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Getting Children Interested in Growing Vegetables
by Ric Wiley
Well in my view you need to give them their own space. Tell them this plot is yours. It does not have to be large, about 2 feet (60cm) square for younger children, or you could even get them started by growing crops or herbs in pots. Older children may prefer something larger. I know that a small high density bed that is only 2 foot by 2 foot doesn't sound very big, but it will be to a young child. A larger bed may just seem too big to do anything with to them, so start them small. If you have more than one child, give them their own high density bed each or just make a larger bed and divide this up into a section for each child and then divide this into mini plots for each crop. For very young children I would not make the bed more than 2 feet (60cm) wide as they can reach the middle of this from each side.
What I would do is start them off with their own high density gardening raised bed built from timber that is at least 6 inches deep. This will give a soil depth which is deep enough for most easy to grow crops. You need to fill this with a soil mix and I would recommend buying this in the form of bagged peat or coir, bagged well rotted manure and maybe a bag of sterilized topsoil as well. As you have some manure in there you need to instill in your children good hygiene with hand washing after gardening and before eating. Mix your soil ingredients together and then fill the high density garden bed. If you are using 6 inch timber you will only need 2 cubic foot of soil mix. Once you have done this I would divide the bed into 4 mini plots using a brightly colored plastic string. I have gone for plastic as it does not rot and is safer for little hands than wire. Simply staple this to the timber. To increase interest, get your child involved in building the high density garden bed and even a trip to buy the soil mix and the seeds.
You are now ready to start planting. But what do you plant. It all depends on the age of your child. Younger children want to see things happen quickly and the crop be ready as soon as possible. Older children may be prepared to wait to harvest the crop. For this reason I would suggest thinking about what crops to grow. Things like radish and lettuce are best as these are fairly quick to grow. That takes care of 2 of the mini plots and in the others I would suggest something like mixed salad, land cress, rocket or possibly 1 outdoor cherry tomato plant. Older children will have a much better idea of what they like and want to eat so go along with that but remember, the crops talked about here are quick growing.
I know tomatoes take a long time to grow but a seed should be up in a week and then there is all the fun watching it grow to about 3 to 4 foot tall, keep tying it to the stake, pinching out the side buds, watching the flowers appear, then the tiny green fruit and so on. There is a lot to watch with tomatoes. You can start the plant off in a pot in the house. Try the kitchen windowsill. Put 2 or 3 seeds in and choose the strongest seedling. There is watering to be done, so buy a child size watering can for this job and make sure you stand the pot on a drip tray or old plate. If it is warm enough outside, you can just put the seeds straight into the mini plot. Make sure this is at the side farthest away from the sun as otherwise it would shade out the other smaller plants.
Back to the high density bed, what to do now? It should be divided into 4 mini plots and each one of these will take a different crop.
I would get your child to sow radish in one of the mini plots. Try dividing this up for them into 3 strips and sow 2 rows of radish in one of them, 2 rows in the next 2 weeks later and 2 rows in the final strip 2 weeks after than to give a timed cropping. Simply draw your finger to make 2 drills in which to drop the seed about half an inch deep. Try to get the seeds about an inch apart but this will not be easy for little fingers and cover the seeds with soil mix. It doesn't matter if there are gaps or too many seeds in some places, it is all part of gardening experience. If there are too many seedlings simply thin them out. You should be able to fill gaps in with these thinnings but they do not always transplant - but there is no harm in trying. When your child is planting the final third of the bed there will be radishes nearly ready for harvesting in the first third.
I would start these off growing in small flats or seed trays or better still in cells as these make a nice little plug to transplant. Rather than a hearting lettuce, I would grow a loose leaf type as they grow much quicker and can be harvested earlier. They also have the benefit of keeping growing as long as you harvest a few leaves of each plant when you need them.
Once they seedlings are large enough, plant out 4 in a mini plot. Watch out for slugs and other pests but otherwise just watch them grow. Harvest the young leaves when ready.
Mixed Salad Leaves
I would get your child to scatter these on the surface of the soil mix. Tip the seeds out on to your hand or a piece of paper and get your child to pick a few up at a time, scatter these and then add some more. Gently cover the seeds and I find a simple garden seed sowing sieve is best for this. Do not cover them too thickly. You treat these the same as for loose leaf lettuce but rather than one type of lettuce you will get a mixture of different salad leaves which can all be harvested together.
Land Cress or Rocket
These may be a little strong in taste but if your child has grown them they may be far more likely to eat them. Sow them as you would for lettuce. Grow in flats or cells and plant 4 to a mini plot. They will develop to fill the mini plot over time.
By starting your child gardening at an early age you may set them off with a lifetime hobby. There is the old saying "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime." Well it is the same with young children and gardening. Start them gardening now and they may develop a life long interest in growing their own fresh vegetables and there is nothing finer than fresh, wholesome and tasty vegetables except the ones you have grown yourself.