Growing fruit and vegetables at home is a great way to encourage children to learn about where their food comes from. Your children will love sowing seeds, watering young plants and eating the food they have helped to grow.
Start simple: choose easy-to-grow food that doesn’t take a long time to mature, but that your kids already like to eat. You might want to learn how to make a herb garden first, then, if that sparks their interest, give them a corner of the garden to call their own.
You can grow fruit and veg in a variety of situations, from open ground to pots and containers – you don’t need a dedicated veg patch if you don’t have space. Only grow the crops that suit your growing space – if you only have a few pots, grow salad and other crops suitable for containers. If you’re planting in shade, avoid sun-loving crops like aubergines or tomatoes. Vegetables like pumpkins need a huge amount of space to grow well – if you only have a small plot, grow courgettes instead.
Choose pots with at least a diameter of 30cm, so plants will have room to grow. The larger the container, the better your crop will be. Any container will do, as long as it has drainage holes. Fill with fresh, peat-free, multipurpose compost. Crops in pots need feeding more regularly. You can buy slow-release fertiliser pellets or liquid feed – tomato feed is perfect for a variety of flowering crops like courgettes, sweet peppers, aubergines and strawberries.
What equipment do I need?
If growing in the ground, dig the soil and remove weeds, then add compost. You will need basic tools like a hand fork and trowel. For growing in the ground, a spade, hoe, fork and rake will also come in handy. A watering can or hose will enable you to keep plants hydrated.
You can grow crops from seed or buy young plants – lots of different crops are available in spring. Grow tender crops like tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and salad indoors until the end of May, then gradually acclimatise the plants to outdoor conditions before planting in the ground.
The best crops for kids to grow
Courgettes are easy to grow from seed. Sow the seeds 2.5cm deep in April and plant outside, 1m apart, from late May. Grow in rich, fertile soil (ideally with added manure). You can grow one plant per 30cm pot but you will need to water and feed it more regularly. Healthy plants will produce a continuous crop after just eight weeks. Harvest the courgettes regularly to keep them cropping, ideally when they’re no bigger than your hand.
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Read more on how to grow your own courgettes.
Low-growing French beans are very easy to grow, as they don’t need staking like taller beans or peas. You can grow around three plants in a 30cm pot or place them a hand-width apart in open ground. If you have space for a wigwam of bamboo canes, then runner beans are an excellent option. Small children will love sneaking inside the wigwam to harvest beans on the inside that adults can’t reach!
Bush tomatoes are really easy to grow (avoid cordon varieties, which you need to stake and prune to get a good crop). ‘Tumbling Tom’ and ‘Garden Pearl’ or ‘Gartenperle’ are popular varieties. Plant small plants in pots or hanging baskets of good, peat-free compost and water and feed regularly. Children will love eating the juicy, warm fruits straight from the plant.
Read more on how to grow your own tomatoes.
4. Salad leaves
Rocket is the easiest salad crop to grow as the seed is big enough for small hands to sow, and it will keep cropping for weeks. The flowers are also edible – a novelty for little ones.
Read more on how to grow your own salad leaves.
As far as fruits go, strawberries are often a hit with children and are a doddle to grow. Plant in spring and they will bear fruit from late May. Choose ‘ever-bearing’ varieties like ‘Mara des Bois’ and ‘Flamenco’, that fruit throughout summer. Plant a good hand-width apart in the ground or in pots. Feed with tomato fertiliser once the plants have started flowering.
Read more on how to grow your own strawberries.
What do your kids enjoy growing? Let us know your hints and tips in the comments below…