Here are some ideas for growing vegetables with a fairytale theme!
From planting herbs in pots on a window sill and tomatoes in hanging baskets, to potatoes in grow bags and tending raised beds on an allotment, gardening and growing food is a wonderful hobby and amazing learning tool. It’s completely hands-on and gives children a real sense of achievement.
There’s something magical about gardening and children seem to get this. They find it amazing that vegetables and fruit can grow from the tiny seeds they plant. And it is incredible!
It teaches us where our food comes from. We also learn that we are part of a much bigger ecosystem which we must look after. Growing your own food encourages children to eat and enjoy more fruit and vegetables. There’s nothing more rewarding than eating something you’ve grown yourself!
For seeds which are started off indoors and then planted out, I often use empty cardboard toilet rolls as planters. They are particularly useful for children as you can leave the seedling in the toilet roll and plant both directly in the ground when they need planting outside. It makes the seedlings easier for children to handle when transplanting and there’s less change of damage to the roots.
Use a fine watering rose on a watering can when watering seeds and seedlings to avoid damaging them.
Jack & the Beanstalk
Why not have a go at growing your very own beanstalk? Will there be a giant at the top, I wonder?! Runner beans are fairly easy to grow and can produce a large crop from a small wigwam. Depending on the variety you choose, they have attractive red or white flowers.
I’ve always found something wonderful about a wigwam full of climbing beans! It’s equally exciting spotting the beans to pick as they grow on their beanstalks. You have to look quite hard to find them as they have a habit of hiding away!
Sow Indoors: April-June Plant out: late May-July Harvest: July-October
You can sow in pots of compost on a window sill in April. 1 seed per small (7cm) pot or sow directly into the ground outside from late May-July once the weather is warmer.
Push them 5cm into the compost or ground. Seedlings usually start to appear after 1-2 weeks.
I’ve had more success planting them in pots first rather than directly in the ground but either is possible. I usually plant the seedlings out when they are about 8cm tall.
Planting out (May-July):
First, you’ll need to build a wigwam as runner beans are climbing plants and need something to grow up. Runner beans like warmth and sun so try and choose as warm, sheltered and sunny a spot as you can.
Use 7 long (2-metre long) bamboo canes as the beans will grow very tall! Push the canes into the ground spread out evenly making a circle about 1 metre wide. Tie the tops of the canes firmly together with string.
Dig a hole in the ground next to each cane. Place 1 seedling in each hole or alternatively push 2 seeds into the ground 5cm deep and 15cm apart if you are planting out directly. Water well. Once the seedlings start to grow, remove the smaller seedling.
Loosely tie the seedlings to the cane so they start to grow up and wrap around it. I remove the string once the beans are growing nicely.
Keep the ground moist by watering regularly. The best time to water is in the evenings.
Once the beans start to form, they grow quickly. Start picking the beans when they are about 20cm long. Any longer and they will taste tough and stringy.
The Princess & the Pea
Peas are easy to grow and the more you harvest them, the more they produce! Fresh, home grown peas are delicious and taste sweet. Like runner beans, they are climbing plants and use their wonderful curly tendrils to wrap around netting and pea sticks to climb upwards. It’s amazing to watch the pea pods form and peas grow inside them once the flowers have faded.
Sow: March-June Plant out: March-June Harvest: June-October
I start my peas off in trays indoors in March. I usually sow 1 pea seed per module or small pot. You can sow peas directly in the ground from March onwards as long as the weather is warming up. Sow the pea seeds 3cm deep into the compost or ground and space them about 7cm apart.
I have more success starting peas off inside. Whenever I’ve planted them directly outside, I think mice have eaten some of the pea seeds before they’ve had time to germinate. Word of warning: mice love pea seeds!
Peas, like runner beans, need something to climb up so you will need to make a small wigwam. It depends on the variety of pea you choose as some varieties grow taller than others. Refer to the seed packet for the details.
Peas won’t grow as tall as runner beans so you can use shorter bamboo canes (1.5m long) to make the wigwam or pea sticks.
You could either use a large pot to grow the peas (particularly useful if space is limited) or place the wigwam directly in the ground. Attach twiggy sticks or netting to the canes which the peas can climb up.
If planting in a pot, position the peas around the edge of the pot, about 15-20cm apart.
Once the pea flowers start to fade, you’ll see pea pods appear which contain the peas! These are ready to pick once you can see the shapes of the peas inside. Pick them regularly to encourage the plants to continue producing flowers and pods.
Perhaps your pumpkin will turn into a carriage?! Pumpkins belong to the squash family and like lots of water, food, sunshine and a sheltered position.
They are easy and fun to grow and look beautiful in the autumn when ready to harvest. They are sprawling plants so if space is limited, you can train them to circle round themselves by carefully pegging the stem down using tent pegs.
Sow Indoors: April-May Plant out: May-June Harvest: September-October
Sow seeds in pots of compost on a window sill in April (1 seed per 7.5cm pot), 2-2.5cm deep. Seedlings should start to appear in a week or so. In late May, start hardening off indoor-raised plants so they become used to outdoor conditions.
Place the pots outside during the day and bring them in at night for one week. The following week, leave them outside in a sheltered place day and night. After this, they should be strong enough and ready to plant out.
Plant out May-June):
Dig a hole roughly 30cm deep and wide and fill with compost, leaving space to plant the seedling. Water well and plant the seedling. Plant pumpkin plants at least 1 metre apart.
I place a large upturned plastic bottle with the bottom cut off into the ground by the base of the plant when I first plant it out so I know I’m watering the roots. Once the plant is established, it can be difficult to see the base!
Pumpkins grow well in pots and grow bags too. Plant 1 pumpkin per large pot or grow bag. Make sure you water regularly as pots and grow bags dry out more quickly. Cut some drainage holes in the grow bags to avoid the pumpkin roots becoming water logged.
Pumpkins are hungry plants. Feed them every 10-14 days with tomato feed once the first pumpkins start to appear.
Place a tile or upturned plate under the pumpkins to keep them off the damp soil and prevent them from rotting.
Pumpkins are ready to harvest.
The Giant Turnip
Will you grow a giant turnip?! Turnips are root vegetables, like carrots and swedes. They grow best in cool, moisture-retentive soils. It’s important to water turnips well in dry weather to stop them going to seed. They grow quickly and can be ready in a couple of months. There are ‘early’ and ‘maincrop’ varieties.
Sow direct outdoors: March-June (early), July- mid September (maincrop)
Sow seeds 1cm directly outdoors.
There are ‘early’ and ‘maincrop’ turnip varieties.
Sow ‘early’ varieties in March to June and ‘maincrop’ varieties from July to mid-September.
Sow both varieties thinly, allowing about 30cm between rows for ‘early’ and 40cm between rows for ‘maincrop’.
Once seedlings appear, thin out to about 20-25cm between plants.
Harvest: May-September (early), mid October onwards (maincrop)
Harvest early turnips from May to September when the size of a golf ball for eating raw or the size of a tennis ball for cooking.
Maincrop turnips are harvested from mid-October onwards when the size of a golf ball.
Mixed Salad Leaves
There are lots of delicious salad leaf varieties to plant and enjoy throughout the summer. Salad leaves are quick and easy to grow in pots, window boxes, grow bags as well as directly in the ground.
Make sure the containers have drainage holes. There are cut-and-come-again crops which means when you cut young leaves, more leaves re-grow. Salad leaves include lettuce, endive, mizuna and rocket.
Sow outdoors: March-August Harvest: May- October
Sow indoors from February and outdoors from March once the weather is warmer. One of the easiest ways (and my favourite!) to sow salad leaves is to sprinkle seeds on to compost or soil and lightly cover with about 1cm of compost.
I like sowing a packet of mixed leaves for the variety. The different colours and shapes of leaves look attractive and have a great variety of taste, from sweet to peppery.
Salad leaves need lots of sunshine so choose a sunny spot to grow them and place pots in full sun.
As the seedlings appear, thin out to allow more room for the plants. Use the thinned seedlings in salads.
To enjoy throughout the summer, sow every 2-3 weeks for a continuous crop. Don’t forget you can cut the salad leaves several times and they will grow new leaves.
Happy gardening and hope you enjoy growing your vegetables!
I’ve also written a blog called Food in Fairytales which looks at the role it plays in these stories.
Further information on gardening with children:
Garden Organic has some fantastic resources to download. These include grow your own cards which include growing instructions and growing calendar. There are also games and growing activities which are useful for schools.
RHS has created some Learning From Home resources to encourage children to start gardening.
The Kew Gardens Children’s Cookbook is a fantastic introduction to growing your own vegetables. The step-by-step guides to growing vegetables in containers, window boxes, a garden or allotment are easy to follow. It also contains delicious recipes.