Growing flowers, fruits and vegetables on my allotment is a hobby of mine. I love growing things I can either put on a plate and eat or put in a vase!
I believe activities which nurture creativity and nourish the imagination are so important for children (and adults alike!) and gardening and ‘growing your own food’ ticks these boxes. This is why I include fun facts about nature and grow your own activities in my free monthly activity pack.
Since having my allotment, I’ve learnt so much more than simply growing produce.
The magic of gardening
I’ve become aware of the hard work needed to create the right conditions for plants to thrive. I understand how finely balanced our ecosystem is.
I pay more attention to the weather and seasons as I have learnt how important this is and how it affects what I’m growing.
But above all, I’m aware of the magic of gardening.
I’m in awe of how the tiniest of seeds can produce a tasty lettuce, of how a clove of garlic divides and becomes a new garlic bulb and how apple trees give us beautiful blossom in spring which dies and in its place grows fruit.
It’s this magic which children get too.
A School Allotment
A number of years ago, I helped my children’s primary school start an allotment. It’s a joy seeing how much the children, staff and parents enjoy working hard and producing tasty fruit and vegetables.
Sowing, planting out, tending to and harvesting produce, it’s a magical activity.
I’ll never forget a comment from a child when digging to see if potatoes were ready. There were squeals of delight when, after a few minutes, they found some. ‘I feel like I’m a pirate digging for treasure,’ said one.
I feel like that as an adult when I harvest a crop! The magic of flowers turning into pea pods, courgettes, pumpkins, strawberries and blackberries. Black, red and white currants appear like jewels on currant bushes and beans grow up canes and reach for the sky.
It’s a place where imaginations can run wild, encouraging both curiosity and creativity.
So, why garden with children?
Put simply, gardening and growing your own food is great fun. It’s an amazing hands-on learning experience. It’s great for time outdoors in nature and wonderful for our wellbeing.
It teaches us about responsibility. We have to look after plants, making sure we remember to water and feed them and give them what they need to thrive. It provides a sense of ownership and achievement.
Learning about nature
We learn about the natural world, about ecosytems and how we fit into this picture.
We understand where our food comes from and what is involved in producing it. We learn about the role of insects – which are good for our plants and help them grow and which are not helpful! Have a look at the game ‘Friend or Foe’ from Garden Organic.
We learn about the weather and the seasons and the role they play in food growing.
We discover that potatoes and carrots grow in the ground, strawberries and courgettes on plants on the ground, raspberries on canes and apples and pears on trees.
Gardening is also about problem solving and is a constant experiment. It’s about trial and error, learning what worked and what didn’t and building on that knowledge and seeing if different approaches work better next time round!
Gardening is a fantastic sensory and immersive experience. There’s so much to see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Herbs such as mint, lavender and lemon balm smell amazing. One of my favourites is chocolate mint (yes it does exist!)- rub the leaves between two fingers and it smells incredible – just like mint choc chip ice cream!
When children have grown something themselves, they are much more willing to eat it! It encourages them to experience new tastes in a fun and interested way.
Gardening is inclusive
It is something all of us can do.
When we held allotment working parties on the school plot, it was wonderful to see all members of the school community taking part. From grandparents to the youngest family members, everybody was involved!
It’s something you can learn and pick up as you go along. That’s what also makes it exciting to do with children as you can learn and experiment together!
Gardening doesn’t have to be expensive
The basic equipment such as plant pots, labels and a watering can, can be made from recycled materials. Empty food containers such as yoghurt pots, plastic bottles and milk cartons make ideal plant pots.
For plant labels, you can use lolly pop sticks or cut out plastic strips, for example, from margarine containers. Punch some holes in the top of a milk bottle and you have a watering can.
If you don’t have a hand fork or trowel, you could use a large spoon to start with.
The only thing you need to buy to get started are seeds and a small bag of compost.
Where can you garden?
It’s possible to garden anywhere. Not everybody has access to an allotment or garden but we can grow plants in containers, such as pots or grow bags on a patio or balcony, in a hanging basket or window box.
Lots of plants work well in small pots indoors too, such as herbs including basil, parsley, chives and mint.
What are the best things to grow with children?
When starting out with little ones, it’s best to choose plants that are easy to grow and germinate quickly to help keep them engaged. Also, so children have a sense of achievement at the end and less likely to be discouraged! Quick and easy examples include radish, cress, salad and sunflowers.
Think about seeds which are more robust than others and less likely to be munched by slugs, snails and caterpillars and don’t require lots of attention other than watering and feeding. For this, I’ve found courgettes, tomatoes, chard and beetroot have been successful with minimal care!
Growing Interesting Varieties
A fantastic thing about growing your own is growing unusual varieties which aren’t available in the shops.
You can grow, for example, lots of interesting types of tomatoes, beetroots, carrots or courgettes.
How about purple carrots, golden beetroot or curly courgettes?!
Whilst on my allotment, I remember a plot holder offering lemon drop tomatoes for the children to try. They were tiny, bright yellow, lemon-shaped and sweet-tasting tomatoes. I’d never seen or heard of the variety and neither had the children!
When can you plant?
In terms of when to sow plants, the information will be on the seed packet and lots of gardening organisations, such as Royal Horticultural Society, have month by month planting guides to help you plan. It’s important to think about when the term and holiday times are. Most plants will have a window in which to sow, plant out and harvest during the year.
It is, however, possible to grow some things in pots indoors all year round indoors, such as herbs.
The Wonders of Gardening
To sum up, gardening and growing your own food provides a wealth of benefits. It develops a love a nature, an understanding of the natural world and how we fit into it. It encourages curiosity, creativity and problem solving.
Spending time outdoors in nature is good for our wellbeing and provides us with an opportunity to take time to slow down from the busyness of everyday life.
It teaches responsibility for looking after our plants and give us a sense of achievement when they thrive and provide us with fruit, vegetables or beautiful flowers!
It can also encourage healthy eating as little ones are much more willing to try new foods which they have helped grow themselves.
Here are some links to websites and books with information on gardening and growing your own food with little ones:
Kings Seeds has interesting varieties of fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers
Grow, Forage & Make by Alys Fowler
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.
I’ve also written a blog on Growing Vegetables with a Fairytale Theme, such as pumpkins, climbing beans and turnips!
Wishing you lots of gardening fun!