Top tips on how to sow and grow with your child

Get your children into the garden planting and growing their own yummy berries, herbs and vegetables

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  • Grow it, Cook it

    It's fun, it's educational, and it's only a few steps away from your back door - so what could be better than gardening with your child? Get your little one donning their welly boots and gardening gloves and dig deep this Spring!

    Teaching your child about the growing cycles of vegetables, the creatures that inhabit their backyard, as well as the importance of soil, nutrition and sunshine, will help their understanding of the natural world.

    That is why we've teamed up with Grow it Cook it with Kids, by Amanda Grant, who offers top tips on how to get your children growing and looking after plants. Whether it's sowing a seed, planting vegetables and herbs, or learning how to prepare and cook the produce they've grown, this fabulous book has it covered.

    Here, Amanda shares how to plant and grow herbs, peas and beans and strawberries... and don't forget to check out our pick of the funkiest garden kit for toddlers.

    Grow it Cook it with Kids, written by Amanda Grant and photographed by Tara Fisher, is available to buy at Ryland Peters & Small, £14.99.

  • How to plant a herb

    If you want to have a go at growing some fresh herbs, you might like to start with some of these – rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, parsley and basil.

    Rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, parsley and basil are all useful in the kitchen and are easy to grow from ‘plug plants’ or small plants. Have a look in a garden centre or greengrocer for small pots of herbs. Spend time choosing your herbs – smell and if possible, taste them first. Then you need to choose whether to grow them in a pot or directly in the garden soil. Mint needs special treatment, so check the page opposite for this.

    Planting in pots

    Ideally about 2 hours before you start the gardening, water your plant in its pot.

    Pick a pot

    Choose pots with holes in the bottom – herbs don’t like getting their feet wet so the water needs to be able to drain out. Put some broken pots, shells or small stones in the bottom of the pots.

    Add soil

    Three-quarters fill the pot with a general-purpose potting compost and use your trowel to dig a little hole in the centre of the compost for the plant.

    Tip the plant out

    Carefully tip the plant out of the pot and try to keep as much compost around the roots as possible. Put the plant into the hole with its roots facing down.

    Tuck the plant in

    Fill in more soil around the plant, gently press it down with your hands, then give it a good drink of water.

    Planting in the garden

    Ideally about 2 hours before you start the gardening, water your plant in its pot.

    Prepare the soil

    Rake the top of the soil to break up any lumps. Spread a layer of well-rotted manure or your own compost over the soil and have fun digging it into the soil.

    Dig a hole

    Dig a hole with your trowel in the soil. 

    Tip the plant out

    Carefully tip the plant out of the pot and try to keep as much compost around the roots as possible. Put the plant into the hole with its roots facing down.

    Tuck the plant in

    Fill in more soil around the plant, gently press it down with your hands, then give it a good drink of water. These herbs don’t need much food but they are happier in soil that drains water well – see page 18 for how to look after them.

    How to plant mint

    You have to watch mint – it needs to be kept in a pot otherwise its roots can take over the garden! But if you want to plant it in the ground you can always do what my granny taught me to do. Find an old bucket or plastic plant pot and ask an adult to cut out its bottom so that it has sides but no base. Dig a big hole in the soil – big enough for your pot – then put the pot into the hole. Put the mint inside the pot and fill with soil around the mint. It can grow but its roots will stay in one place.

  • Growing peas and beans

    Mice love to eat pea seeds so keep an eye on the soil and if you don’t see any green shoots after about 10–14 days you might like to sow some more seeds just in case the mice have eaten them!

    Make sure that your peas don’t get dry and have a good drink of water when they need one. Whenever you go to check on your peas, gently pull out any weeds that you see growing around the pea plants.

    Pea sticks

    Ask an adult to help you collect ‘pea’ sticks – these are needed to support the pea plants when they grow tall and spindly. Any sticks will do but hazel, hornbeam or birch are ideal.

    When you see the green leaves from the seedlings poking through the ground, you can push the sticks into the ground next to them. Wind the seedlings around their nearest cane and they will continue to grow around and up them.

    You may need to add some taller pea sticks as the peas grow. They can grow very tall!

    If it rains hard or it is very windy the pea plants may fall down if they don’t have sticks holding them up. 

    Broad beans don’t normally need any sticks as they are shorter plants. If you have sown pea seeds outside in pots, 2–3 weeks after sowing, you should see some shoots appear. Twist the stems around the canes as they grow. Water the compost to keep it damp.
    Once you can see the bean or pea seedlings it is a good idea to add some straw in between the rows of peas and beans. This helps stop weeds from growing and it also prevents the soil from becoming too dry.

    When your plants are flowering

    When your broad beans are flowering and you can just see the first pods starting to form at the bottom of the plants, it is a good idea to pick the top 10 cm of the plant. Did you know that this is a special springtime treat?

    Spray the flowers with some water to help the pods to grow!

    After flowering

    When the peas and beans have finished flowering make sure that they have a good watering – this helps the plants to produce lots of yummy beans and peas. 

    When the beans and peas reach the top of your canes or fence you can pinch the top off the plants to stop them from growing any taller! Once your plants have lots of beans and pea pods on them you will need to keep picking the pods. If you leave them to get too big the plants will spend all their energy growing these big (less tasty) beans and peas instead of growing more little, sweet peas and beans.

    Leave a few pods on the plant to dry. You can then pick these pods, open them and inside you should have some slightly dried beans. Put them in an envelope, label them and keep them to grow more bean plants next year.

    Slugs and snails

    Keep an eye out for slugs and snails and move them off the vegetable patch as soon as you see them – they love bean
    and pea plants! If you have a real problem with slugs and snails, you might need to sow some seeds inside and keep them until they are at least 5 cm tall or slightly taller before you plant them. The bigger the plant the better the chance it has of surviving against slugs and snails. When the plants are quite big and have started to wind around the canes you might like to cover the soil with straw to help protect the plants from slugs.

    French bean dwarf varieties

    Pinch out the tops of the plants (called ‘growing tips’). The plants will then start to produce beans instead of growing. This top bit of the plant is also the bit that pests like to eat – it is sweet and sticky and tastes good to them, so if you pinch it off then your plant is more likely to stay healthy.

    When the plant has finished producing peas or beans 

    Ask an adult to cut the plant down, leaving the roots in the soil. The roots are good for the soil. Pop the plant on the compost heap!

  • Planting strawberries

    Strawberries grow well in raised beds or pots outside. It’s easiest to grow strawberries from seedlings/plug plants (not seeds), which you can find in your local garden centre.

    When to sow the plants

    Plant small strawberry plants in the spring. The plants will only grow a few fruit during the first year but you will have more fruit next year.

    Choose your strawberries

    There are so many different plants to choose from. If you are not sure which type to choose, you might like to try a couple to see which do well in your garden. If you’re lucky they will produce fruit all through the summer so that you have a constant supply (they may not, but it is worth a go!).

    Alpine strawberries are much smaller than the normal strawberries that you see in the shops.

    Planting in the garden

    Ideally about 2 hours before you start the gardening, water your plant in its pot.

    Choose a space

    Choose a sunny spot in the garden.

    Prepare the soil

    Spread a layer of well-rotted manure or your own compost over the soil and have fun digging it into the soil.

    Dig a hole

    Dig a hole with your trowel in the soil.

    Tip the plant out

    Carefully tip the plant out of the pot and try to keep as much compost around the roots as possible. Put the plant into the hole with its roots facing down.

    Tuck the plant in

    Fill in more soil around the plant, gently press it down with your hands, then give it a good drink of water. Pull off any fruit that is already growing to encourage the plant to grow more fruit. 

    In a raised bed you can plant the plants about 30 cm apart. In a big garden you might want to leave more space around the plants so that they have more room to grow and so that you have room to get between the plants to pick the fruit. 

    Planting in pots

    Look for a big pot about the size of a bucket (about 30 cm wide at the top) with holes in the bottom. Put some broken bits of pots, pebbles or shells into the bottom.

    Choose a space

    Choose a sunny, sheltered spot for the pot (against a south-facing wall is ideal – ask your parents where they think is best).

    Add soil

    Three-quarters fill the pot with a general-purpose potting compost and use your trowel to dig a little hole in the centre of the compost for the plant.

    Tip the plant out

    Carefully tip the plant out of the pot and try to keep as much compost around the roots as possible. Put the plant into the hole with its roots facing down.

    Tuck the plant in

    Fill in more soil around the plant, gently press it down with your hands, then give it a good drink of water.

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