Alice Whitehead is a third generation allotmenteer that likes to grow, eat and get muddy – then write about it! With two urban allotment plots, an award-winning school garden club and an enthusiastic nine year old son to help. Alice catches up with GardenTags to recommend vegetables that children like to grow…and eat.
Top ten veg to grow with kids right now
by Alice Whitehead
If your children are anything like mine, it can be hard to get them to eat their five a day – let alone the newly recommended 10. But one way my son, and my school garden clubbers, have discovered a love for vegetables is through planting their own. Once they’ve put the effort in and tasted them fresh – there’s no growing back! Here’s 10 to try…
Is it a fruit, is it a veg? Who cares! When it comes to growing with kids, this is my number one plant and particularly good for urban container growing – you can even grow them on the windowsill. Easy to sow and bouncing back from forgetful watering and even severed ‘limbs’ (which little growers are apt to inflict), tomatoes taste great and come in a myriad of shapes, shades and sizes.
Grow: Buy small plants and plunge them deep into greenhouse grow bags or ‘long toms’ outdoors (cordons will need to be tied into canes), or trailing types into hanging baskets. Plant so the seed leaves are flush, or deeper, than the soil and feed three or four times over the season and once flowers form with a tomato fertiliser. Cordon tomatoes will need ‘pinching out’ – this is when you remove the side shoots between the main stem and the branches to focus the plants energy into fruiting – but bush types such as ‘F1 Lizzano’ can be allowed to romp.
Gobble: Forget the ketchup; get the kids to make their own tomato sauce by sautéing 1 onion and 1 clove of crushed garlic in olive oil. Dip 2lbs fresh tomatoes into very hot water and refresh in cold, removing the skins. Add to a pan and cook for two minutes, adding a dash of balsamic vinegar, a pinch of paprika and a little salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes until reduced to a thick sauce.
Carrots are so easy for children to grow and make excellent baby veg (preferably eaten fresh and al fresco after a wash-off at the allotment). They do even better in deep pots because it means their biggest pest, the carrot fly, can’t reach them.
Grow: Sprinkle thinly on the surface of weed and stone free soil, cover with 1cm of soil, and once they start growing, get the kids to thin to 3cm between seedlings.
Gobble: Great raw but even better roasted: coat in rapeseed oil and salt and pepper, and roast in one layer for 30 minutes until browned, tossing in your favourite herbs before serving.
3. Dwarf peas & beans
Needing less space and support than their sprawling cousins, dwarf legumes are great for urban growing. Plus peas can be eaten straight from the pod, making them the ultimate fast food for children!
Grow: Give a dazzling display with Dwarf French Bean ‘Golddukat’, ‘Borlotto Supremio Nano’, or Pea ‘Avola’, which only reaches 60cm, in a container or window box that’s at least 2ft by 1ft. Layer the base with broken crocks for drainage and fill with good quality peat-free compost, mixed with homemade if possible. Plant in blocks, five or six plants per side, two inches apart, so they can support each other, or sow direct at alternate spacings, 5cm deep. Firm in and water, and allow the plants to tumble down the sides or twirl around balcony railings.
Gobble: Pick regularly when the pods are green, young and sweet and whizz into a green hummus by gently par boiling and popping into a food processor with 2 crushed cloves garlic, the juice of 1/2 lemon and 2tbsp oil. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a little more oil until you get a coarse paste. Lavish on toast.
4. Cut-and-come-again salads
Short attention spans means sticking to seeds that germinate quickly – and salad leaves are just the ticket. What’s more, they can be pretty much grown anywhere, think welly boots, buckets and bags.
Grow/gobble: Scatter seed on damp compost in a tray and cover with a thin layer of soil, and keep well watered. Once grown to a few centimeters high, trim off the top with scissors to eat there and then or throw into salads.
When my son realized pesto was made from basil he couldn’t wait to secure homegrown supplies on the plot! While this fragrant herb can be a tricky one to grow in our fickle climate, with a little TLC you can have great handfuls all summer long at a fraction of the cost of shop bought.
Grow: Sow direct outside in pots or in the ground in a sunny position, covering if cold weather threatens, and keeping the soil moist, or sow indoors for the best results.
Gobble: Aside from the famously nutty herbaceous sauce, basil can be thrown into the mix with pasta and pizza and believe it or not goes wickedly well with strawberries and cocktails (when the kids aren’t around of course!)
Digging up the first potato harvest is an activity akin to unearthing treasure and I think all children should be allowed to experience it. You don’t need a huge allotment to get a good crop either: potatoes are easy to grow in sacks, growbags and even reusable shopping bags.
Grow: Make holes in the bottom of you bag, fill half way with compost and place the potatoes on top (with the shoots facing upwards). Cover with 8cm soil and place outdoors and each time the shoots grow, add more soil. Harvest when the top growth dies down.
Gobble: Boil 350g (12oz) new potatoes, and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain and cool. Thread onto skewers with button mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, and drizzle with a mixture of tomato ketchup, mustard and honey and grill on the BBQ, turning, until brown.
I dithered over whether to include this spicy globe here because it’s not always a favourite with children in terms of taste. The peppery tang can be quite alien, especially for those kids who are not used to bitter flavours. However, ready to harvest in four weeks from sowing it’s a must-have fast food, and the bright as a button colour and shape makes it fun to dig up.
Grow: Make a drill in the soil, for each person in the household, and water the row. Thinly scatter the seeds and cover, and have a race to see whose come up first! Try slightly sweeter varieties such as ‘Plum Purple’, or pick when young to avoid pungent, woody specimens.
Gobble: Put 175g trimmed and chopped radishes into a pan with a squeeze of lemon and orange juice, 1tbsp caster sugar and a knob of butter. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 30 minutes. Use as a relish, dip or pate.
8. Pumpkin…in a pot
While an ‘Atlantic Giant’ might be out of the question, even if you only have a balcony or small backyard you can still grow pumpkins – plus the smaller ones ‘Small Sugar’, ‘Jack Be Little’ for example, taste nicer and are fun for kids to grow.
Grow: Sow direct outside this month, two or three seeds to the largest pot you can find, pushing the seed in vertically to about 2.5cm (1in) deep, and covering. Discard the two weaker plants so you are left with a really strong specimen. Place where the plants will get at
Gobble: Pumpkin flesh adds a lovely moistness to cake mixes with sultanas, mixed spice and orange juice.
If your children are fans of the Jolly Green Giant, this plant will show them where those sweet little kernels really come from. While the picky plants can throw a tantrum in our short, cool summers, they make up for it in the taste stakes. Once your son or daughter has crunched their way through one of these golden nuggets, they’ll never eat tinned again!
Grow: Sow direct outside (to minimize root disturbance), choosing a sunny, sheltered spot. Fork in plenty of well-rotted compost, and plant or sow in blocks (as sweetcorn is wind pollinated) rather than rows, spaced at least 35cm apart with 60cm between rows. Give plants a good mulch at the base with compost or leaf mould and hoe carefully around the shallow roots. Water and feed during flowering so the cobs swell nicely.
Gobble: Eat them fresh with oodles of butter.
I urge everyone to have a weed patch on their plot or patio, even if it’s in a pot. It’s good that children know weeds are valuable plants in their own right, for example in attracting beneficial insects, and that a vegetable garden doesn’t all have to be regimented rows! Plus, weeds such as dandelion, chickweed, ground elder and fat hen also taste good.
Grow: Weeds will set up home pretty much anywhere and require no special care (great for children who get easily distracted!). In fact, too much care and they will up sticks to find a patch of poor soil. Just be sure to refer to a good guidebook before you pick anything, and wash well.
Do you have something to say?
If you have a point of view or a story to tell, put it down in a blog or a video. And send it to us at growrev@. We’ll be posting guest blogs at , so you have a chance to inspire others.
Here’s the official disclaimer bit… The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of GardenTags. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this guest blog post are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.