We’ve teamed up with our charity Partner Trees for Cities to share a few outdoorsy ideas for keeping little ones entertained during the lockdown.
There are numerous studies that show a link between happiness and being connected to nature. But as we stay home, many of us are missing that much-needed outdoors time, especially children.
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, balcony or sunny windowsill, there are lots of ways to get kids involved in nature-inspired activities, which also provide great learning opportunities too. Read on for some ideas for what to grow, do (and eat) in April, inspired by the Trees for Cities Edible Playground charity project that Dorothy Perkins supports…
Learning with a difference
Unexpectedly found yourself home-schooling your children? You can get to know the curriculum (through a fun, outdoorsy lens) with the Edible Playgrounds Curriculum Guides. There are guides for Year 1 through to Year 6 available to download from the Trees for Cities website, where you’ll find inspiration for every subject in the National Curriculum and ideas for both indoor and outdoor activities you can do at home.
Get ready to grow
People usually see weeds as a nuisance, but they’re also a great reminder that conditions are right for us to sow our own seeds outside. As the weather warms up weeds will have a growth spurt, so now’s the time to get out in the garden or, if you are in a flat, check your window boxes and pull out any weeds before they get too big.
A few planting pointers
Inspired to get planting? When planting seeds be careful how you water them. A good rule to follow is water the soil (or compost) not the plant, because plants drink through their roots not their leaves. If you’re sowing seeds directly into the soil in the garden make a drill. This is a shallow, straight channel or groove made in the soil into which you sprinkle seeds. Next, water the drill and then sow your seeds and cover them with soil. If you sow first and then water, your seeds could be washed out of the drill. But why do gardeners like sowing seeds into straight drills? Weeds grow in a random pattern. So, growing in straight lines helps us identify our chosen plants from unwelcome weeds.
If you’re sowing seeds into a pot then it’s better to pour the water into a tray or saucer under the pot. The water will rise up through the compost. Once the seedlings are around 5cm tall it is OK to water the soil surface.
No pots? No problem.
Do you have some seeds but no pots to grow them? Not having all the right kit needn’t stop you from having a go at growing. If you’ve got seeds and some soil you’ll definitely have something around the house that you can improvise with.
Egg box – The bit where the eggs sit and the lid can be used for seed sowing. Just prick a few holes in the bottom so water can drain through.
Eggs – Once you’ve cracked your egg you can use the empty shell for seed sowing.
Plastic fruit punnets – These are great because they already have drainage holes in.
Any plastic tray/packaging (yoghurt pots are great) – Just add some drainage holes and you’re away!
Let’s play a game
‘The Edible Detectives’ game has been created for children but plenty of adults will learn a few things too! The aim is to work out how to group the vegetables, fruits and flowers based on the part of them that we eat. It’s a great little science lesson as you’ll learn about plant families and how different parts of a plant function.
Say it with sunflowers
Now’s the perfect time to sow sunflowers. They come in a variety of sizes. For a window box try Little Dorrit or Dwarf Yellow Spray. If you want to cut them for flower arrangement try Sonja and Valentine. If your kids are competitive, why not have them try and break the world record – it’s 9.17m, by the way! You’ll need to grow Giraffe or Russian Giant for that. The great thing about Sunflowers, apart from their sunny disposition, is that they’re great for getting wildlife into the garden. First the honey bees and bumble bees will be attracted to the flowers. Then blue tits and parakeets will come for the seeds – as will any squirrels.
Your herb line-up
Supermarkets sell little pots of fresh herbs, but for about the same price you could buy a packet of seeds and have herbs for months. In a 9cm pot sow 6-10 coriander seeds. They’ll take a couple of weeks to germinate. Sow a pot every one or two weeks – that way you’ll have a succession of coriander in the coming months. You could also do the same with basil and chives. Alternatively, you could plant them in the garden.
Good to know
Taking things to the next level? Remember to label your pots of seeds with their variety and date? Firstly, this makes it easier to identify what seed went in which pot. The first leaves that seedlings produce can look very similar to others. Even some plants like courgettes and pumpkins look almost identical when they get their first pair of true leaves.
The date is also important. On the seed packet it usually states how long it takes for seeds to germinate. If no seedlings appear after that time then you may need to try again. So, why wouldn’t seeds germinate? Well, maybe you were just unlucky. Not all seeds are viable, even in a fresh packet. Some seeds can last for years if stored correctly. But, the older the seed the more likely it is to fail to germinate.
Assuming you have good seeds make sure they are sown at the right temperature. Carrots won’t germinate below about 7oC, so a late frost will hold them back. Courgettes need around 21oC to germinate. Some seeds actually need a period of cold (and frost) to break their dormancy. The easiest thing to do is pop them in the fridge or freezer for a few days. The seed packet will tell you if this is necessary.
Your soil or compost shouldn’t be too dry or wet. Moist to the touch is good for germination and healthy growth. Some seeds need light to germinate (e.g. poppies), but most don’t. Check the seed packet for how deep to sow the seed.
Calendula is a lovely, easy flower to grow. A good variety is Indian Prince with its dark centre and bright orange petals. Sow your seeds 1cm deep in pots or in a drill in the garden. Within 5-10 days you’ll start to see seedlings emerging. Thin them out leaving around 25cm between plants. Once it starts to flower you can cut the stems and make a lovely cut flower arrangement. Or, why not pick the petals to add to a salad or make a soothing calendula balm.
If you keep removing the flowers it will keep on producing more for months. But do let a few go to seed, which you can collect to sow next year. If you fall in love with this flower you can sow them in Autumn because Calendula are hardy, which means they can survive the winter cold. That way you’ll have flowers in April and May.
Give peas a chance
Peas… you can use their young leaves in salad, eat their pods or wait for sweet tender peas. If you don’t have much space, grow them in a pot and harvest them for pea shoots for salads. That means pinching off the top four leaves when they are new and tender. If you have some space, grow them in a large pot, but make sure you give them some support. Varieties such as Kelvedon Wonder will only grow up to 50cm tall, so can be supported by canes or branches stuck in the ground (usually referred to as pea sticks). Other good varieties are Ambassador and Hurst Green Shaft, which grow to 75cm tall. Oregon Sugar Pod is grown as a mangetout variety, but if you want something a little different try Shiraz, a purple-podded mangetout that looks beautiful.
That’s it for April, but if you’ve enjoyed the ideas from Trees for Cities, we know they’d hugely appreciate your support right now to be able to continue their amazing work to improve lives by creating greener cities. Visit treesforcities.org to find out more or donate.
We’ll be back with some more inspo from Trees for Cities in May.