'. For example, finding squash bugs. Graham LOVES to do this, because then he can help squish them/karate chop/light saber/whatever mood he's in that day them. We take care of the bugs and I can weed while he helps! Win-win.
- Add to responsibilities as they age. When we first got our chickens, Graham would just come with me and kind of follow along as we fed/watered/checked for eggs. The older he's gotten, we've increased his responsibility little by little, by making parts of the job accessible to him. We have a feed bin he can open on his own, scoops that are readily available, and door hinges that he can maneuver. He is now able to feed the chickens and gather eggs all by himself (which is awesome at 8 am when I may not yet have real clothes on!)
- Plant what you'll use.
- I've heard the argument of not planting certain crops (carrots or potatoes, for example) because those are quite cheap in the store; 'save your space for more expensive things!' I get that, I do. But we eat a LOT of carrots and potatoes...so we're still saving money by planting them. Plus, I know where they've been grown, they're super-fresh, and they're a lot of fun to harvest!
- Plan your space accordingly. Don't feel bad if you don't have a huge variety! I usually do our staples then add one or two 'fun' things to try each year. Last year it was pumpkins and brussels sprouts. This year we're doing pumpkins again, and also transplanted 13 blackberry bushes we were given! On the flip side, we don't do strawberries because a) Jude's allergic but also b) they take a lot of space and time to grow, and we have great pick-your-own places nearby.
- Make it a part of your routine.
- For us, I stay home with the boys, and the bulk of my work is done from here. So once we've had breakfast and done inside chores (unloading the dishwasher and putting clothes away), we head outside to check on the garden, feed the chickens, water plants, etc. In the afternoon when we play outside we always check for eggs and pick any produce that is ready.
- I also make it part of my routine to notice if there's more 'heavy' work that needs to be done, and try to plan accordingly. For example, if there are a lot of weeds or I have a new crop to plant, I try to plan one evening to do that as soon as the boys are in bed. It's cooler, it's quiet, and I can work much more quickly!
- Have realistic expectations!
- It will take up a lot of time! Not everyday, but some days, yes. Plan accordingly. (or if you don't, you'll have picked carrots and still have them sitting on your counter at 10:30 pm right now. Not naming any names.)
- Let go of the small things. The kids will eat dirt/throw seeds/pour an entire packet of seeds in one hole.
- They'll get bored. Most small children aren't going to be enthralled by seed planting for more than 5 or 10 minutes. That's OK. Contrary to what they may think, they can entertain themselves! Allow them the freedom to play or work at their own thing near you. We have one garden bed full of dirt right now, but no plants, so they may dig to their hearts' content. We also have their tree 'fort' and sand table within easy view of the garden, so they can play while I work and I can keep an eye on them.