Q.My grandaughter wants to start growing things to eat. Can you suggest the quickest 5 plants to start with – she gets bored quickly so fast growing would be great.
(C.H, 13 March 2009)
A.What a lovely idea – there can’t be many better ways to get youngsters interested in growing their own food than for them to go gardening with their grandparents!
When it comes to near-instant results, it’s hard to beat the old favourite combination of mustard and cress. Things happen fast enough for the most easily bored child and they’re pretty undemanding in their needs – countless generations of kids have grown them on wet flannels on their bedroom window-sills over the years. However, although they’re definitely speedy, they’re not exactly going to make much of a meal!
If you’re looking for a more substantial crop, you might like to think about lettuces. Although growing one the size of a small football does take a little while, if you sow a large number of them in a tray or trough and then thin them out as they get bigger, you can harvest them surprisingly quickly – the initial thinnings making a great garnish. Then, as the crop grows and you start to collect bigger leaves, you’ll be able to use them as the basis of a nice salad.
There are lots of varieties available, but some of the best for using this way are the mixed ‘salad leaf’ collections, which are specially sold for the purpose. Readily available by mail order or from most garden centres, they offer the added bonus of different shaped leaves and different colours, which should help keep her interest.
Alternatively, some suppliers have started offering ‘sprouting’ kits, which contain a number of different edible seeds and in some cases, purpose-made sprouters to grow them in. Mung beans – the things you buy in supermarkets as Chinese bean sprouts – are a particular favourite and easy to grow for children, but other suitable candidates include alfalfa, black eyed peas, broccoli sprouts, chickpeas, radishes, Oregon sugar pod (or snow) peas, sunflower and wheatgrass.
All of these will be ready in under a week – and most can often be picked within two or three days. You can use them raw to add a little something to salads or sandwiches or as cooking ingredients to enhance the flavour of other meals – and they’re obviously perfect for stir fries, if you like them.
Unfortunately, if she’s going to make a gardener, the one thing that little Miss Impatient will have to come to terms with is the fact that plants grow to their own schedule – but there might be a way to make this lesson easier to learn. If you get her started with some of these quick-cropping ideas to keep her interest, you might also like to think about getting her to help you plant some of the wonderful patio fruit and vegetables now available. With a bit of luck, by the time she’s got bored with cress, lettuces and sprouting seeds, they’ll be ready for harvesting.
There are lots to choose from, but some of the best are the likes of:
- ‘Hundreds and Thousands’ micro tomatoes – produces huge numbers of small, sweet tomatoes and is ideal for patios, hanging baskets and even window boxes
- ‘Hestia’ dwarf runner bean – an easily grown, heavy cropper, producing delicious and very tender beans.
- ‘Malling Opal’ strawberries – sometimes available in special patio planter kits, this easily grown plant has large, sweet fruits and crops prolifically from early summer until the first frosts come.
Best of luck with growing things together – I hope you both have lots of fun and plenty of produce to eat!