If you would like to introduce children to gardening, growing herbs may be the perfect way to get them started. Most herbs are easy to grow. They can be planted into miniature gardens or grown in pots. If children paint faces on the pots, their characters will start to grow green hair.
If you have no garden or very little space for growing crops, then herbs are the choice before any other. They can be grown in borders with flowers because they often have attractive foliage. They can be grown in small raised beds or containers in courtyards or on sheltered balconies. If you have no outside space in which to grow plants, herbs can be grown in pots on a kitchen windowsill.
If herbs are to be left outside over winter, it would be best to keep them by the back door for easy access in the cold weather. Some plants like French tarragon, rosemary, sage and marjoram will survive through the winter months. These perennials benefit from being cut back in the summer after flowering. This keeps the bush compact and the fresh, new leaves are good for picking. Others like bay will have to be kept in a frost-free greenhouse or conservatory over winter.
Herbs are a perfect crop for children to grow because you only need small pots to grow enough for your needs and those pots can be in the shape of objects or characters to make the experience more fun. Herbs can also be grown as individual plants in the children's flower or vegetable patch if they have one.
Then the fresh herbs can be added to simple dishes like salads or omelets. Children can make these using their own crops. Parsley can be added to egg sandwiches and basil to cheese and tomato sandwiches. Chives can be added to omelets.
If you have heavy soil in your garden, putting herbs in a container with free-draining soil is your only option to ensure they will grow well. Put broken crocks at the bottom of the pot and use compost suitable for herbs. Grit added to the compost can help to improve drainage. All herbs benefit well from organic matter added to the soil.
Mediterranean herbs such as marjoram, rosemary and thyme like a position in full sun and will need well-drained ground. They can cope with growing in quite poor soil. Marjoram is loved by bees and butterflies and grows best in full sun but the variegated varieties can stand a little shade.
Some other herbs like parsley and chives prefer moister conditions and will tolerate some shade. Mint has similar requirements but must have its roots restricted in a container because of its invasive habit. The container can be sunk into the ground but any escaping roots should be kept in check.
Basil, dill and coriander are annuals and will have to be sown from seed each spring or early summer. Kept inside, basil may last for more than one growing season but it will become leggy. Basil grown outside likes full sun and heat; it is thought to originate from tropical Asia. Parsley is a biennial plant which flowers in its second year but can be sown every spring to ensure a continuing crop.
Sow a few seeds every two or three weeks from mid-spring to mid-summer to ensure a constant crop for harvesting. This won't be too time-consuming if each new crop is planted into a single pot. Sowing instructions come on seed packets. Keep the packets for future reference if you intend collecting your own seed. Keep seed in labelled paper bags or envelopes to keep it dry, never in plastic bags.
The whole planting project can become a learning experience for your children.
If they are going to sow seeds in pots, get them to devise a planting programme on a calendar. They can count days and weeks to set out a plan for succession sowing.
Furthermore, they can draw a diagram for a planting scheme on a plain sheet of paper if they are going to plant up a small herb bed. This could be in a window box, an old sink or small raised bed.
They can keep a folder containing empty seed packets to remind them of a plant's needs and sowing instructions. They can keep a gardening dairy with notes of their ideas, activities and results.
Learning about the propagation and optimal growing conditions for these plants will be a good introduction to gardening for children. They will learn how home-grown crops can deliver fresh and tasty produce for your culinary needs even throughout the winter months.
Christina Sinclair is a lecturer and self-published children's author with qualifications in design. She is now writing 'The Salty Sam Fun Blog for Children' which is to be found on her website. The blog has articles about history, science, nature, gardening and environmental issues. It also has free craft downloads, knitting patterns, easy recipes and other projects for children. Visit it at http://www.christina-sinclair.com/blog/
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