Children’s Plants

Provide children with a growing space of their own, either indoors or outside, and they can discover a lot about plants by growing from seed, cutting, pip, bulb or stone.

  • It’s exciting to watch roots develop in a glass or a jam jar; as well as plant cuttings, avocado pips can be started off this way, then potted up.
  • The traditional way to grow mustard and cress is to sprinkle seeds on a flannel, or on damp blotting paper. Garlic can be grown from cloves.
  • Seeds can be sprouted in a variety of readily available containers. They grow very fast, and make exciting additions to salads. Grow in a warm, dark place to get crunch y sprouts.

seed-sprouting

Sprouting seeds

A good way to gain the interest of a first time gardener is with seeds sprouting, as things happen so quickly. A salad seed, for instance, can be sown one day and harvested a couple of days later.

A wide range of seeds can be sprouted for use in salads; alfalfa, fenugreek, Chinese mung beans, buckwheat, whole lentils and cereals such as rye, oats, rice and wheat. When buying make sure that the seeds are intended for consumption and have not been treated with chemicals. For this reason it is usually best to obtain seeds from health food shops.

There are many suitable containers for seed sprouting, including glass jam jars, bowls, dishes, plastic boxes, yoghurt pots, or specially designed sprouters. Wide rather than deep containers allow seeds to sprout more evenly. Most seeds germinate at between 13° and 21°C (55°-70°F) so can be sown in normal indoor conditions. Soak seeds overnight, then drain and rinse before putting in the container.

Germinate seeds in the dark, in a warm cupboard for instance, if you want crisp, white sprouts; otherwise germinate in the light if you want softer, green ones. It is very important to rinse the seeds twice a day or water and seeds will become sour and stagnant. You can do this by putting them in a strainer and putting this under the tap. Allow them to drain then carefully return to the container. Alternatively cover the container with muslin then pour water in and out through this.

After a couple of days seeds should have sprouted and be about 6-12mm (3 (¼-1/2in) long. They can be rinsed so the seed coat floats off, and then eaten.

Keep sprouts in a polythene bag in the fridge. Beans, peas, alfalfa, fenugreek, mung, soya and aduki should not be eaten raw in large quantities so plunge into boiling water, then ice them just prior t to eating.

Growing on a flannel

Seeds can also be sprouted on damp blotting paper, flannel, cotton wool or peat where they root into the base material. This is the traditional way to grow mustard and cress but mung beans and lentils can also be grown like this. Presoak the seeds, spread evenly on the base and put in the dark to germinate.

Rinse them daily. If you do this before they have rooted, hold the seeds in place with the back of a spoon while you do it. Many seeds grown this way can be eaten at the green seedling stage when they are about 2.5cm (1 in) high. Bring out into the light for the final stage. Suitable seeds are mustard, cress, salad rape, coriander, alfalfa and fenugreek.

Avocado

split-avocadoRemove the pip from an avocado and strip off the brown covering.

Fill a lam jar with tepid water and suspend the avocado pip, pointed side up over it. Use three toothpicks pushed into the pip sides to hold it in place on top of the jar and with the base just in the water. Keep the water topped up so that the pip base is always in the water.

When roots appear and the pip sprouts plant in a small pot using cutting compost. Be careful not to damage the roots which are fragile when grown this way.

Tips and hints

  • Grow cress in a terracotta pig.
  • Buy a miniature banana tree. It comes in a transparent phial. When the plant fills the phial, plant in a pot. You may even have bananas in a couple of years.
  • Choose bulbs of favourite spring flowers or an Amaryllis and plant in autumn for a Christmas present.
  • Cut an old flannel into an animal shape or initial and grow cress on this.
  • Create a water garden for studying the growth of tadpoles. Provide large rocks so tadpoles can clamber onto them when they have grown their legs and lungs. Include water plants.
  • Planting seeds, pips and stones and watching the magic of roots, stems and leaves emerging is fascinating for children. It is also a lesson in the day-to-day care of living things.

Plants from nuts and stones

Plants can be grown from most pips and stones, from the fruit you eat and from some nuts too. Try the following fruit pips and stones: orange, lemon, grapefruit, kiwi, dates, pomegranate, kumquat and lychee.

  • Most of these will need a temperature of 21°C (70°F) to germinate and it will take 4-6 weeks for seedlings to appear.
  • Wash the stone thoroughly to get rid of any fruit flesh.
  • Plant in small pots in seed compost and cover with compost to their own depth. Water lightly and put in a warm position with soft, filtered light.
  • Date stones, fresh or dried, will root if kept at 21°C (70°F).

Childrens Wild flower garden

A small child with an interest in wildlife will like to take over a little used section of the patio garden for wild flowers in a tub. This will draw butterflies, bees and probably some caterpillars too and, in turn, birds; all interesting to study at first hand. Buy wild flower seed packets, with instructions.

  • Keep compost constantly just moist and when the young plant appears gradually introduce it to more light.
  • When the roots fill the pot, re-pot in compost to suit the type of plant.

Growing vegetables

Older children may enjoy having their own vegetables in a window-box or tub. Runner beans, tomatoes and courgettes are fun to grow in pots, and need very little space.

A window-box provides a small and manageable source of interest.

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