Growing your own fruit and veg is something that can be enjoyed and reap great reward at any age. Not only is it a great way to combat fussy eating, but growing your own veg is also a fantastic way of teaching little ones about nature and where our food comes from. And let’s face it – your child will love getting their hands mucky in the process!
Over the last few years, I’ve had a go at growing a mixture of my own fruit and veg, and with some success! This year is the first that I’ve involved my two-year-old daughter Indie. Whether you have a proper vegetable bed in the garden or just a couple of pots, you don’t need much room to grow some of the basics. My top tip for anyone starting out is to just ‘have a go’! Things may go wrong, but that’s all a part of the fun. Here, I’ve provided my top five easy fruit and veg to grow with kids.
Lettuce is a great choice for starters for a number of reasons. Not only can you grow it from either seed or baby plants, but you can sow these any time from March to July. They’re pretty tolerable to all weathers and they grow really quickly, allowing your child to see rapid changes. If you’ve got room, have a go at growing a few different varieties at the same time, such as Loose Leaf, Romaine and Rocket. Take the largest leaves from the bottom to eat and your plant will continue to grow upwards, leaving you a continuous supply throughout the summer. Lettuce is a staple in our house, meaning we get through plenty of the stuff. Try to choose fruits and veg that your family enjoys, to limit waste.
I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t partial to a strawberry; even my fussy-eating, roost-ruling two-year-old loves them. Strawberries are easy growers and tend to bear fruit from June to August, making them the perfect addition to any picnic. (Pimms is optional.) You can pick the baby plants up from most supermarkets and garden centres and enjoy them year after year. Try to contain them in a pot or small bed, otherwise the aerial roots can spread in all directions. Simply cut everything back (be brutal) once they’ve finished bearing fruit, usually September, and watch them come back year after year.
From rainbow carrots to the Chantenay variety, carrots are another staple that are easy to grow from plant or seed. All you need is a plant pot or bed that’s about 10 inches deep. Anything too shallow might stump the growth of your carrots or cause them to grow in some pretty random shapes, like my first attempt below. At around the end of July you can start ‘thinning’ your carrots. This is the process of picking some to make room for the others around them to grow. The thinned carrots are fine to eat and are often a little sweeter. Carrots are also great for juicing with oranges (and a pinch of ginger, if you have it).
Roasted, mashed, boiled or fried. What I love (and hate, in equal measures) about growing potatoes is that you never really know what you’re going to get until you harvest. One potato can produce as many as 15 or more new potatoes. Growing potatoes is really easy. Simply pop some soil in a large pot, only a quarter full and bury your potato with the ‘eye’ facing upwards. Water regularly. Once your plant starts to shoot, add new soil around the plant and continue to build up the soil until the pot is almost full over the course of the next couple of months. This provides more room for new potatoes to form. Do this until your potato plant flowers. When the plant starts to brown and die off, this is your sign that your harvest is ready! Leave your potatoes in a cupboard for 10 to 14 days to cure, before eating.
Whilst tomatoes will thrive in a window sill or greenhouse, it isn’t completely necessary. I’ve had some brilliant tomato harvests from the garden. The plum and cherry varieties are ideal, as the plants don’t get half as big. When growing tomatoes, ‘pinch’ any smaller shoots of greenery from the main plant. This will encourage your tomato plant to place more energy into growing the fruit. We currently have three tomato plants on the go and Indie loves to check on them, pointing out when the tomatoes are red enough for picking. Use a bamboo cane to keep them from blowing over.
Looking to expand your harvest? Don’t forget the herbs. Basil, coriander, oregano and chives are all fab choices for easy growing and cooking. They take up barely any room too. Corgettes, cabbages and brocolli are also easy growers, but require a bit more room.
Having a go at growing your own? Let me know how you got on in the comments.