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Get growing with your children and help reduce food miles

All Areas > Environment > Save the Planet

Author: Tamsin Bent, Posted: Monday, 24th August 2015, 08:00

As a child I traipsed around garden centres with my dad. He has been a keen gardener for as long as I can remember and I am now one too, all-be-it after a pretty reluctant start! We always grew a few types of fruit and vegetables including my dad’s obsession, tomatoes. However, as an adult with a garden of my own, I have played it safe and mainly stuck to flowers, although of course in honour of my dad I have always grown tomatoes as well. That was until four years ago when, through work, I started gardening with children and was given the task of how to encourage and support local schools to grow their own food.

There has been a resurgence in growing your own food in recent years, not only because of concern regarding the origins of our food but also the environmental impact of transporting food around the world, known as ‘Food Miles’. Ninety five per cent of our fruit and over half of our vegetables are imported, with 25% of all journeys made in the UK involving taking food from destination to destination, all of which contributes to carbon dioxide emissions which are linked to climate change.

Many of us find the thought of growing vegetables quite a daunting prospect, let alone involving children, but just keep it simple. At first all you need is a flower pot or a small plot outside – the sunnier the better. In my experience, starting off with a plot about a metre wide by a couple of metres long works really well. This way a child can reach the middle of the bed without having to resort to standing on the soil, which compacts it and impedes drainage. Raised beds are very popular at the moment and keep everything a bit neater and more contained, but they are not essential.

Narrow it down by voting – the ‘Veg Factor’!
Next you need to decide which crops are most suited to the conditions in your garden to give you a better chance of success. Get your children to list their favourite fruits and vegetables then, after eliminating things like bananas, unless you live somewhere very sheltered, look through seed catalogues and online to see if they will grow in your garden. In schools we end up with a dozen or so then narrow it down by voting – christened the ‘Veg Factor’ by the children!

Once you’ve decided what to plant, consult the back of the seed packet to see if they need to be sown in pots first or if they can be sown directly in the ground. We’ve found that planting in straight rows helps identify seedlings from weeds. Weeding between the rows may be necessary, as may some sort of slug control, whether it is going out at dusk and collecting them or wildlife friendly slug pellets.

My son and I never had success with carrots until we used wildlife friendly slug pellets, as the seedlings were always eaten just as they emerged! You will encounter many other animals intent on digging up or devouring your precious seedlings but persevere – the joy of your child harvesting their first carrot which they have cared for and which has only travelled a few metres to their plate, without being packaged within an inch of its life, is well worth it.

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