mini gardeners

inspiring gardening projects for children


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Trench Composting

trench composting on an allotment

My younger daughter has a fixation with digging holes at the moment. So before she turns the allotment into a lunar landscape with deep craters everywhere, I thought we’d channel her enthusiasm into something productive.

I’ve been meaning to try trench composting for a while, partly because it sounds a lot simpler than other composting methods. Essentially you dig a hole, bury some kitchen scraps, cover them with soil and wait.  And that’s it. No turning the compost heap, no watering if it dries out, and no need to move the finished compost from the heap to the growing area.

We collected vegetable peelings and uncooked food waste for a week and popped them in a hole that was supposed to be about 30cm deep, but I suspect was nearer 20cm.  We went for a circle instead of a rectangular trench as we plan to plant a wigwam of climbing beans on the site a little later this season.  I’ve read that you can add cooked food waste to a trench composting system but I can’t help thinking that would be an open invitation to all the foxes in the neighbourhood.

I have no idea how long the composting process will take although some people report a noticeable breakdown of the trench contents in just a couple of weeks.  The process is anaerobic (i.e. not using oxygen) compared to aerobic decomposition in the more usual compost heap – hence the reason regular compost heaps need to be turned when composting slows down; to add more oxygen.

If it works, this could be a great composting approach for the allotment which has lots of bare soil for several months of the year and hungry crops to support.  We’ll dig down again in a few weeks to assess what’s happening and report back.

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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.


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Alpine Strawberry Seedlings

alpine strawberry seedlings

Am always on the look out for ideas to entice my children to spend more time at the allotment, and the latest weapon in my armoury is alpine strawberries.

These are miniature strawberries packed full of flavour that many adults find tedious to harvest – partly due their size and partly due to the fact that they crop little and often, compared with full sized strawberries which often have a bumper crop over a few weeks.

My cunning plan is to edge a whole bed with these dainty berries to provide a distraction at every allotment visit during the summer.  And because I need a lot of plants I’m growing them from seed.

Well so far, so good.  Two and a half weeks after sowing plenty of little seedlings have emerged.  Just waiting for the second set of leaves to appear before transplanting them.   I’m growing a cultivar called Mignonette (Fragaria vesca ‘Mignonette” if you want the full name) which apparently has good flavour but may not be quite so prolific as others.  Oh, and Thomson and Morgan say they’re perfect to pop into a glass of champagne.  What’s not to love?