Becky Dickinson reveals the five superfoods you can harvest in your own garden with the children
Summer is a perfect time to reconnect with nature and introduce your children to the joys of gardening. And what could be better than growing plants that are packed with nutrients? Many so-called superfoods, revered for their superior health benefits, are surprisingly easy to grow at home.
Children are natural gardeners. Not only does it combine their love of messy play, it also feeds their innate curiosity about the world. What’s more, fussy eaters are far more likely to try a food if they’ve helped to nurture and pick it themselves.
There is something magical about sharing a child’s sense of wonder as they witness a seed grow into something tasty to eat. You don’t need a large garden, or a degree in horticulture to get started; just a patch of soil or a few containers, and some seeds.
But if you don’t know your pea seeds from your parsnips, knowing where to start can be a challenge. So here are five foods which are simple to grow, and (almost!) guaranteed to ensure your child devours the fruits of your labour come harvest time.
This once humble member of the brassica family has enjoyed a surge in popularity of late, since being made the patron saint of vegetables. Fortunately, it’s also incredibly easy to grow and tolerant of bad weather.
Sow seeds directly outdoors between March and August. Once the seedlings emerge, it’s a good idea to cover them with nets to keep birds and butterflies away. Then simply pick the leaves when they are young and tender.
And for a snack that even vegetable-phobic children are likely to enjoy, try making kale crisps. Tear the kale into small pieces, then toss in a little oil and salt, or another seasoning like paprika if you prefer. Then roast in the oven at 200°C for five minutes. The results are delicious!
Beetroot is a good source of iron, naturally occurring folic acid and antioxidants. It’s also exceptionally easy to grow and doesn’t even require much watering. Sow the seeds outdoors from February onwards, in the ground or in containers. Once the roots are the size of golf balls, simply pull them up and boil or roast whole with their skins on. Or grate the flesh into brownies or chocolate cake.
Most children will polish off a bowl of blueberries faster than you can pick them. A powerhouse of antioxidants, these super fruits also make attractive patio plants.
Blueberries thrive in acidic soil, so are grown in containers filled with ericaceous (acidic) compost. It’s worth buying a couple of different varieties as this will encourage cross-pollination and heavier crops. Keep the soil moist using rainwater if possible to maintain the pH balance, and prune in late February once the plant is a couple of years old, to remove the old wood. Your only challenge is likely to be persuading your little helper to save some fruit for you.
This Halloween favourite is a great source of vitamin A (essential for eye health) and beta-carotene.
The large seeds are easy for little fingers to handle and can be planted indoors in pots of compost in April, then transplanted outside in June. If space is an issue, try one of the cute miniature varieties, like Baby Bear or Jack Be Little.
Water regularly until the fruits are ready to harvest in October and when you’ve finished carving, the nutritious flesh is great in soups, curries and cakes. And don’t forget the seeds, which are full of protein, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
Tomatoes are packed with the potent antioxidant, lycopene, which gives them their distinctive red colour and helps mop up free radicals that can harm our cells.
Homegrown tomatoes taste so much better than shop-bought ones. For pots or hanging baskets, try bush or tumbling varieties such as Tumbling Tom, Garden Pearl or Tumbler.
To grow from seed, simply scatter a few seeds into pots of compost in March or April, then place on a sunny windowsill. Wait until June before planting outside in a warm, sheltered spot, or in grow-bags or containers. Water little and often, and enjoy fresh from the vine and warm from the sun – perfect!