mini gardeners

inspiring gardening projects for children


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Don’t Try This at Home

chilli 'Etna"

I helped out at my daughter’s cub group last week. It all sounded easy enough, supervising a table of cubs making model aeroplanes.  Until, that is, they dropped the bombshell that the cubs would be cutting bits of balsa wood with a scalpel. Yes, a scalpel.

And although I felt like I’d aged several years by the end of the evening (not helped by the fact that I was supervising a table of raucous boys with no regard for personal safety), everyone managed to make it to the end injury-free.

Before that evening, I’d been hesitating about whether to mention the fact that we’ve been stringing chilli peppers at home, ready for drying.  Hesitating because stringing hot chillies with a sharp needle doesn’t sound the most child-friendly project.  But after spending an evening playing with sharp knives, it seems positively tame in comparison. So here goes…

chilli peppers ready for drying

We harvested most of our chilli peppers a week or so ago and my daughters have been busy stringing them ready for drying and, eventually, making our own chilli powder.

We’ve grown a few different chillies this year and our biggest harvest by a long way was ‘Demon Red’.  We had six plants, all well-behaved and compact, and although the individual chillies are fairly small, the yields per plant are high.  It’s a hot little chilli, as the name suggests, so stringing them together for drying is definitely a job for older children (I can report that 9 and 12 year olds coped with it well).

A couple of tips to ensure your chillies don’t slip off the thread:

harvest chillies with a small piece of stem

and

stringing chillies for drying

And obviously, don’t forget to wash your hands as soon as you’ve finished handling the chillies 🙂

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The Little Red Hen Rebels

little red hen

“Who will help me plant these seeds?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I” came the reply. So the little red hen planted the seeds by herself.

“Who will help me water and weed the seedlings?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I” came the reply. So the little red hen weeded and watered by herself.

But today the little red hen despaired of doing everything herself. Not least because she was soon to take possession of an extra half allotment (more of which at a later date) and the current allotment wasn’t in the best shape.

So it was a three-line whip, all hands on deck, family effort for the Great Autumn Allotment Tidy Up.

And it’s AMAZING what progress you can make when you have four pairs of hands instead of one. We were busy weeding, trimming grass paths, clearing old crops and topping up bark paths, not to mention a healthy dose of moaning, arguing with siblings, taking time out for sulking, and complaining of being too hot, too cold, and hungry.

Despite all that, in no time at all the allotment was transformed from this:

allotment before autumn tidy up

Into this:

allotment after autumn tidy up

The next stage is to cover all the bare soil because bare soil over winter is a Bad Thing. All the gardening books warn of soil erosion and nutrient leaching but, just as important in my view, the local cats and foxes will view it as a custom-built toilet and it’ll be covered in weeds before you can say “spring is nearly here”.

So I’ll use a combination of mulching with homemade leafmould and compost, covering with weed control membrane and sowing green manure. I already have some Phacelia tanacetifolia growing which may overwinter if the weather isn’t too harsh.

Phacelia tanacetifolia (green manure)

I’ll dig this in at some point to improve the soil but as the flowers are attractive to bees and hoverflies, I’ve saved some seed and will be sowing a little patch next spring too.

And I’ll also be sowing some grazing rye in the next week as this is one the few green manures that can be sown up to the end of November, plus it copes well with the heavy clay soil on my allotment. This will be dug into the soil next spring. It’s a bit of an effort to dig it in, as is commonly reported, but it fits into my timescales well as I’m never ready to sow green manure any earlier than September/October.

I was so pleased with my allotment helpers that, as a reward for all their hard work, I’ll be including them in the next allotment task; the Horse Manure Project. I could tell they were thrilled, they were literally speechless.