There’s not much to beat the taste, convenience or satisfaction of growing your own food.
Although the relationship of earlier generations of kids with their “greens” wasn’t always an entirely happy one, today’s youngsters are far more open to the healthy lifestyle and environmental benefits that growing their own can bring.
Here are our top tips to help you and your children get started.
What Do They Like?
Probably the single most useful – and obvious – tip for getting your kids interested in growing their own food is to pick something that appeals to them.
Of course if your youngsters are mad-keen on the likes of bananas, pineapples or oranges, you’ve got obvious problems in Britain, so you’ll need to keep them within the realms of the possible, but never-the-less you should be able to find something to grow.
It’s not always necessarily about something they like to eat; sometimes just the look of a plant can appeal – and it’s not unknown for children to begin eating something which they previously wouldn’t, just because they’ve grown it themselves.
The bottom line is, if you can possibly grow food-plants that your kids have chosen, or you know they like, you’re on to a winner!
Aim For Fast Results
As any gardener will tell you, you just can’t rush things – but that’s not really much help when you’re faced with youngsters wanting to see the fruits of their labours in double-quick time!
If it’s your children’s first attempt at growing their own food, aim for rapid results – especially if they’re quite young – to give their interest and enthusiasm a quick reward. Try something fast-cropping like that old favourite, mustard and cress, or one of the large range of similarly swift “sprouting” seeds that have become widely available over the last few years. There are plenty to choose from, including alfalfa, black eyed peas, Mung beans (the familiar supermarket “bean-sprouts”), snow peas and wheatgrass, often coming with special sprouting units to grow them in. Ready in a few days, they make great additions to salads and sandwiches – so even the most impatient of kids won’t have to wait too long.
Alternatively, you might like to look at mixed leaves and lettuces; almost as quick as sproutings to get started, you can soon use them as a cut-and-come-again crop to bulk up a salad, or leave a few to grow to full size. Most garden centres sell suitable mixes of seeds and the different shapes and colours of the leaves – not to mention the range of flavours – should help keep your kids’ interest.
Get A Greenhouse (Or A Propagator)
Getting your kids their own greenhouse is another idea you might like to think about. It needn’t cost a fortune, nor take up a huge amount of space; today’s mini-greenhouses – made of heavy-duty transparent plastic covers stretched over a tubular metal frame – come in a range of sizes to suit every garden and every budget. They’re a great way to let kids grow a wider range of plants over the summer months – particularly tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.
If space really doesn’t permit a full greenhouse, you might want to consider a cold frame or even a propagator instead. Their size might be a bit of a limit on what you can grow, but they still open up a few more possibilities for the young gardener.
Your patio offers another excellent opportunity for getting your kids growing their own food, particularly since so many wonderful varieties of fruit and vegetables have been specifically developed over recent years to make it so easy to get a good crop.
There are some fantastic ones to chose from, but three of the very best are, ‘Malling Opal’ strawberries, ‘Hundreds and Thousands’ micro tomatoes and dwarf ‘Hestia’ runner beans. All three are small, prolific croppers which have been bred to do well in patio pots, producing tender, flavoursome produce that’s sure to appeal. The ‘Hundreds and Thousands’ tomatoes are particularly versatile and can even be grown in hanging baskets or window boxes.
A number of garden centres and mail order suppliers also now offer a range of patio fruit trees which are ideal for young gardeners – apples cropping on 6ft boughs, not 30ft above the ground!
If your kids love fruit, the prospect of picking their own apples, peaches, apricots, cherries – or even figs – is sure to appeal; although the plants themselves aren’t particularly cheap, they should be with you for a long time, which makes the initial investment much more worthwhile.
Don’t Forget The Food Miles
In these green times, the chances are your kids already know just about every environmental argument in the book – so use it to your advantage and play up the food miles issue! There’s no better way to avoid the carbon cost of shipping food vast distances by air, sea, road or rail than by growing it yourself. You shouldn’t have to work too hard to convince them of the benefits of the “food inches” from the garden to their plates.
Always remember, nothing succeeds like success, so even if you start off in a small way, if doing it’s fun and the results are at all edible, they’ll be keener than ever next year!