I regularly give a workshop/presentation around South East Qld on Creating Children’s Gardens and a lot of people always ask me if I have a notes or a copy of the presentation.
So I have decided to do a quick series of blogs of the gist of what I think are some of the main things that as parents, caregivers, early childhood educators and grandparents we should consider when thinking of outdoor space ideas and activities for our children when outside and for that matter inside too. I’ll cover this over 3 separate blogs.
Nature, Harvest & Play.
Let’s start with Harvest.
Harvest: This is where there has been a lot of movement in recent times, growing your own, kitchen school gardens, community gardens, reclaiming the curb & Costa! Lol.
It is very important as a life skill for children to know not only where their food comes from but how to grow it, when to harvest and what to do with it once in the kitchen.
So many adults, not just children these days are really not sure where and how certain fruits and vegetables grow and or are grown.
Growing food plants is a great way to encourage children to become involved in the garden and it can be a perfect place for the whole family to enjoy some outdoor time together. This is when a love of gardening can be nurtured within children, to become a lifelong skill, activity or passion.
Harvest time can be the pinnacle of joy for them. Pulling up beetroot, collecting salad greens, picking ripe cherry tomatoes and eating them warm straight from the bush. Picking peas and snow peas by the dozen and trying to save some for the dinner table. Corn, cucumbers and strawberries are other winners in my garden, rarely making it to the kitchen.
Vegetables, herbs and fruiting plants and trees are vital in any garden I think whether there are children or not but when there are children, I feel it is almost criminal not grow some form of edible garden whether large or small.
Starting out you need to make sure that you have equipment that is child friendly, tools and gloves need to be their own and of an appropriate size.
In the vegetable garden, children can help design the beds and prepare the soil for planting. Erecting tepee’s for peas and beans can be fun as well, popping in all the nametags after planting. The list of activities is endless.
Growing from seed is vital for children to having an understanding of a plants lifecycle. Seedlings can be part of a planting activity but do try to include some seed sowing as well. When sowing seed choose easy to grow vegetables such as radish, pumpkins, zucchini, beans and peas. Success will only encourage and increase young gardeners confidence and eagerness to garden.
Cheap and simple options are using old egg cartons to sow your seed into. Just needing a bit of seed raising mix and your favourite vegetable seeds. Once the seed has germinated and is ready to be transplanted into the garden you can plant the seedling egg carton and all, as it will break down and also reduced transplant shock. Newspaper seedling pot makers are also and good way to sow seeds, recycling at the same time, as well as Styrofoam boxes.
Caring and nurturing for food plants is also an important part of the process. Your vegetables need to be watered, mulched and fertilised, plus there is also the fun of “Bug Watch” to make sure nothing is stealing or setting back your possible harvest.
Here you can get children involved in making your own compost heap/bin or even set up a worm farm together. Then they can be responsible for the feeding and care of the worms. The worms in turn will provide fertiliser in the form of castings and excess liquid from the farm can be made into a liquid fertiliser.
There are so many edible plants and vegetables that can be grown in containers, so if you have limited space, planter boxes, hanging baskets and containers of all shapes and sizes can still produce something edible for you and your children to harvest.
Sprouts can be grown on the windowsill in cottonwool or sprouting jars, mushrooms in boxes in the cupboard and there are always the good old strawberry planters. Other great winners to grow in pots are potatoes.
Knowing when food crops are ready to be picked is also an important lesson to be learned. There is no point picking corncobs that are only half grown or eating green strawberries!
Children can have their own collection baskets or buckets and it can be an enjoyable task each late afternoon or evening where you all go out and collect various vegetables and herbs from the garden for that nights dinner and or for the lunchbox tomorrow.
You cannot get any fresher than eating food plants immediately after they have been harvested. Here children can enjoy eating straight from the plant or getting into the kitchen and creating fantastic food dishes with their home grown produce. This can be a whole new adventure just waiting to be explored with your help – cooking!
Seeing the whole life cycle of a plant from start to finish is very exciting to little people and learning where and when certain edible food plants are is season, is also very important. Starting out young and having an understanding of how to be self sufficient and sustainable even in the smallest of spaces could have a profound impact on their lives personally and on a larger scale the state of planet and of how the next generation view food production globally.
This could all start from just a pot of strawberries!