Most parents and grandparents will understand that spending a healthy amount of time outdoors brings huge benefits for children – sometimes the trick is to find those activities which enable children to enjoy the natural world with ease.
Planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables is a great way to do this in your own back garden. Children can see the processes and changes that happen to plants across the seasons and into harvest time. All you need is a container, some compost and some seeds to suit your personal environment, as well as the right opportunity for planting.
On a warm September morning, Daisy’s Grandpa decided that, as his favourite season was setting in, it was time for a tidy-up in the garden. We both thought that if he got started, then he would soon have a companion, as Daisy loves to ‘help’ him garden, so it was no surprise when she offered to get involved. This generally meant taking some of the soil and weeds to her mud kitchen, where she would work on one of her concoctions!
And so they continued to work on tidying the borders, until Grandpa spotted the dark shapes of potato-growing sacks against the back flower bed. The foliage on the potato plants had withered and was drying. It was time to harvest the potatoes!
Dig for victory
Daisy stopped her work in the mud kitchen because she wanted to help with this harvest. In the past she has helped us to pick tomatoes from the tomato vines, selecting the ripe red fruit and enjoying it soon after; she has also picked a couple of apples from the small tree in her parents’ garden. But potatoes are somehow different: they’re like buried treasure – you don’t know what’s there until you move the soil!
What size and weight will the potatoes be? What shape will they be? How many will there be? These are all concepts that Daisy is becoming familiar with, but discovering the spoils is the exciting bit. Watching her at work made me remember the fun I had as a child, searching for potatoes with my dad when he unearthed another plant from the rows he had cultivated in his vegetable patch.
The standard gardening advice for harvesting potatoes in a sack or large tub is to tip the container over and sort through the contents, but that didn’t seem to be as much fun for Daisy as unearthing them, a few at a time!
Grandpa very carefully loosened the soil inside the sack with a small garden fork and, standing beside him, Daisy peered in, scanning the soil for those new potatoes and excitedly finding them and collecting them in a bowl.
In spring, Daisy had been enchanted by the daffodils in the park. She found out about flowers in her nursery class and started to draw pictures of daffodils and observed the changes in a flower, from bud to decaying bloom. At the same time, the nursery children all planted sunflower seeds and Daisy told us about plants needing sunlight, warmth and water to grow. She nurtured her sunflower seed and we received photographs of it, growing steadily in a flowerpot, on a window ledge.
Once the frosts had gone in late April, planting potato cuttings into growing sacks gave Daisy the opportunity to use these nurturing experiences, planting and watering the vegetables and seeing them grow, flower and change through the spring and summer seasons, until they withered and it was time to harvest her crop.
There are lots of similarities in cultivating flowers and potatoes, but while the birds enjoyed the sunflower seeds, Daisy could enjoy eating the new potatoes, boiled or fried. There is nothing better than the homegrown crop of fruits and vegetables – they’re satisfying to grow and even more enjoyable to eat!
Granny Smith says…
- Potatoes can be grown in containers from commercial available sacks, planters, large tubs, pails or even old galvanised bins. And there are a variety of types of potato that can be grown to crop at different times of the year.
- I recently visited a National Trust property where I spotted squash plants being grown in galvanised bins. I’m making a reminder for next year to try to grow a colourful squash with Daisy, to harvest for Halloween!