mini gardeners

inspiring gardening projects for children


Patio Potatoes

potatoes growing in a compost bag

potatoes growing in a compost bag

Here’s proof, if you needed it, that growing your own doesn’t need to be expensive or require lots of specialist equipment.

We’re growing potatoes on the patio in a bag of compost.  Not the prettiest sight*, we admit, but it’s simple and cheap.  Also suitable for balconies, concrete-covered back yards or any tiny outside space that gets a bit of sun.

We chose Rocket seed potatoes – good for containers because the foliage doesn’t get too big (our previous attempts at patio potatoes were very top heavy and unstable).  If you’ve never grown potatoes before, these are a good choice as they’re fairly speedy to produce reasonable sized potatoes.

We left our seed potatoes on a tray in the dining room (any light and fairly cool room will do) for a couple of weeks until they started sprouting.

We bought a standard bag of multi-purpose compost, about 50 litres from memory.  We removed around 2/3rds of the compost from the bag and punched four or five small holes in the bottom with a pair of scissors to allow water to drain and to prevent the potatoes rotting.

We placed 3 seed potatoes on top of the compost in the bag, with the sprouts facing upwards, and covered with more compost so that the bag was about half full.

We watered every time the compost looked like it was drying out. Then, as the stems and leaves emerged, we gradually added more compost to the bag until it was about 2/rds full (this stops the developing potatoes turning green with the light).

For the sake of simplicity we haven’t fed the potato plants at all even though this would probably increase yields.

Rocket potatoes can be ready to harvest as soon as 2 months after planting.  We’ll start having a gentle dig in the top of the compost soon to see if the potatoes might be ready.

* If you’re worried about appearance, you could completely empty the bag of compost before you start and turn it inside out so that the black inner is on the outside.  A bit more work but it may even speed up the whole potato growing process by warming the compost slightly.

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Courgettes and Coir Pellets

courgette seedling in a coir pellet

courgette seedling in a coir pellet

Well, we’ve had a whole load of fun growing seeds in these coir pellets. Highly entertaining for children as they expand magically when soaked in water, with the added bonus of creating a lot less mess than spooning compost into pots.

Coir is a fibre harvested from coconut husks and it provides the perfect growing medium for seeds.  And when the seed is ready to be planted out (as evidenced by the roots peeping out of the coir in the photograph), pop the whole thing into the soil and the coir pellet will biodegrade.  Minimal root disturbance for the seedling – manhandling seedlings out of pots is often tricky for little hands and seedlings don’t always come out of it well – and no plastic pots to store or dispose of.

So, what’s not to like?  Not much really.  Some people complain that coir dries out too easily so you may need to be more vigilant on the watering.  And I haven’t done the maths but I’m guessing they’re more expensive than a bag of compost and some plastic pots or trays.  But great if you don’t grow huge numbers of plants from seed and you don’t want to store big bags of compost and lots of plastic pots.  A big thumbs up from us.

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Newspaper plant pots

recycled newspaper plant pot

newspaper pot with lettuce seedlings

Ooooooh, we do love a bit of recycling.  And what better recycling project than these little pots for seedlings, made entirely from newspaper?  No glue, no sellotape, no string, no staples.

And when the seedlings are ready to be planted out, plant the pot too and it will biodegrade nicely with no rubbish left to throw away.

We made ours with a wooden paper potter but you can easily use a glass, jar or tin can if you don’t own one of these.

Here’s what we did:


newspaper pot instructions 1 annotated

newspaper pot instructions 2 annotated

newspaper pot instructions 3 annotated

newspaper pot instructions 4 annotated

newspaper pot instructions 5 annotated

For a pot 4cm tall (ideal for lettuce seedlings) we cut strips of newspaper 8cm deep by 57cm wide, the entire width of the newspaper.  This allowed 4cm for the overlapping edges which form the base of the pot.

For taller 8cm pots (ideal for bean seedlings) we cut strips 12cm deep i.e. 8cm for the pot height and 4cm for the overlap.

Best to place your pots on a small tray before watering, nice and close together so they provide some support for each other.

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Water, water, every where

waterlogged lettuce seedlings

waterlogged lettuce seedlings

Half term this week and one of the perennial problems with school gardening clubs is what to do about watering in the holidays.  Particularly pertinent at the moment as we’re still officially in drought in London.

Worried that all the pots and containers would dry out during the half term break, I bundled them into my car and brought them home.  2 window boxes of lettuce seedlings, 1 of radish, a tray of sunflowers and 40 small pots of herb seeds sown just days before half term (with hindsight, not great timing).

And the irony is that it has barely stopped raining since I got them home.  So, five days in, I’ve not watered anything.  In fact, the only useful thing I’ve done is decant water from the lettuce seedlings – the container’s drainage holes were blocked and I didn’t want the seedlings to drown 🙂