mini gardeners

inspiring gardening projects for children


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Would You Eat Blue Celery?

I’ve been busy adding some projects to the website recently and in my quest for some good photographs, we’ve been recreating several of the projects at home.  Which means that our kitchen currently resembles a Blue Peter studio.

One of the projects that’s proving a bit tricky is the old celery-stems-in-food-colouring-experiment. We’ve tried this before, with varying levels of success.

This time we started with 3 stems of celery in 3 different jars of food colouring:

celery stems in food colouring experiment

And a few days later, there’s not much going on.  Some small patches of blue can be detected on the leaves if you look very closely:

celery stems in blue food colouring

And even worse; one casualty.  I think we can conclude from this that celery does not like out of date black food colouring:

celery in food colouring

Undeterred, we increased the concentration of food colouring in the remaining jars. A few more days of waiting and we were rewarded with some blue colour on the leaves (the red was noticable but not quite as dramatic):

celery with blue food colouring experiment

And some great staining of the xylem when we cut thin sections of the celery stem (oooh, it took me right back to the biology lab at school for a few seconds..):

sections of celery stem with stained xylem

Next up is the multicoloured-rose-petals project, as seen on Pinterest. Apparently very easly done (hmmm) by stripping the rose stem into several strands and placing each one in a different jar of food colouring. We like a challenge 🙂 Oh, and in case you’re wondering, there were no takers for the blue celery at lunchtime.

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Growing Tomatoes in January, Without Soil

home grown tomato 'Striped Stuffer'

It’s many months since the home grown tomato season ended and it’s not even time for sowing tomato seeds yet. But tomatoes are still being grown in England in the depths of winter.

If you’re interested in a glimpse into the world that is commercial tomato growing, then take a peek at this new website for Thanet Earth, designed to be a resource for children and students, but equally interesting for adults.

If you haven’t heard of it, Thanet Earth is the largest glasshouse complex in the UK, growing peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. The scale of the operation is staggering, each glasshouse having the footprint of about ten football pitches. The way in which the crops are grown is a feat of science and engineering – and about as far removed from growing a few pots of tomatoes on your patio as is possible.

The tomatoes are grown year round and there’s no soil in sight. They’re grown hydroponically i.e. in water to which nutrients are added. Computers control the flow and content of the nutrient solution, together with heating and lighting. Rainwater collected in on-site reservoirs supplies some of the water needed and on-site generators pump their by-product of carbon dioxide into the glasshouses.

The clinical approach pays off in terms of reduced numbers of pests and diseases and hence fewer pesticides. The first line of defence for any problem is biological control or using ‘good bugs’ to fight the ‘bad bugs’ as they describe it.

All very interesting food for thought which I’ll bear in mind next time I toss a punnet of cherry tomatoes into my shopping trolley in the depths of winter.


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A Garden to Banish the January Blues

I’ll be the first to admit that our garden doesn’t look its best in winter.

There’s a bit of structural form (a few trees and some raised beds) and a tiny bit of colour from the plants that still have leaves. But it’s predominantly a mass of soggy lawn and bare stems.

So yesterday we took ourselves off to a garden that has been designed to shine at this time of year; the Winter Garden in Battersea Park.

And we were rewarded with an abundance of flowers on a cold, bright January day:

Hamamelis (witch hazel) flowers in winter

Chaenomeles (japanese quince) flowers in winter

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New Year’s Resolutions and the TomTato

new year's resolutions

Since giving up alcohol for January is now officially a waste of time (rejoice!), my New Year’s resolutions for 2014 are to drink some good wine and read some good books. No agonising over broken resolutions in our house, no lingering regret at not exercising more/being more organised/practising times tables every day etc etc.

In the same vein, I’m encouraging my daughters to resolve to do more enjoyable, achievable things in 2014. Browsing through the seed catalogues last night, we came up with our family gardening resolution for this year; to attempt to grow our own TomTato.

If you haven’t come across this, it’s a single plant that produces both tomatoes and potatoes. Not a botanical curiosity but a man-made union of a potato plant (producing the roots and lower part of stem of the grafted plant) with a tomato plant (the upper part of the grafted plant). It’s created by the process of grafting so there’s no genetic modification involved. And before you dismiss it as a frivolous novelty for the home gardening enthusiast, it has been considered as a possible solution to sustainable gardening in developing countries.

You can buy one of these plants from Thomson & Morgan for £14.99 which I’m sure is a fair price given the 15 years of research that preceded its release. But as I missed the practical session on grafting when I was studying for the RHS exams a few years ago, and I’ve been itching to try some grafting ever since, I thought we’d give it a go. 

It prompted lots of questions from my daughters – will the tomatoes taste of potato and vice versa? (I really hope not); can we save the tomato seed to grow future grafted plants? (no, because the tomato seed will produce tomato plants only); will the grafting work? (I don’t know but we’ll give it our best shot).

The best set of instructions I’ve seen for the whole process is from James Wong on the Garden Organic site. We won’t be able to start for a few months yet, leaving plenty of time to read some good books and drink some good wine in the meantime.