Three years ago I was asked to write for a family blogging site encouraging green fingered family activities involving food. Here it is again with some pictures of my apprentices from this weekend just gone. Thank you Martha and Stanley you were great. I hope the tips below will help you.
Spring is coming so let’s get cracking on the garden. You know, the place outside your door. The weelie bin storage area, the dump, the play area or the concrete yard. Whatever you call it or however big or small, it’s a great place to explore with your children and get them to understand the seasons and where our food comes from. Have you ever thought about growing some vegetables, flowers and fruits but not sure how? Or have you tried and failed miserably and given up. Fear not I’m here to help. It’s quite easy really… But how, you may ask?
Ok, firstly, it’s not rocket science. Yes, you need soil, water and light BUT but before you go mad buying massive quantities of seeds and ‘amazing’ new ranges for children take in these important key points. This is a job for you. Get the basics right then, add the children after and fun begins!
In order for you to grow successful crops you need to choose the most sunny site. The technical term all the gardening books say would be something like south facing. Secondly, traditionally people used to confine the veg beds to the back of the garden. Sadly if you do this you’ll be less motivated to go out and it will be the furthest way from the kitchen. Easy access is important
Size in this case doesn’t matter. You can get plenty of crops from a small managed area, rather than a large bed that’s neglected. Rather than go crazy with a huge area, start small and increase the size the following year if there is not enough space. What would be best is to have a few small raised beds, around one metre squared each. You can often find these kits at your local overpriced garden centre or DIY outlet from £20 onwards. Basically they consist of four sections of tanalised timber, with a few screws and maybe stakes to hold them in the soil. If you or a family member are good at D.I.Y, it is cheaper to buy the wood and make them yourselves, so that they sit at least 30cm higher than the soil level with a little path in between. If you just have a concrete yard plant up some generous sized pots. Plastic, although not to everyones taste is lighter and cheaper to buy than of teracotta. Plastic pots also do not drink the water intended for the plants unlike of terracotta. I would go for light coloured deeper pots rather than shallow wide ones which will also reduce water loss. Have you thought of growing some potatoes in pots? Maybe you live in a flat? Have you tried a window box?
SoilThere are many types of soil on the market, and having nutrient rich soil goes a long way. Try mixing your garden soil with some rotted stable manure and if you are lucky enough, compost from your own compost heap. You can use this this mix in the raised beds but the general soil would appreciate it too. By planting in raised beds, the drainage is also improved considerably.That is a big problem, especially if you have heavy sticky clay soils like here in Northamptonshire. Have you ever thought of having a wormery for the children? Oh what fun they are! If you are not in the position to have your own soil and are planting up a container, buy some compost but add with it some slow release fertiliser if you are growing fruit bushes as it will help to give out nutrients through the whole season. Good drainage is the key too, so make sure the pots have holes in and cover them first with some broken crockery or stones before adding the soil. Remember to replace the compost every year with fresh if you are growing vegetables by this method. The spent soil can be reused on your own or neighbours borders. Also remember to keep your containers well watered.
A few of my recommendations:
Herbs. Buy some herbs. Rosemary, sage and thyme are great. Not only do they attract bees, survive and hold onto their leaves in the winter, they smell divine when touched and taste great too. They are robust enough for heavy hands to touch, neglect and the football. If you want to grow mint, stick it in its own pot as it is very invasive.
Strawberry plants. Very easy to grow. They are a fail safe option. They can be grown in the beds, containers and even hanging baskets. Try a few different varieties as they crop at different times of the summer. Their runners can be pegged into the soil to make more plants! I like a variety called Cambridge favourite but there are loads to choose from.
Tomato plants. Although tomato plants are easy to grow from seed, there is a lot of faffing around with propagators and the such. It is probably better to buy plants after the last frost (May) and plant them in deep pots away from your washing as they will stain your clothes orange. Choose an outdoor cherry variety such as gardeners delight or tumbling tom for a container and feed them well over the summer.
Beans. All beans are easily held in the hand for the little helpers. Broad beans can be sown now but for most type of beans including runner and French types wait until after the last frost. Dwarf french beans need no support and are ideal for small spaces. For runner beans, place two around each cane and keep the strongest one. They like deep pots and need to be kept well watered.
Nasturtiums. These flowering plants are quite robust and have seeds the size of peas which makes them easy to sow for all ages. You can get dwarf ones as well as the most sprawling ones which you can train in baskets or grow up canes. They will profusely flower in bright shades of red, yellow and orange and self seed profusely. The greatest thing about them is that you can eat the flowers and leaves in salads which will give them a peppery taste.
Of course there are many other plants to grow, and tools to buy but the most important thing is keep it simple! It should be your garden but one in which they can get involved in and learn with you. Quality fun family time is something to be cherished and this shouldn’t become a chore.
Have you heard of the secret seed society, they sell books and seeds relating to children from growing to cooking and is local to Northamptonshire.