Oily Rag: Green thumb fun for all family

By Frank, Muriel Newman

1 comment
Take the children out to the garden for some family time.
Take the children out to the garden for some family time.

Being oily raggish does not have any age restrictions. Young, or just being young at heart, matters not a jot when it comes to being part of the oily rag lot - especially when it comes to children's gardens!

The garden is a wonderful place for children, parents and grandparents. What better place to have an inter-generational conversation about photosynthesis or the wonders of pollination and germination than while in a kids' garden?

There are also nutritional benefits as Suzanne from Rotorua writes, "When my grandchild was a preschooler and I looked after her during the day, we spent many long hours in the organic vege garden. One thing Emma wanted to do was grow something herself, by herself. She chose the silver beet plants that we bought, planted them, then watered and cared for them. Now I am thrilled to say that she will go down to the garden, pick the leaves, wash them and above all loves to eat her silver beet."

A Whangarei reader has also become enthused about a children's garden after seeing a Mitre 10 promotion.

As part of their Easy As Kids promotion they have "Big pumpkin seeds" available for 50c a packet. There are two seeds to a packet, plus a planting tag. The packet has a few simple tips.

Plant early spring (now): Under glass so they don't get too cold (but probably not necessary if you live in the winterless North) and space 2-4m apart so they have plenty of room to grow.

Give them plenty to drink: Especially during germination. Keep seedbed evenly moist, but don't drown them.

Keep them warm: Pumpkins need plenty of sun and protection from the wind.

Choose the biggest pumpkin on each vine and get rid of the others so it grows like mad.

Pumpkins love sun but not too much. In the mid-summer heat they like a little light shade.

In the autumn, cut the pumpkin off the vine, leaving 10-20cm of the stem attached. Lift the pumpkin into a sunny, sheltered spot to ripen.

These big pumpkins are not for eating - unless you're a pig.

On Saturday April 5, Mitre 10 will have a pumpkin weigh-in, with judging at 1pm. There will be prizes for the biggest, ugliest and best-dressed pumpkins. You can find out more at mitre10.co.nz, and a whole lot of others things as well, such as how to make a raised garden.

Talking about raised gardens, once you have the children excited about big pumpkins, start a garden (raised gardens are easier to dig with a plastic bucket and spade).

The first thing about starting a children's garden is that it should be proportional to the size of the child - small - and it should be full of interesting plants that are easy to grow that they want to eat (such as lollies and icecream).

Pretty much the same rules apply to a childs' garden as for a big-person's plot. Good fertile soil, in a warm sunny spot, and access to water.

The trick is to get children involved from the very start (which is where the big pumpkin seeds come in). That includes talking about what sort of garden you should have, how big it should be, selecting the timber for the frame, putting down the weed barrier, dumping the soil, making compost, selecting what to grow and where, when to plant, when to pick, and best of all how to prepare it all for a yummy meal.

The garden only needs to be about a metre or so square, maybe a little more, so make the frame about a metre by a metre - or make it long and narrow (a couple of metres by half a metre, but depending on what spare - free - timber you can locate), so little hands attached to short arms do not have a problem reaching in. You could also use edging such as stones, logs, bricks, tyres and the like if you don't have any timber handy.

Use soil that is light and easy to work. Mix in some fertiliser such as sheep pellets - but, children, no putting in your mouth please.

A childs' garden should be fun as well as a productive, so we like the idea of planting things in addition to vegetables. Big, bright, happy, sunflowers are fantastic.

Do you have a favourite tip you would like to share? Send it to us at www.oilyrag.co.nz or write to Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.

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