There are a few parenting goals that are pretty much universal. We all want our kids to spend time outdoors, learn to appreciate the natural world and eat their damned greens. There’s no better way to encourage them to do all three (especially the last one) than getting them involved in growing their own vegetables. And it’s easier to get started than you think. You don’t even need a garden – a window box, large pot or even a few yoghurt pots on a sunny windowsill all have potential for sowing, nurturing and harvesting fun. Read on for green-fingered inspiration and ideas.
For very young children, limited space or short attention spans speed is key. Sowing seeds is great fun but waiting around for them to sprout can be a test of patience, which is where quick-growing cress comes in. Stick some compost into washed out yoghurt pots, leftover boiled egg shells or small plant pots, sow, water and a little as 24 hours later you’ll see the beginnings of egg and cress sandwiches for tea. Draw faces on the pots so kids can play hairdressers at harvest time.
Best time to sow: Anytime
Once they’ve learnt to appreciate the magic of turning a seed into a plant, it’s time to move on to bigger and better things. Salad leaves, radishes and spring onions are all pretty foolproof and fare as well in gro-bags, pots and window boxes as they do in professional raised beds. With a bit of luck (and a lack of slugs) you’ll have a crop of leaves in a few weeks, radishes in six and spring onions within a couple of months. If they’re interested in what’s going on under the ground, try growing a broad bean seed in a jam jar padded with damp kitchen roll so they can see the roots develop.
Best time to sow: Apr-July
There is nothing quite like the taste (or smell) of a tomato, courgette or cucumber fresh from your own plant but unless you were out sowing seeds at the first sign of spring (that’ll be a no from us!) you’ll have to cheat. Play catch up with a trip to a garden centre where you can buy ready grown plants. Then all you need to do is find a sunny spot, get out the watering can and await a delicious crop later in the summer.
Best time to sow: Mar-May (but you’re cheating so this doesn’t apply)
Feed the senses
Growing your own is as much about getting muddy and splashing about with a hosepipe/watering can as it is about the end result. The sights, sounds, smells and sensations of the great outdoors, the squish of a seed into yoghurt pot mud or the smell of mint leaves crushed between tiny fingers all help show children ways to appreciate and care for the world around them. Make your garden adventures as sensory an experience as possible with fragrant plants and lots of getting messy. Herbs like lemon balm, chives, mint and oregano are all easy to grow in pots and fun to sample and smell – even if they don’t want to eat them.
Best time to sow: May-July