Top seeds to grow with children
Gardening with children can be both educational and lots of fun! It's a great activity to keep them occupied over the school holidays and get them to spend more time outdoors. We've compiled a list of our favourite seeds to sow with children along with some tips and ideas on how to make it as exciting and interesting as possible. We hope you enjoy trying a couple of these out!
Who doesn't remember growing and measuring their sunflower as a child? For children this is one of the most exciting plants to grow as there are so many different activities and games that can be linked to them. They're fast growing so your child won't get bored, and easy to care for so don't require too much attention. You can encourage your child to enter a local sunflower race to see whose can grow the tallest by a certain date. Your child will love measuring their plant each week to see how much it has grown. Once your child's sunflower goes to seed, the seeds can be used to feed the birds or any pets your child owns. Choose varieties like Helianthus annuus 'Russian Giant' Sunflower which can grow up to a massive 10 feet! To encourage yours to grow extra tall harden it off indoors before planting outside. This is a great option as you can get started no matter what the weather forecast!
How exciting for your child to be able to carve their own home-grown pumpkins this Halloween! Not only will you save money, but, so long as space allows, you could grow a whole host of pumpkins - all shapes and sizes. Before deciding on which variety of pumpkin you should choose, think about the space you have to grow yours as they can vary greatly in size depending on the variety. If you've lots of space and are looking to grow a giant, 'Dill's Atlantic Giant' Pumpkins can grow to a massive 400cm wide if grown singly. Alternately you could go for a miniature pumpkin like 'We-B-Little' Pumpkins which only grow to an average of 8cm wide. The best pumpkin variety for carving lanterns however has to be the aptly named 'Jack Of All Trades' Pumpkin. This variety produces the classic round, orange pumpkin. It can grow very large (around 200cm wide) if grown singly, however, it can produce a number of medium sized pumpkins from a single plant. This is also a great choice if you're planning to make pumpkin pies or soup due to its sweet orange flesh, which tastes excellent when roasted. If you have enough space, choose a couple of varieties and turn them in to a fantastic lantern display this autumn.
Pumpkin seeds require a minimum night temperature of around 16°C for germination so for most UK gardeners, it's best to plant seeds indoors and then relocate once the weather picks up. Most pumpkin seeds can be sown indoors in April or May but this will depend on the variety so make sure you check the packet. If planting directly outdoors, it's sometimes better to hold off and plant them in late May or early June, once the ground has warmed up.
Cress is a great choice for first time gardeners; it doesn't require any outdoor gardening and can be grown at any time of the year. It only takes around a week to grow 5cm so even children with a short attention span won't lose interest. A way to make growing cress extra fun is to use a hollowed out egg shell as the plant pot. You could buy an egg cup with a face painted on or encourage your child to paint a face on the shell themselves before they sow the seeds, then once the cress grows you'll have yourself an egg head! These can then be used to decorate windowsills or even enter their school Easter egg decorating competition.
To get your egg ready for painting, use a knife to knock off the top of a raw egg and empty into a bowl. Gently wash the bottom half of the shell to remove any remaining egg. Help your child to place a piece of damp kitchen roll or cotton wool into the shell to create a bed for the seeds. Your shell will now be ready to decorate - use an egg cup to prevent it from rolling around as you paint. Once your child is finished and happy with their head, scatter the cress seeds onto the damp kitchen roll and sprinkle on some water. If left in a warm light spot the head should start to sprout in around 2 days.
Potatoes are a great option; you can use growing them as a way of teaching your children where their food comes from, the process from field to plate. It can give you the opportunity to educate them on the importance of organic vegetable gardening and healthy eating. Children will love helping to cook a family meal with the final product. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need a huge patch of land to grow potatoes. Smaller varieties can also be grown in pots or grow bags. In fact, you'll be surprised by just how many potatoes a grow bag can produce. The key is to choose the deepest spot or container as this will determine the size of your crop. Potato plants are very easy to care for and don't require too much attention, although you do need to watch out for potato blight. To avoid potato blight it's best to choose earlier varieties as they're likely to be harvested before the end of the summer when blight is most common.
Before you plant your potatoes, they'll need to be chitted so that your potato plant gets the best start. If you've never chitted potatoes before or if you're unsure about the best technique, please see our Guide To Chitting Pototoes which outlines best practice for a successful harvest.
If you're interested in growing potatoes with your children, visit our guide on How To Grow Potatoes for more information.
If your child has a pet rabbit or guinea pig, encourage them to grow their own pet food by sowing some carrot seeds. Carrots are relatively easy to grow and well worth the effort. Varieties are broken down into short, medium and long rooted. Let your child choose the variety themselves, explaining the benefits of each. Explain that the short rooted varieties will be ready the soonest, the medium rooted varieties will be more likely to produce successful carrots and that the long rooted carrots will be the sweetest to eat. You could even carry out an experiment to see which variety the family finds tastiest - a great way to encourage children to eat more vegetables!
Most varieties for carrot can be planted much earlier than other seeds, even before the last frost has passed. In fact they prefer cool and wet weather but also enjoy lots of sunshine so make sure you choose an appropriate spot.
With carrots you do need to take the soil into consideration. Plant seeds into sandy, well-drained soil that doesn't contain many stones. For carrots, soil that contains too much nitrogen is a big no-no, this has the potential to completely spoil their taste.
When growing carrots, consider co-planting onions or leeks nearby to deter carrot fly - herbs such as rosemary and sage will also do the trick.
Carrot seeds can be sown from mid-March right up until July and will take 2 to 3 weeks to germinate. They should be ready to harvest around 2 to 4 months later depending on the variety.
If your child is a fan of Jack and The Beanstalk, why not encourage them to plant their own magic beans? Runner beans are really easy to grow and can be germinated in a glass jar so your child can watch their daily progress. To do this, fill your jar with scrunched up damp kitchen roll and place your beans in between the glass and paper. Place the jar on a windowsill where it will get lots of light and lightly spray it each day to keep the kitchen roll damp. Your bean should only take a couple of days to germinate and then go on to grow a healthy shoot with leaves. After a couple of weeks your plant should have developed a number of healthy leaves and a good set of roots - you can now plant your bean out into the garden and watch it grow.
If your child's more keen on growing flowers as opposed to vegetables, sweet peas are the answer. These easy-growing flowers give off a fabulous scent and can be used to make posies for family members or teachers. They're also great for attracting pollinators, so are perfect for insect lovers and teaching kids about the importance of bees and butterflies in our ecosystem.
Sow your sweet peas indoors from January to March. Plant each seed in its own pot and cover with around 1cm of compost. Water your seeds in and cover with a plastic bag that will act like a mini propagator. Once they've germinated remove the plastic bag but keep them indoors until the last frost has passed. When the weather permits, you can plant your seedlings out. Plant them around 20cm apart and in an area exposed to full sun. It's a good idea to plant lavender or rosemary as these will deter slugs and prevent your flowers from being savaged.
Make sure you let us know how you get on trying out these seeds with your children. We'd love to see any pictures of your child's plants on Facebook!