Gardening: How to encourage green-fingered kids
IT'S TIME to get your children into the garden, or at least let off steam in the open space.
If you're short of ideas for National Children's Gardening Week, be reassured that the kids can still sow vegetables and other seeds now and into the middle of June, which should germinate quickly to produce tasty and colourful salad leaves, edible flowers and healthy veg.
Almost one in three amateur gardeners has gained inspiration for gardening from their parents, according to YouGov research from Readly magazine app – so there's no better time to start.
Welsh specialist kitchen gardener, best-selling author and YouTuber Huw Richards, who has 730k followers on his channel, selects the following choices which can still be sown and are also suitable for containers:
“Peas are my favourite. When you eat fresh peas straight from the pod they are so sweet and are like little snacks. Children can eat the pea shoots as well, two or three weeks after sowing, which means they don't have to wait too long, so it feels like a fast turnaround.
“I'd recommend a mangetout or a sugar snap if they want to eat the whole pod. ‘Oregon Sugar Pod' sugar snap is a great variety, while the ‘Ambassador' pea is widely available. The seeds are dried peas, so easy for little hands to manage.”
Growing tip: Start them off in pots or plant directly into the soil, 2cm deep, in a sunny situation. You can sow peas until mid-June, he says.
“These have a bigger seed size than peas, so are very easy to handle. They can grow to about 2m and children can enjoy the beautiful red flowers and the bumble bees that visit them.
“The beans that you sow are pretty, pink with black dots, so are very visual. Easily assessable varieties include ‘Scarlet Emperor'.”
Growing tip: Grow them on a south-facing boundary or wall and stake them with canes, or make a wigwam to grow them up.
Any children who love Halloween may enjoy growing their own pumpkins, Richards suggests. “These are quite a bit of fun and surprisingly simple to grow but need a bit more space.”
As well as carving faces in the pumpkin come autumn, you can also tip the seeds out, coat them with cinnamon and roast them, to give the children a healthy snack, he suggests.
“If you are looking for something to fill up an empty corner, a single pumpkin plant will do that for you. It grows fast and every day the children check the plants and the pumpkins. Maybe they can take a ruler out to check how long the plant is or how wide the pumpkin is.”
Growing tip: Sow seeds until the end of May. They prefer a sunny site and need a lot of compost to get started. Seedlings should pop up within a week. Good varieties include ‘Jack O'Lantern'.
“Children could plant a hanging basket or container with nasturtium seeds, which will produce bright flowers which they can later put into salads, for a peppery flavour.
“The big seeds look like little brains and can be popped into the ground 2cm deep, or in a hanging basket. They grow really fast and trail or spread, creating a profusion of flowers usually in orange, reds and yellows. There will always be a bee on the plant when it's in flower.”
Growing tip: Sow them up to mid-June and just a few seeds will create an array of colour. Just make sure the seedlings don't dry out in the first few weeks.
Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights'
“This variety produces a rainbow of coloured stems in shades including white, pink, yellow, green, orange and red – and they look so cool. They are often planted in ornamental borders because of how beautiful they are,” he says.
Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights' is ideally grown in a bed or a large container. Sow seeds 1-2cm deep with 2cm between each seed and grow them as a ‘cut and come again' crop which can add a burst of colour to any salad.
Growing tip: Keep the crop well watered and the seedlings will quickly appear and start turning different colours. They can be grown in sun or partial shade.
Sean Lade, director of Easy Garden Irrigation, adds that radishes are another must-have because they are ready for lifting just three to four weeks after sowing.
“This short growing cycle is perfect for kids, who may not have the patience to wait for a longer-growing vegetable, and they come in a variety of colours and flavours, making them exciting for kids to experiment with and try new things,” he says.
Growing tip: Grow them in a sunny spot in well-drained soil with added compost about 1-2 cm deep and 2-3 cm apart, after removing stones, weeds and other debris.
To make it easier for children to sow the seeds, make a furrow with a stick and sprinkle the seeds along the furrow, covering them with soil and gently patting them down before watering. Thin seedlings as they grow, then lift radishes when the tops push out of the soil.