By Enthusiastic Parent Gardener Vicky Dawes
If the thought of growing your own herbs and veggies seems a little daunting, don’t worry, you are not alone! All you need is a windowsill and willingness to roll up your sleeves. Get the kids involved and really excited about having their own Very Important Project. Imagine – growing everything you need to make a salad or even growing your own pizza toppings!
Talk to your kids about gardening basics – what plants need to thrive and why they need it: the sun for warmth and light, water, food (i.e. nutrients from the soil) and air for carbon dioxide.
1) Sunlight – A windowsill that gets a few hours of sunlight and warmth per day will be sufficient to grow your own sprouts and herbs. If you’re looking to plant outside in containers, raised beds or in the ground you will need to consider how much light your proposed planting area gets. Some plants need more sunlight than others. In general, leafy veg and herbs can cope with a shadier patch than fruiting plants eg tomatoes, peppers (capsicums) that really need the sun to help the fruit mature and ripen. Ideally a big veggie patch should have 6 hours of direct sunlight a day.
2) Water – Are you (or the kids) going to be willing and able to water the plants every day if needed? If not, think about getting round that by choosing veg or herbs that don’t require so much watering – like rosemary, swiss/rainbow chard or even Warrigal greens (NZ spinach), using really good quality soil and mulch, or choosing ‘self-watering’ pots (these have a reservoir at the bottom of the pot that allows the plant to soak up as much water as it requires).
3) Nutrients – Choosing a good soil or compost for veggies is easy to do at the garden centre. You can also buy organic fertilisers such as liquid seaweed extract which can help give your veggies a natural boost. If you really get into your gardening you could make your own fertiliser and compost at home, by starting a worm farm or compost bin – yet another great (and hugely fun!) activity for the kids and a great way of recycling food waste.
4) What about pest control? Let’s face it, unless you’ve got an enormous patch and a huge amount of time on your hands (and who has that with little kids?) you’re not going to be producing enough food to be self sufficient and if you’re growing veg to get the kids involved you’re not going to be wanting to spray with pesticides! So, if you get a few visitors to the garden – caterpillars, slugs and snails, birds, greenfly etc don’t get too worried about them destroying your crop, turn it into a learning experience! Why not pick a couple of Very Hungry Caterpillars off your prized veggies, put them in a jar with some of the leaves you found them with (with air holes punched in the lid), watch them as they chomp through the leaves, then turn into chrysalides (cocoons) and release them as beautiful butterflies or moths!
5) What to grow your plants in? You can be as creative as you like here. As long as you have something with enough depth for the plant roots and some drainage holes you can use anything you like to grow veg in. What about an old pair of wellies (gum boots) with holes poked in the bottom for some edible flowers or herbs to grow in? Or even start simple and grow cress on a windowsill on some damp paper towel. You can have fun with this with your kids – get them to paint the pots, or design labels to stick in the soil. A funny face painted on the side of a pot growing chives will give a great hairdo the kids can style!
6) Which plants to grow? Some plants obviously take longer to grow than others so factor in which plants are best suited to your plan. Sprouts show immediate developments with the swelling of the seeds followed by root and shoot growth and can often be harvested within one week. Radishes are fast growing too, but others can take months, such as tomato plants and zucchini (courgettes). How much patience does your little one have? Perhaps you need to cheat a little and buy an established plant?
Enjoy getting the dirt under your fingernails, your kids and the planet will thank you for it. Have fun harvesting your garden and using your hard earned efforts in the kitchen!
Happy gardening Vix x
Ps – If your kids have birthday coming up, a great present would be their own gardening gloves and tools (if they don’t have them already!)