West Berkshire Family Life

family gardening - how to start gardening with children

Spring is here! No doubt you have seen the daffodils burst open and the crocuses pop up in the last few weeks. It is always an exciting time, especially this year after a long winter spent in lockdown for many. Spring brings hope, warmer weather and perhaps even an opportunity to try something new, such as gardening with your family. This article is for you if you are brand new to gardening or you have yet to try it with your children. 

First of all, let’s clear some things up.

Family Gardening Myths Busted

  1. You need a big garden.

False. Any space will do. You can garden inside on windowsills, outside in pots and window boxes or outside in the ground. There is an option for every space and budget.

  1. You need a garden or outdoor space

False. You can grow plants inside your home or in window boxes. 

  1. Some children are too young for gardening

False. There is something for everyone to do regardless of age or experience.

  1. It’s expensive to get started

False. You do not need much to get started. Your initial setup can be as simple as a few cardboard toilet roll tubes or egg cartons, a tray, a bag of soil and some seeds. 

  1. You need to grow lots of plants to make it worthwhile

False. You could grow 1 plant or 100 plants and the enjoyment and lessons learned would still be the same. No matter the scale, gardening with your family is wonderful.

What are the benefits of gardening with your family?

Firstly, gardening with your family is an opportunity to spend time together and build connections with one another. The act of growing something educates us about our world, our environment and ourselves. We all have something to learn from planting a seed and watching it grow. It can trigger meaningful conversations about where our food comes from and teach us how to care for something else.

Lastly, gardening is proven to be beneficial for our mental health and wellbeing. It’s a practical, screen-free activity that everyone can enjoy. 

What equipment do you need to start gardening?

There are all kinds of tools and gadgets on the market that you could invest in, but the reality is that you need very little to get started.

Here are the basics:

  • A bag of planting compost
  • Seeds or seedlings
  • A planting tray or small pots to start your seeds in
  • A trowel
  • Gardening gloves
  • Bamboo supports (or similar) if you are planning to grow climbers such as tomatoes, peas or beans.
  • A large pot/s or window planter if you are not planning to plant your seedlings directly into the ground.
  • A watering can or hose. A cup or bottle will work just as well – just pour slowly and gently.

It is worthwhile to save egg cartons or yoghurt pots to plant your seeds in. Cardboard toilet roll tubes work really well to separate seeds in a planting tray. Hold onto ice lolly sticks to use as labels. There is no need to buy everything when there are lots of things at home you can use instead.

What should you grow in your home garden?

You need to consider the space you have to work with and how many plants you want to grow. Sit down with your children and ask them what they like to eat as a starting point. You are in trouble if they say bananas, but if they go for pasta or pizza you are in luck! You can talk about what sauces and vegetables go well with pasta and try to grow some of those. For example, tomatoes for sauce or basil for pesto.

Seeds are usually inexpensive to buy and you can find them online or at garden centres, and even at some supermarkets. Make sure you read the information on the packet for advice on when to sow your seeds and when you can expect to harvest them.

What grows well inside?

Herbs are a great choice for indoor gardening. They can be grown on a windowsill and many of them grow quickly including parsley, coriander and mint. A big advantage of growing herbs, in or outdoors, is that they are versatile for cooking and can be picked in small quantities and grow back. Children love to harvest and taste the produce they have grown and homegrown herbs are a fabulous way to do this.

We’re talking about growing edible plants in this article, but you can grow a garden designed to support wildlife too. Here are some fantastic resources from The Wildlife Trusts to help. 

How do you plant seeds and care for them?

Now, you have decided what to grow and where you will grow it. You are ready to get stuck in, but where do you begin?

Again, check the packaging of your seeds for any specific instructions about when and how to sow them. Most seeds that are sown in early spring will need to be kept inside until they sprout and many that are sown in late spring and summer can be sown straight into the ground.

This is a simple step-by-step guide to plant most seeds:

  • Fill a planting tray or pots with soil to around 3/4 full. You can use your hands or a trowel to do this.
  • Add a seed to each pot, section or egg carton hole.
  • Push the seed 1cm underneath the soil with your finger.
  • Once you have planted the seeds gently water them.
  • Label each section and place the planted seeds on your chosen spot.
  • Water the seeds regularly. When they are 5-6cm tall, and the weather outside is well above freezing at night, replant them in a bigger pot, window box or garden bed. This way, they will have enough room to put down roots and grow bigger.

The Little Growers Club has fantastic, in-depth and child-focused activities you can use with your families as you start to garden together. This site is well worth a visit, if only to meet Tomasz the Tomato!

How to get little ones involved in the garden?

Children of all ages can try their hand at gardening. Pre-schoolers can put soil in pots, plant seeds with the help of an adult and water seeds and plants. They can also design labels for each type of plant by colouring in lolly stick markers or painting signs to stick on trays. If nothing else, the youngest children love to feel the soil and try to use a small trowel.

Once the seeds have sprouted children can measure them and monitor their growth. Then, of course the yummy bit, even the youngest of children can pick herbs, flowers and vegetables with some supervision.

And, how to get the older ones involved?

Older children and teens can gain a lot from gardening with their families. Ask them to make or help make a plan for what to grow, where to put the seeds and plants and what they need.

Encourage children to take responsibility for caring for their plants. This means watering, weeding and keeping their plants healthy. Challenge them to turn any produce they grow into a tasty meal or snack for the family. Then, sit back and tuck in!

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