Monday 12 November 2012

Growing stuff.

Growing things for the "wow" factor!
Earlier I posted about all the fun boys can have with mud. Here's the more traditional, if slightly more costly take on it- you can grow stuff!
There are a million articles about the benefits of getting children to grow their own food, and I don't suppose I've got anything much to add. In a nutshell they learn:
  • where some of their food comes from.
  • what plants need to grow.
  • patience- most plants take a LONG TIME to reach fruition in children's terms.
  • responsibility- if you give up looking after your plants they may well snuff it!
  • how delicious fruit and veg is when it's totally fresh.
  • that it's fun to try something you haven't eaten before and see if it's "yum or yuk."
  • to identify a range of fruits and veg.
  • that things can still taste good even when they don't look supermarket-perfect.
  • The satisfaction of the harvest!
  • that gardening can be frustrating, especially when the slugs or caterpillars decimate your crop or the weather means you get hardly any ripe strawberries; but watching a little seed turn into a massive plant is like slow-motion magic and you get a real sense of achievement when you harvest and eat something that you grew yourself.
I'm sure there's more.

This all sounds a bit preachy. We didn't grow things in order to be healthy or educated or to cut the shopping bills (which is lucky because we've never had enough success to notice a difference there!) We grew plants for fun, and got the rest as an incidental.

Our first attempts at growing veg in the veggie bed.
A bean grown in a glass.
Growing cress on a bit of cotton wool gives the quickest edible result; growing a bean in a jar or clear plastic cup is the best way to show kids all the different parts of a plant, but growing things in mud is definitely the real thing.

Watering the greenhouse
Martin made us a raised veggie bed when the boys were still very small and we've had a reasonable amount of success growing a range of veg and salad. Last year we also got a greenhouse where we've managed to grow tomatoes, chillis, peppers, cucumbers and a few strawberries. On the whole we only get a small amount of each thing and they are quite often fairly random in shape and size, we are never going to win any quality prizes at the village show (tho we have tried!)

These are the things we've found easiest and most enjoyable to grow:

Danny pulls up a mutant!
I growed this carrot!
Carrots- Carrots are pretty easy because apart from a bit of watering they look after themselves and they are less likely to get nibbled by pests than some things. They do take a while to grow but children usually sow seeds much more thickly than necessary so you have to do a bit of "thinning out" along the way, meaning they can pull some up every now and then and see that they're still too tiny to eat. When they are ready it is a real treat to pull them up out of the ground because you can never be sure what you'll get. Sometimes they look just as a carrot should- and you get the glow of thinking you're a great gardener and have managed to grow a perfect specimen, and other times they are bizarrely shaped- v entertaining for kids! And of course, once you've pulled them up you can give them a quick wash and devour them instantly- definitely the easiest way to get totally fresh veg into the little critters.

Courgettes- They're dead easy to grow, have impressive flowers which show their bits really clearly so they're good for showing how the plants are pollinated by insects in order to turn into fruits; the courgettes swell up over a matter of days and children like to twist them round and round to pick them off the plant.

Tomatoes- We've had mixed success with tomatoes. They tend to have quite tough skins, but the boys don't seem to mind and it's another straight from plant to mouth fruit- the cherry type tomatoes go down best because they "explode" in your mouth.

In the runner bean teepee with a cucumber smile!
Runner beans- I've never managed to grow runner beans that weren't stringy. If you take the time to de-string them and toss them in melted butter once they're cooked they are tasty enough, but I reckon they're worth growing just for the plant. Depending on the variety the seeds can be amazing colours, and although they're not Jack and the Beanstalk quick, they do get pretty tall pretty fast. We planted them in pots arranged so the plants made a teepee when they grew.

Rocket- we've grown a few salad leaves in our vegetable bed. Mostly they get eaten by the slugs, snail and caterpillars before they make it to the table. Rocket was probably the most successful and the boys liked its peppery flavour so much they lay on the edge of the veggie bed and nibbled the leaves off the plants like sheep grazing!

Danny the pumpkin pie chef.
Pumpkin pie- delicious (with plenty of squirty cream)
Pumpkins- If you've got space it's definitely worth a try, but be warned, the plants spread a long way. We only ever seem to get one successful pumpkin off each plant but it is satisfying to be able to carve your own-grown for Halloween, and pumpkin pie turns out to be quite tasty- I don't think I'd ever tried it until Danny helped me cook one a couple of years ago.
I bought a packet of pumpkin seeds 3 Springs ago, and since then we've been able to keep and re-plant seeds from one we've grown, so they cost us nothing.

We have a couple of pots of herbs, which we intend to use for cooking but rarely do, and which the boys love tasting, tho they often spit the leaves out!

Butterfly eggs on a brussel sprout leaf.
The baby caterpillars tuck in.
One of the total fails in terms of producing something edible was our attempt at growing our own brussel sprouts for Christmas dinner. The plants were almost completely eaten by pests and we picked a measly handful of tiny sprouts at the end. However, we did get to witness almost the entire life-cycle of a butterfly up close. We watched Cabbage White butterflies laying tiny yellow eggs on the leaves, which hatched into minute caterpillars, who then did the whole "Very Hungry Caterpillar" routine and ate everything in sight until they were big, fat caterpillars. Unfortunately we never found a cocoon, I'm not sure where they went for that stage, but the boys definitely got the jist. Plus, Danny discovered that baby caterpillars are noise sensitive! He spent a lot of time saying Ha...ha...ha to them and watching them all twitch in time to his voice, which he found very entertaining:
Danny nurturing his dwarf sunflower.

I've focused on the edibles, but growing flowers is also lovely for kids. Sunflowers of course, but we also had one year where we managed an amazing patch of poppies and other "wild" flowers on a heap of building site mud, that attracted lots of butterflies and massive bumble bees and was a source of great fascination to the boys. They really enjoyed eating nasturtium flowers and sprinkling the seeds out of the poppy heads once they were over too.
Bumble bees enjoying the poppies in our wild flower patch.

I added this post to a blog hop, where lots of other people have put brilliant posts about growing things. Check out some of these:


  1. What a wonderful way to discover the world around them! I love this post!

    1. Thank you Erin! We spent yesterday sprinkling poppy seeds on our wildflower patch- just hoping we get a bit more sunshine this summer so that they thrive!

  2. I am loving this post i also love how your kids wonder round in pants and wellies (phew its not just mine that do that!)

    your pictures of the stages of the cabbage white butterfly are gorgeous.

    I hope to grow some stuff next year :-)

    Thanks for linking up with #magicmoments

    1. Thanks Jaime. Not sure what age I'll think they'd better wear more than pants and wellies, it really cuts down on the washing!!

  3. A lovely outdoor post discovering all that is best about gardening! Another one perfect for Country Kids!

    1. Thank you! My younger son has been trying to persuade me to turn the whole veggie bed into a strawberry patch this year- think he's frightened we might actually grow some brussel sprouts!

    2. lol - you either love them or hate them! Thanks for sharing on Country Kids.

  4. You have done ever so well at growing so many vegetables! Our brussels suffered the same problem as yours but we actually ended up no plants within a fortnight of a pair of cabbage white butterflies getting trapped in the netting. I've never tried brassicas since! Love the cheeky photo right at the end!

    Nipping over from Country Kids at Coombe Mill.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I'd like to try potatoes this year but not sure if we've already left it too late, only just noticed it's nearly summer!!

  5. Wow, youve grown a lot. This is our first year gardening and so far so good, radishes and salad leaves so far, hopefully lots more to follow. I'm off to pin this to my kids gardening board, thanks for stopping by the Outdoor Play Party.

    1. Thank you! After a week of sunshine our strawberries are looking good this year (everything crossed!) Good luck with your goodies.

  6. We are on the same wavelength with our blog posts! Can I link to your blog from mine as yours has a lot more detail? :)

    1. Of course! Love to link up! This is an oldie but we spent Sunday in the greenhouse planting courgettes, pumpkins and cucumbers so I was reminiscing about planting with the boys when they were smaller and cuter!!

  7. You've done very well with growing things. We tried courgettes last year, but failed, our radishes were good. we are going to build a raised bed for veg this year, hopefully our growing things will improve like yours.
    Thanks for linking #LetKidsBeKids

    1. Hmmm, not sure what it is with courgettes. We get lots but sometimes they get soggy ends! Think you're supposed to take the flowers off once they've def been fertilised. Must try radishes, the boys quite like peppery flavours.