Posts tagged ‘gardening with children’

August 29, 2012


Earlier this year, I was sent some sunflower seeds by the lovely Helen at The Good Life Mum. I planted them with my daughter and she has done her very best to look after them. Many of them grew to about a foot tall and then stopped. We have these in a row outside the back of our house. But, thankfully, one of them grew and grew. I’m so thrilled that she has managed to grow such a giant sunflower as reward for all her efforts – it’s a good lesson for her to learn.

Each of my children has a small raised bed on the allotment, and alongside her ‘wild flower’ seed mix (which has been hugely successful and much loved by the bees) she planted one of her sunflower plants.

I don’t really have any idea how big it is, as the only scale I have is Eve, who is a tall five year old! Once it’s finished flowering, we’ll allow it to go to seed and then dry the seeds to collect for using again next year.

July 2, 2012

Allotment Gardening: A Change of Plans

This year my husband and I have really been struggling with the allotment. Despite best-laid plans and use of the Half Hour Allotment book, the combination of the weather and our other responsibilities has worked against us. The beans and peas have mysteriously disappeared, despite following exactly the same processes as last year (and protecting them in the same way) the apple set has been disappointing because of the rain and half of the plot is wildly out of control.

When we get the time to spend down there, instead of being ruthlessly efficient we stand around aimlessly trying to work out what job will make the most difference in the time we have available. It’s all a bit dispiriting. Instead of being a joyful experience, if I’m honest, it’s just becoming a bit stressful. Not that we haven’t been here before. When Eve was born ten weeks too soon, we spent a whole Winter sitting in a neonatal unit instead of sorting out the soil on the plot. We’ve had two babies, and I’ve had two caesarian sections, loads of other life responsibilities, and through them all, we’ve managed to juggle the allotment alongside everything else.

It feels different now. One of the reasons stress becomes real distress is when you can’t see an end to the situation you’re in and we’re in this situation for a long time. Full time work and small children just don’t leave enough time for it. We need to remember that it’s supposed to be fun. A hobby that might just provide some of the food on our plate. It’s really important to me, but I don’t want it to just become another thing to worry about. After all, the upside of a job is a salary with which we can buy the food we need. It’s more than that though. I want the kids to enjoy being outside. I want to share with them the happiness that growing some of your own food can bring, and the knowledge of where that food comes from. As well as that, they’re also learning about living alongside nature and I love to watch them exploring and playing on the plot, even though their presence reduces the amount of actual work I can get done!

Our feelings of stress about the situation are not helped by the new allotment neighbours. An army of them work the plot and in a few short months, it looks like they’ve been there longer than our six years. It’s making me miserable. I know the competition is only in my head, but we still look like the weakest link on the site and I don’t like it! We talked about giving it up recently. It broke my heart as I know that we’d never be lucky enough to get a plot again given the popularity of allotment gardening these days, but we also need to make sure that our holding onto one is legitimate and not depriving anyone else who would do a better job.

In order to make it work, I’ve taken a leaf out of my neighbours’ book. I’ve resisted this before, because I didn’t want to relinquish control over the plot, but all that  has done is leave me with no time and little food for my hard work. People are stronger as a community.  So, I did what I always do in times of crisis.

I called my mum.

We’re going to share the work in return for sharing the rewards. Even sharing, I’ll end up with more food in the first place because of the extra work being done – and Mum gets to grow the vegetables she cannot grow in her own, often waterlogged, garden. I already know, obviously, that we can work as a team together and our knowledge and skills will complement each other. I’m really excited about it. Of course, she might have said yes because of the payment up front I offered. A share in my one and only fabulous crop of this year. Here it is…

May 30, 2011

Allotment Essentials!

One of my Barbara-like hobbies is my beloved allotment and today I took possession of the one thing every parenting allotment-holder needs.

No, not a shed. Nor a polytunnel, although it has to be said, one is on the wishlist.

What every allotment needs needs is a slide.

With the best will in the world, most small children have a very short attention span and it doesn’t take long after arriving at the allotment before they’re off getting into some kind of trouble, or asking to go home.  I did find it a lot easier when they were little babies, as they happily slept in the pram while I got on with the work, but as they get older, it becomes more important to keep everyone entertained. With a bit of planning, the allotment can be a brilliant, fun and educational place to spend time as family.

So here are my rules for balancing allotment gardening with small children!

  • Try to have a patch of lawn, for playing and picnics. My local authority even encourage this in their literature. Remember to bring plenty of snacks, drinks, suncream, hats, gloves, wipes, nappies, maybe even a change of clothing, depending on how far away from home your site is. It’ll be worth it.
  • Make space for the aforementioned slide – or something similar; a sandpit perhaps or a wendy house. NB – if you do get a wendy house, make sure your kids aren’t scared of spiders. Our seems to be the European Spider HQ and therefore never gets used…
  • Once they’re old enough, give your kids a patch of their own for growing. Bigger seeds, like potatoes, beans, peas or plug plants are easier for them to handle when they’re little.
  •  Let them get involved in what you’re doing, assuming that they’re not going to do themselves harm. I did nearly get hit in the face by Eve wielding a hoe yesterday, so make sure they’re not going to harm you either!
  •  Allow for more of a creative approach to planting – fewer military drills, and more scattering.
  • Grow things kids like to grow – sunflowers; fruit; potatoes which are great for digging up like treasure. My children will eat some things straight from the plant like raspberries and peas.
  • Grow things you like to eat. It might sound silly, but there’s no point spending all your time there growing cabbages just because the books tell you it’s part of your crop rotation, if no-one will eat them! Just plan out your spaces a bit differently, and grow what you know you all like. You can manage the crop rotations differently and add plenty of organic matter to the soil to help make up for any imbalances.
  • Plan your time  – make sure you have a plan of the tasks you’re going to carry out before you get there, so you’re not wasting precious time on wandering around worrying that you’ve got too much to do. Do the job you went there to do, and then just before you go home, decide what tasks you’ll plan for the next visit. You won’t have a pristine allotment, but leave that to folk with more time on their hands. Besides, a few weeds are good for biodiversity. It’s odd, Eve is terrified of spiders but would happily keep a ladybird as a pet. Maybe because in this fleece, she looks like one…

Ladybird, ladybird...

  • Never compare your allotment with that of those folk with more time on their hands than you – you’ll just be discouraged. Although, I actually prefer my rather chaotic plot to the regimental rows.

Very Serious Allotment - this one's not mine...

Comedy Allotment - this one's mine, hurrah! Although do notice cordoned apple trees and potatoes...

  • Remember it’s a hobby, so don’t get stressed about it if you end up spending all your time there on a ladybird hunt instead of weeding. Which is what happened to me yesterday.
  •  Oh, and ALWAYS ask if they need the loo just before you leave the house, otherwise the minute you open the shed door, you’ll be heading home again!

Anyone else got any great allotment stories? I’d love to hear them…