Despite suffering the coldest Easter on record, now is the right time to start thinking about growing plants in the garden - why not plant some vegetables with your little ones and track their growth through a diary project?
Many vegetables are surprisingly easy to grow and nothing tastes better on your plate than a serving of home grown food. Even if you don't have much garden, many vegetables can be grown in containers or pots, even on a patio. Start plants off in a greenhouse or shed, or on a windowsill inside, then plant out once the threat of frost has gone and when the plants are a couple of inches high. Below are some easy veg to grow for great rewards during the summer and autumn:-
Dwarf beans: 'Dwarf' refers to the height of the plant rather than the size of bean. Unlike most beans, the plants grow to just 18 inches (so don't require trellis) and produce copious quantities of long tasty beans. Plant now to crop through the summer.
Courgettes: Courgette plants grow with quite a wide spread, harvest regularly and you will be rewarded with between 10 - 20 fruits per plant so just one or two plants will produce a great crop. Cougettes are abundant and require very little care, you can even plant them in a pot on the patio.
Tomatoes: Traditional tomato plants are quite hard work because they require so much watering. Cherry tomatoes on the other hand are much easier and can be planted in small spaces, even in pots or hanging baskets. Pick the fruit in clusters off the vine and any that are under ripe will quickly ripen after harvest.
Potatoes: Forget the old fashioned way of tilling the ground, buy potato bags that can sit on the ground or patio. Fill them two thirds deep with soil and plant seed potatoes just under the surface. When the plants are established, add more soil to fill the bag. Children will love sifting through the soil at the end of the summer, discovering the potatoes. Plant several bags with different varieties to crop at different times in the summer and autimn.
Pak Choy: Not a traditional British vegetable but terrific in salads and stir fries, and really easy and quick to grow. Plant more seeds every fortnight and you will crop them throughout the summer.
Plant your seeds with your children and make notes. Look at them regularly and draw them at the different stages. Why not create a photo diary in ToucanLearn by photographing them and uploading the pictures to your Daily Diary?
At this time of year there is so much going on in the garden - here are a few ways of introducing some wildlife to your outside space.
Most of all, get the children involved and get them muddy too! Nothing is more exciting for a toddler or pre-schooler than dirty hands, mucky knees and a brown, muddy smudge on their nose! Start a diary project and draw what you do and what you observe in the garden.
During winter, many of our birds really suffer in the cold weather and many perish as temperatures drop. We may take our birds for granted, but we would miss them if they weren't around. Run a diary project during the cold weather with your little ones. Chart what birds you see them and when, and put our food for them to attract them nea your home and to help them through the winter.
Nut feeders: there are all sorts of specialist nut feeders available from garden centres and pet shops to attract and feed different species of bird. You can simply hang a cheap nut feeder from a drainpipe or window and they will still come. If the weather is bad, they will become bolder in order to get to the food!
Bird tables: place the food on the table in a good, open position, near to trees in case a predator comes or cover is needed, but away from the fence that a cat might use as a springboard to get to the table! Make sure you can observe it from your window so that you and your children can enjoy watching the birds come and go.
Keep bird tables and feeders well stocked: if you decide to start helping the birds by providing food, try to keep it up throughout the winter so they can rely on your home to provide them with food throughout the winter rather than just for the first few days! Have your children help you put out food each day.
Water: A bowl of water (rather than ice!) is useful as during the icy months usual sources of water to drink become icy and frozen solid - rendering them useless. Bird baths are also essential for birds to clean their wings and rid themselves of any muddy debris that may have come attached. When their wings are not washes properly, they have trouble flying. Float a small plastic ball in the water to try to help it from freezing over. If it does freeze, break the ice and replace it with fresh water.
Spot any bird tracks (or any other animals for that matter!) in the snow and get the children outside (wrapped up warm!) to look at their environment.
Encourage your children to get involved in whatever way they can. Looking after nature is important and looking after our birds is easy and rewarding when you see them enjoying your food and flying around the wintery garden.
With spring upon us, now is the perfect time to start a diary project exploring how flowers and plants grow - here are some ideas for some growing fun...
Diary projects are lots of fun with your little ones - keep a log book with drawings of your observations over time, your children will love the ongoing project. If you feel really ambitious, why not plant some vegetables? ...or plant a pumpkin that can be ready for Halloween?!
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