The reality of gardening with children.

It’s hard!

My garden is a mess, a disorganised jumble of chaos that takes up my time, means I don’t do housework or get the dinner cooked and my kids don’t even like it. But I do; and so every now and again, when a small snippet of free time might come my way, I disappear into my garden, or down to my allotment, and I instantly remember why I like it so much.

For me it is the peace, the being surrounded by life, by growth and by change. It’s about the colours, the smells, the productivity and the purpose. Breathing in the fresh, outdoor air can melt away all my troubles in an instant, the days stresses dissolve into nothing.

That isn’t to say it doesn’t also cause stress. Recently, after a couple of weeks away from the garden, for various reasons, I return to this…

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I have one carrot that has kindly been spared by the slugs and some potatoes in there somewhere. (Upon editing this article I should say that my one carrot has now been squashed by the builder placing a large pile of bricks on top it, and on top of my 3 pea plants…)

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My one carrot that is no more…

I haven’t been to the allotment for even longer and quite honestly I am dreading what I will find there, if there is anything left among the weeds to find.

Trying to keep a garden, on top of all the other demands of raising a young family, is a very hard thing to do. I often have to make the decision whether to have a clean kitchen or a weed free vegetable bed and considering the rest of my family don’t see the veggie bed, I’m sure you can guess which they would prefer.

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I chose to tidy the green house over the washing up!

I have come to the realisation that as parents in a modern world, we are taking the world on our shoulders, and not always with much support. With this in mind, I think we need to be proud of ourselves. If you have a slug infested garden with one carrot in it, well that’s one more than none so be proud of it. If the builder puts a pile of bricks on that one carrot then it’s a real shame, but it can’t be helped, and you can always sow some more.

Children grow up, life changes and develops and we all have to start somewhere, so start. I am not about being perfect, I am about giving it a go, trying my best and taking comfort in the little things. In my mind, growing anything when raising a family, is an achievement, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem so we should all take pride in what we do, as long as we are trying, that’s all we can do.

If you want to start a garden with your children, check out out super simple Grow sets. They contain everything you need to sow your first plants and fun activities to engage the children. These make great gifts too.

 

Strawberry Jam Recipe

Surely one of the best jams to eat but I’ve never made it before now. With the strawberries ripening nicely in the garden I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try. It is so simple to make, the important thing is to make sure you heat it to the right temperature or it wont set. (note: if you increase the quantities, you will also need to increase cooking time)

The other great thing about this recipe is that, with home grown strawberries, the only cost is for a bag of sugar! If you save up your jam jars all year round they are free too. Just make sure you sterilise them properly before use,  especially if you are making lots of jam and want to store it.

Ingredients

250g of jam sugar

500g of strawberries (picked fresh from the garden!)

A couple of sterilised jars

TOP TIP: Use the largest pan possible.

Method

* Wash and remove stalks from the strawberries and cut in half

* Add strawberries and sugar to a pan, give them a little mash

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* Bring to the boil

* Simmer for 5 mins

* Remove any scum from the top and check to see if it has reached setting point (see below for more info)

* Leave to cool for 15 mins

* Fill and seal your sterilised jars

* Store in the fridge.

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Set test: Jam sets at 105c (220F) so it can be handy to have a jam thermometer to check if your jam has reached this point. If not, a good test is to put a blob of jam on a plate in the fridge. When it has cooled run your finger through the centre, if it leaves a clear line then you jam has set.

Now I’m off to buy some fresh bread and proper butter!

Ps: Here’s why you need to use a big pan…

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Make your own butterfly Garden

It’s that time of year when parts of the garden start fluttering, and butterflys can be seen dancing in the wind and lazing in the sun.  Whether you have a huge plot or a small terrace with just enough room for a few pots, with the right plants you can build your own butterfly haven.

What is a Butterfly Garden?

It is simply a sunny spot, filled with plants that specifically attract butterflies and are generally nectar-producing flowers. Butterflies are present in almost every region of the world, so with the right plants virtually any spot can become a haven for them.  Children will love spotting them fluttering about, and it can make a good game identifying the different types you see. If you are lucky enough to find one bathing in the sun, you can creep up, using one of our magnifying glasses and take a proper look. Be careful not to touch them though, butterfly wings are very delicate.

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So here are a few pointers:

It it good to have a variety of different plants that flower at different times of the year, ensuring a ready supply of nectar for your visitors.  In Spring good nectar providing plants are Cuckoo Flower (Ladies Smock), Forget-me-not, Wallflower, Sweet Rocket, Primrose and Daisies.  In Summer and Autumn, Budleia, French Marigold, Lavender, Ice Plant, Red Valerian, Michaelmas Daisy, Scabious, Knapweed and Ivy are all good. The seeds provided in our Butterfly Garden Grow Set offer a range of perfect flowers that are sure to attract butterflies into your garden.

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Grow set with everything you need to start your own butterfly garden.

Butterflies thrive in the sun and the plants that attract them are typically plants that require lots of sunlight. When choosing your location, look for an area where there will be plenty of sun throughout the day.

Try and pick a spot that offers good protection from the wind – Butterflies are delicate and like sunny areas with very little wind. By creating a sheltered garden you will attract more butterflies. You can do this by planting tall plants and shrubbery to act as a barrier around smaller nectar producing ones.  Choose plants that butterflies like to lay their eggs on too, they love cabbage plants but be careful as they will take over.  Perhaps if you are growing cabbages leave a few unnetted so the butterflies can lay eggs on those rather than your whole crop.

Most pesticides kill or repel butterflies so organic growing methods are a great choice for a butterfly garden. Choose an area where pest control isn’t necessary or where you can limit your use of chemicals.

Most importantly enjoy and protect the butterflies that visit! Encourage children to observe them in their natural habitat and talk about the vital part they have to play in our ecosystem. Butterflies are a beautiful part of the garden and one to be truly cherished.

5 reasons you should garden with your 5 year old around.

Gardening with children can be a challenge, and I have to admit that with my 1 year old I try to avoid it at all costs. The constant ‘no dear, slugs aren’t food’ or ‘stop it sweetie the beans don’t like being jumped on’ can get a little tiring after a while. However, my five year old has recently developed a liking for the garden, and the allotment, which I am so happy about. (You may remember when I started the Garden Mama website, this definitely wasnt the case, read here to find out more!)

So here are a few reasons why it can be really fun to garden with a 5 year old around:

  1. They make you laugh.

Whether it’s funny comments about how yucky all your vegetables are or just the sight of them trying to use the hoe that’s twice their size! When my daughter is around I am always smiling, and so is everyone else near us -she tends to have that effect on people.

  1. You will have someone to talk to.

It might be just me but like to talk when I garden. Mostly complete nonsense, so having a 5 year old to chat with is quite handy as the level on conversation doesn’t need to be too intense. A nice easy conversation about whether it would be better if the world were made completely out of flowers or lady birds is just the ticket when you are concentrating on other things.

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  1. You will try new things.

We have recently started searching for bunnies at the allotment in the evenings. On our first visit we saw two scurrying away rather guiltily from a plot near ours. Before taking her with me I would have thought they were nothing more than pests eating all the crops. To a five year old however, a wild bunny is one of the most exciting things they can think of, so now we will be eagerly awaiting their return -maybe I should plant some more lettuces?!

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4.It’s good for them.

To be outside, in the fresh air, connecting with nature is so much better for children than being cooped up inside all day. They learn so much about the natural world and will soon be eager to learn more. I am amazed at how many flower names my daughter knows now, she has actually taught me a few (I think my mum can take the credit for that!)

  1. You get to spend time together.

Just you and them, which for us, isn’t something we get to do very often any more. This is a totally selfish one on my part but I love getting my daughter all to myself, even if it’s just for an hour. Anyone with more than one child will know that while we love all our kids the same, it can be nice to spend quality time with them each individually. Since Lily started school last September, it is something I have really missed. Going to the allotment together in the evenings has become our little bit of time together, and what better surrounding could we have?!

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Even if you only go outside for 10 minutes, it is so worth it. More and more people are starting to recognise the benefits of being outside and interacting with nature, it is such a great opportunity to spend real quality time with your children.

I am trying to create a little garden for my daughter at the allotment to make it even more fun for her. Click Here to read my plans for that.

A sweet pea story

Even the most experienced gardener, which I am in no way claiming to be, has winners, losers and lessons learnt every year. Growing anything is a balancing act, one that can easily go wrong, or alternatively, can flourish and sweet peas are a good example of a plant that can provide an abundance of beautiful, sweet smelling blooms, or, if not attended to correctly, can provide a few gangly green strings with eaten leaves and perhaps a flower or two. I am going to take you on my sweet pea journey this year, to show you how they survive with the onslaught of chickens, four year old twins and the unpredictable British weather. (See the end of the article for tips on how to grow your own sweet peas)

Let’s get started…
Last year I bought some sweet pea plants and planted them in the garden. All summer the house was filled with their sweet smell and vibrant colours, so this year I decided it was time to plant my own. I planted a whole packet of seeds in late January and here is the result:

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Ok, so it looks like the weeds have taken over slightly and they are a bit dry due to not being watered for a few weeks, but they survived and that is what counts!

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After quick weeding session I gave them some much needed water and found some sticks from the garden to put in for support. They look much happier now but still need to grow a bit more before being planted out. So they stay in the greenhouse until all signs of frost have passed and they can be planted straight into the flower beds outside.

After a month or so they are doing really well and this is what they look like now:

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It goes to show you should never underestimate a weedy little seedling! I will keep you updated as to how they progress but it is definitely looking promising.

If you want to grow your own sweet peas next year, or are growing some already, here are some basic care tips:

  • Sweet peas love a rich, moist soil so dig a couple of buckets of compost into the planting area beforehand to enrich the soil and help retain the moisture during dry weather. Letting the plants dry out will make them go to seed quicker.
  • Plant in a sunny and accessible position so you can pick the flowers easily.
  • Nip the top off the shoots to encourage side shoots, to make the plants bushier and more robust.
  • When they start flowering, always pick the flowers off to encourage the plant to produce more, never allow seed pods to grow.
  • Sweet peas need good support so grow them up a frame or bamboo support, as pictured above.

Most importantly, enjoy your sweet peas and the amazing flowers they produce!

Read here for an allotment plan make a sweet pea tepee for children to play in as well as other fun activities.

Growing in small spaces

A couple of people have recently asked me about growing vegetables in small spaces so I thought I would write a few useful tips on how to do it. Now is the time to start getting seeds planted so it is the perfect opportunity to start using spaces you hadn’t thought of using before.

There are a few basic things to bear in mind when gardening in small spaces:

  1. Utilize all the space available, not just the ground. This might mean putting up a couple of hanging baskets which can be used to grow strawberries or tumbling tomatoes, or nailing tubs to the fence, known as vertical gardening (this topic deserves an article all to itself so watch out for this soon!)
  1. Use the right tools. There are plenty of containers, tubs and pots out there, all designed to enable people to garden in small spaces. They don’t have to cost much either, things like potato planters and stacking strawberry pots can easily be bought from local garden centres or DIY stores.
  1. Grow the right plants. Some plants simply cannot be grown in small spaces, others can be adapted with a little work and some will thrive whatever environment they are in. The key is to select the correct plants for your space, bearing in mind how much sun and shade they will be getting.
  1. Fertilise! When growing in pots there is a limited amount of nutrition available for the plants so they will need quite a bit of help along the way. This is the same for watering as well as plants in pots can dry out very quickly.

Bearing in mind that this website is aimed at people who garden with children, I am going to keep my vegetable selection simple, relevant, and appealing to children – too often have I thrown away rotten vegetables that my children just don’t eat. You do not want to be doing this if your space is limited!

So here is what I recommend growing if you don’t have much space:

  1. Tomatoes: You can get many varieties and they can easily be grown in pots, though bear in mind that they do prefer a sunny spot to a shady one. For traditional larger tomatoes plant them in a large pot with a bamboo cane for support, bush (cherry) tomatoes don’t need support and can also be grown in a pot. To make use of vertical space you can get tumbling tomatoes and grow them in hanging baskets, they make a fantastic visual addition to the garden as well. Sun requirement: eight hours per day.

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  1. Potatoes: This is a popular one with children, not only for the many ways they can be eaten, but also because children seem fascinated by how they grow. Potato planters can be bought from garden centres and basically consist of a large bag or tub that you fill with soil/ compost and plant your potatoes in. There is a hole at the bottom for you to pick the potatoes from, without the need to disturb the plant itself. Sun requirement: six hours per day.

potato planter

  1. Carrots: These are easily grown and if you grow them in a rectangular tub you can get a brilliant yield too. Just make sure they are regularly watered and fed when possible. Sun requirement: six hours per day.
  1. French beans: Again in a rectangular tub the yield from these can be great. I would suggest growing the dwarf variety as they don’t need any support so could even be grown in a window box or attached to a wall as part of a vertical garden. Children love picking beans as they are fun to hunt for on the plant and easy to pull off by themselves. Beans can tolerate more shade, needing only three to six hours of sun a day.

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  1. Peas: The all time favourite with children who just adore popping the peas and eating them raw. These will need some support which can easily be done using a few bamboo canes and some string. Sun requirement: six hours per day.
  1. Strawberries: You can buy strawberry planters that will make growing strawberries simple and easy in a small space. They will need to be fed a lot as their roots grow quite big and there isn’t much space in these pots. Sun requirement: six hours per day.

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  1. Leafy vegetables: spinach, lettuce and kale all grow well in pots and are quite happy growing in relatively shaded areas. Their popularity with children remains a well contested issue (my children won’t go near them) but some kids love them and it is always worth a try! Sun requirement: three to six hours per day.

There are, of course, many more vegetables that can be grown in small spaces and I will be doing more articles on this in the future. Please feel free to ask me if there is something in particular that you want to try growing and aren’t sure if it will work. I have seen people come up with the most incredible adaptations in order to grow things in awkward spaces so I am sure most things are possible, with a little creativity!

7 plants to grow with children

One of the best things about gardening with children is that it creates an interest that runs deeper than what plants look, smell or taste like.  When a child plants a seed and watches it grow they become attached to it. They learn, that aside from light, water and earth, plants also need care, attention and protection in order to grow. more “7 plants to grow with children”

Home grown immunity

Anyone with children will know that this time of year is one of constant runny noses, temperatures and coughs. Whether it’s school, nursery, or just a cafe, the chances are, if you leave the house, you will catch a cold somewhere along the way.

So while it is not possible to avoid winter illness, we can give our bodies some help in fighting them off. I am a real believer in natural immunity, and a lot of it can be grown in your garden. Here’s my top 5:

more “Home grown immunity”

Fun at the allotment

I have decided that the time has come for me to commit to making the allotment, as well as the garden, fun for my children, and that means sacrificing some space for them. All that is currently there is a big patch of soil, split into vegetable beds with horse poo on. It is not really surprising that my daughter doesn’t want to go! So, I have selected a space that I will give her, and will let her design it herself. 

more “Fun at the allotment”

Wet January

Wet, wet and soggy is the motto in the garden over the last few weeks.  With Christmas a distant memory, the most we are getting out of the garden is the sound of squelching under foot as we trudge down to let the chickens out in the morning. A lot of people have snow but here in Somerset we just have rain clouds and a chill in the air!  One good thing about all this water is that the pond is nice and full and it’s easy to rake the vegetable patches and garden borders to get rid of any weeds, albeit small ones.

more “Wet January”