Easy things for kids to grow in the garden (and how to do it!)

Staying at home (all the time!) may still be unknown territory for most of us, and if the household is already thronged with the cabin-fever (read: kids who are constantly moaning that they’re bored), then fret not because there’s no better place to be outside, yet safely away from others, than in your own garden.

Well, our friends at intu Trafford Centre have come up with some great tips for gardening with kids...

Getting fresh air is good for our overall health, and planting flowers can be extremely therapeutic, but did you know that gardening also benefits a child’s developmental skills? Yep, think everything from engaging all of the senses and teaching them the importance of responsibility to practicing patience, it even encourages healthier eating habits!

On top of all that, gardening doesn’t cost much either. So grab the kids, fill up the watering can and get green-fingered with six of these easy-to-grow plants and vegetables in the garden.

Cornflower

When to plant: Sow seeds from March to May for a bloom between June and September.   

How to plant: Loved by the bees, these beautiful blue-hued flowers can be grown easily in good garden soil. Unphased by changeable spring temperatures, cornflower seedlings are one of the fastest blooming flowers and the petals of this quick-growing flower are also edible! 

First ensure that the space you are going to sow the seeds in is ready and clear by using a trowel to remove any perennial weeds. Water the soil before sowing directly into the earth (or in planters), about 2 inches apart and 1½ inch deep. You could even plant marigolds and poppies alongside it for a super colourful bloom.

Strawberries

strawberry

When to plant: Plant bare-rooted strawberry runners in spring or late summer/autumn for a full harvest the following year.  

How to plant: Prepare the soil by digging over and removing existing weeds. Apply a dressing of plant food and fertiliser. Plant the strawberries runners so that their roots are just buried (about 13 inches in rows that are 30 inches apart), and then water well for the first few weeks. Ensure that the soil is well-drained to avoid waterlogging which can cause disease to the plant and root.   

Place a net over the plants for protection against birds and animals from eating the seeds. Once your plant starts bearing fruit, avoid watering the fruit directly to prevent grey mould and always remember to pick any existing ripe strawberries to prevent the plant from rotting. You can tuck straw around the growing plants just before the fruit starts to develop, this will deter snails and slugs and help keep the berries clean and intact.  

How to harvest: Wait until the strawberries are fully red before picking. Simply pinch through the stalks using your finger and thumb for a clean pick which prevents you from accidentally bruising the fruit.

Tomatoes

tomato

When to plant: Sow seeds from February to April for a harvest between July and October. 

How to plant: Ideal to sow in bags, pots or hanging baskets, tomatoes are fast growers making them perfect for young gardeners to grow and cultivate. To start, sow tomato seeds 3 inches into compost-rich soil topped with a layer of plant food, then water generously and cover with cling film. Place in a warm, sunny spot and wait until the seeds have germinated.

Transplant the seedlings, when they reach around 2 to 3 cms tall, into larger pots filled with moist, multi-purpose compost and return them to a sunny spot. Continue re-potting as they grow, and tie larger growing stems to small sticks to provide support. 

Once the danger of frost has passed late in May, choose a well sheltered yet sunny spot (or vegetable plot), to plant the tomatoes in the garden. Ensure that the soil you are planting them in is well-rooted and rich with compost. Tall-growing tomatoes will require pinching (removing side-shoots) and stalking (tying the stems to a cane with soft string for support). Keep an eye out for tiny fruit and strip away leaves covering them to allow more exposure to sunlight. 

How to harvest: Keep your tomato plant regularly watered and prune off any older leaves to let in more light. Prevent grey mould and fungus taking hold by removing any whittled or dead leaves. The tomatoes are ready for picking off the vine once they are plump and have ripened to a healthy red colour.

Watercress

watercress

When to plant: Sow seeds from March to August when growing outdoors, but these can be sown all-year round when grown indoors. 

How to plant: Watercress will thrive in a position of light providing that the soil or compost is constantly wet. It needs to be kept moist all year round, so it will grow well outside or in a container that sits in a deep saucer filled with water. 

Sow seeds in a pot filled with moist soil (or compost), and place the pot in an area with ample sunlight. Once the seedlings have sprouted and are large enough to handle, place them in larger pots before hardening by acclimatising them to outdoor conditions for 10 to 14 days after the danger of frost has passed.  

It can then be placed anywhere outside, on a patio perhaps, and as long as the soil is kept moist, your watercress plant is surprisingly low maintenance and doesn’t require any feeding. Just make sure that the soil never dries out.  

How to harvest: Ready for harvesting from about four to seven weeks after sowing, watercress positively benefits from being harvested. Once the stems are tall enough, around 4 or 5 inches in length, you can cut through the stems with scissors. Be sure to leave a couple of leaves on the plant base as these will then re-sprout again, giving you a continual harvest throughout summer and autumn.

Parsley

parsley

When to plant: Sow outdoors from early spring to the start of summer, and your parsley will be ready for harvesting between 70 and 90 days.  

How to plant: A biennial herb that has so many uses in the kitchen, parsley can be slow to germinate but you can speed this process up by soaking seeds in water overnight before planting in the garden. 

Start off by digging shallow trenches (around 1½ cm deep) before sowing the seeds. Cover the trench up again with soil and water generously. Once the sprouts are large enough to handle, thin them out to 6 inches apart with 6 inches between rows.

Remember to keep the plants well watered especially during dry spells in summer. Remove any flowerheads which will extend the cropping life of the plant, and snip off any lower shoots that start to turn yellow to encourage new growth. 

How to harvest: Harvesting parsley is easy! Using scissors, simply grab a stem (or bunch a handful) and snip them off at ground level. Parsley loves to be cut, so the more you harvest the more you’re encouraging it to grow again.

Loose leaf lettuce

lettuce

When to plant: Late March to late July for a harvest in late summer and autumn.  

How to plant: Lettuce will thrive and grow under direct sunlight and in moisture-retentive soil. Sow the seeds thinly in ½ an inch deep rows that are 12 inches apart. For continuous cropping, you can sow a short row every fortnight too. Once sown, the seeds should begin to sprout within 12 days. 

Make sure to water regularly when the soil is dry, and remove any wilted leaves as this will cause lettuce root aphid, which could potentially destroy your future harvest. The best time to water your crop is everyday in the early morning.  

Should you decide to sow earlier or later in the year, your lettuce patch will require protection against the cold. You can use plastic tunnels, cloches or a horticultural fleece which you can get at most garden centres.  

How to harvest: Loose-leaf lettuce is ready for harvesting as soon as the leaves are big enough to be worth eating. Cut the lettuce rather than pulling when harvesting, wash thoroughly and store in the fridge or eat the same day. 

Head over to intu Source for more great ideas on things to do while we're all staying at home

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