Food Growing Fun for Kids: Teach Children to Grow Vegetables, Salads & Herbs at Home
Children can grow vegetables, salads and herbs at home, almost free of cost.Did you know that you can grow vegetables, salads and herbs at home, almost free of cost? You don’t need seeds and you don’t even need a garden! Today we’ll explain how you and your child can help the household with an almost endless supply of potentially free, home-grown fresh produce, all year round. Children will have enormous fun with this amazing activity, whilst learning new skills and gaining important knowledge along the way. Even better — you all get to eat the produce once the home-grown ‘crops’ are ready! And it should save money for the household.

Home-Grown Vegetables & Herbs For Free? How?

Show your child how to regrow small off-cuts of vegetables and herbs that you would already have bought as part of your weekly shop.One of the many beauties of this activity is that you don’t need to buy any seeds or plants specifically for the task. You are going to show your child how to regrow small off-cuts of vegetables and herbs that you would already have bought as part of your weekly shop. To explain, some of the parts that you’d normally discard can actually be used to grow new vegetables — lettuce, for example. And, for herbs, there’s an easy and free way to grow new plants from small cuttings of shop-bought herbs that you may have purchased anyway (basil or parsley, for example). Using this approach, you could grow your own vegetables, salads and herbs and, in theory, never have to buy any again! We’ll explain later, in more detail. First, we’ll look at what you and your child will need for your plants to grow in.

No Garden Needed?

As we mentioned above, you do not need a garden or greenhouse for this activity. As a minimum, all you need is a windowsill that gets lots of natural light. During warmer months, of course, a balcony or small outdoor patio or space will allow the activity to spread out and bigger volumes to be grown, but it’s really not essential. In any case, keeping to a windowsill means there’s less likelihood of garden pests eating the produce.

Egg cartons, used yoghurt pots, margarine tubs and the plastic trays from ready meals can make great flower pots.If your household already has flower pots or seed trays, then great. If not, there’s not even any need to buy them if you simply recycle things like empty egg cartons, used yoghurt pots, margarine tubs, the plastic trays from ready meals and suchlike. So long as they’ll hold some earth/compost and some holes are pierced in the bottom for drainage (this is best if done by an adult, for safety), then you’re almost good to go.

The only things you might need to spend a few pounds on, just to get going, are:

  1. Some compost (or use suitably fine, sieved earth, ideally from natural compost, sourced from outdoors if you want to save money). If buying new, choose peat-free compost as it’s better for the planet. Multi-purpose compost is fine, or seed and cuttings compost will also suit.
  2. Drip trays to put under your pots or seed trays. These are simply to catch the water and to protect your home. They’re very cheap to purchase. If you’re on a budget, though, you could simply source suitably sized food trays, for instance left over from ready meals, or use existing saucers and suchlike. So long as they catch any draining water from your pots or seed trays and are watertight underneath, they’ll be fine.

Regrowing Vegetables

Root sections from root vegetables like celery, leaks, lettuce and even garlic can be regrown.Now for the really clever, fun part! Instead of throwing away the ‘root’ part — that you’d normally cut off and discard — from the bottom of vegetables like onions, celery, garlic cloves, beetroot and lettuce, your child should save them, because that’s the part that will regrow if you encourage it. Show your child how to safely cut off and save a section about an inch deep, containing that ‘root’ section, from the bottom of used vegetables from your ordinary, weekly shop. Green onions, spring onions, lemon grass, various types of lettuce, Swiss chard and carrots are all additional examples of vegetables that have this bottom root section that can be harvested for later regrowth. Ginger too, but this takes significantly longer to regrow.

Once saved, simply place the lower sections, root downwards, into water e.g. in a suitable dish or glass. The depth of the water should be such that the top part is not submerged, but the root section is. Your child should ensure that the water level is maintained during a period of one to three weeks, depending on which type of vegetable it is (they grow at different rates). Some time during this period, visible roots will start to grow. Perhaps increase the depth of water once this happens. Once roots are substantial, the new plants can be transferred to the pots or containers of compost. Ensure that the roots are covered in soil but the upper parts protrude into the air as that part will eventually start to grow too. Carrot tops can also be regrown for use as 'greens' in salads and suchlikeThe compost should be kept moist as the vegetable regrows into another one that can, again, be harvested to eat as part of a healthy meal.

Interestingly, carrot tops (the growing green leaves above the root) can also be harvested for use as ‘greens’ in salads and suchlike. Instead of discarding these, pop the tops in water as above and soon enough you’ll see lots of greens growing.

Regrowing Herb Clippings

Herbs like basil, coriander, parsley and rosemary are easy to regrow from cuttings left in water.Herbs like basil, coriander, parsley, rosemary are also easy to regrow. When you’ve used most of them from your weekly shop for meals, save a few clippings from left-over stems. Clipping length will be different depending on the herb used. For example, basil clippings should be about 4 inches (100mm) long and rosemary clippings should be 2 to 3 inches (50-75mm) long. You may need to experiment a bit at first, so save a few different lengths if unsure initially.

In a similar way to the root vegetables above, these clippings need to be dangled and left in water on a windowsill until the roots are a couple of inches (50mm) or so in length. Once again, those can then be transplanted to the pots or containers with compost burying the roots. Again, your child should keep the compost moist until new, substantial herb plants have regrown and are ready again to eat. At this time, the whole process can begin again. Regrowing herbs is a great way to encourage children to try more types of them, to widen their food palettes and preferences.

Growing Seeds from Shop-Bought Vegetables

Another way to regrow shop-bought vegetables is to harvest seeds from inside them.Another way to regrow shop-bought vegetables is to see if they have seeds inside. Tomatoes and peppers are great examples of these. So, when you’re next using them up for meals, get your child to save the seeds from things like peppers (you’d normally discard these anyway) and some seeds from a tomato — each one contains many. These too can be used to grow brand new plants and vegetables for next to nothing. It’s a little more advanced and they need more room, though. The best time to harvest tomato seeds is between summer and autumn, then plant them in spring if they’re intended for the garden. Here’s an advanced method of saving tomato seeds.

Marrows, courgettes, pumpkins and squashes are filled with seeds that can potentially give you new vegetables free of charge.It’s similar for marrows, courgettes, pumpkins and squashes, although those need significant space (they’ll want to spread out), so may be more suitable outside once they begin to grow significantly.

Whichever seed you choose to grow from repurposed vegetables, they can be spaced out in your compost pots or trays, then lightly dusted with a thin layer of extra compost to stop them washing away when they’re watered. You can cover them with kitchen roll sheets or cling film initially, as it may help them to germinate faster. Once shoots begin to appear, the child can remove the covering and then ensure that the compost is kept moist, but not soggy, while remaining on the windowsill. Once the seedlings have grown bigger, for example after a month, they will need to be transferred to bigger pots and this may have to happen again when they’re even larger. If allowed to grow to full size and looked after, flowers will eventually appear and later those will turn into new vegetables that will ripen, ready to harvest roughly two months after sewing the seeds.

Children Love Natural Growing Activities

Treetops Nursery has its own plant growing area for the children.Children will love looking after these living things and seeing them grow or regrow. They will learn so much along the way and will have a great sense of achievement when successful. Once they’ve succeeded in producing something they can eat (… and potentially regrow again) they’ll probably want to do it more and try different things. The result, of course, is also fresh produce, which is rich in vitamins and nutrients and good for family health. Children will have been entertained, they’ll understand nature better and they’ll learn skills like patience and being responsible too. A key lesson is also to learn from mistakes — something we all have to do. What’s more, this natural activity for children may even save money for the household. All in all, it’s a great activity from every perspective.

Our Childcare Nursery in Willesden, near Harlesden, Kensal Green & Willesden Green

Treetops Nursery, Willesden, near Harlesden, Kensal Green and Willesden GreenTreetops Nursery has its own plant growing area for the children to use and this is just one of many wonderful outdoor activities that they can enjoy and learn from at the setting.  It is a really popular nursery in Willesden, near Harlesden, Kensal Green and Willesden Green, so places are in demand. To register for a place for your baby, toddler or under-five child, please get in touch and we’ll be delighted to show and tell you more:

Duckling Hatching Experience at Treetops Nursery
Duckling hatching guidelinesYou know both Spring and Easter have arrived when eggs and fluffy, new-born ducklings can be seen at Treetops Nursery. To explain, the nursery took delivery of a duckling ‘hatching kit’ in late March and children at this Willesden nursery have had an absolutely magical time ever since. Over the course of ten days, the children and staff watched as the little duck eggs were incubated, using specialist equipment, right in the heart of the nursery. After just a few hours, fluffy yellow ducklings had hatched, much to the delight of everyone who saw them. More details follow below …

Background — Incredible Eggs

Let’s start at the beginning. A group of 7 small, family-run farms runs a programme called Incredible Eggs. It provides education in the form of chick-hatching experiences for settings like childcare nurseries, schools and care homes across the UK. As part of this, it helps with wildlife conservation too, breeding several rare and pure poultry breeds to safeguard biodiversity and avoid losing some of the breeds forever.A duckling being cared for by a child at Treetops Nursery This also includes breeding and releasing the endangered ‘Grey Partridge’ back into the wild as part of the overall programme. Incredible Eggs also supports several charities and social enterprises. Animal welfare is a top priority and the programme aims to give every bird “a good life, and a life worth living.

The Hatching Experience at Treetops Nursery

The team from Incredible Eggs arrived at the nursery, bringing with them all the equipment we would need, along with the precious duck eggs, of course. They professionally set up the equipment for us and explained to nursery staff everything we needed to know for the days ahead. Printed hatching guides, information sheets, posters and instructions were all supplied, so staff were fully briefed as to what to expect and what they would need to do to ensure the welfare, safety and health of the new arrivals once they came.

One of the delightful ducklingsThe Little Miracles Arrived

The eggs had already been partly incubated while at the farm, so in no time at all, tiny ‘cheeping’ noises could be heard from the eggs as they began pecking away at the egg shells, from the inside. It was absolutely magical for the nursery children and staff to witness the little ducklings gradually break free and enter the world for the first time.

A Magical Experience for Children & Staff

Children enjoying the magical experience with the ducklings

Once hatched, the ducklings were gently moved into a ‘brooding’ unit, a lovely warm area where they could dry out, gather their strength and rest for a couple of days. They settled in comfortably and were cared for, fed and watered by knowledgeable staff — all under the watchful eye of the delighted children. Once they were strong enough and adorning their beautifully soft, fluffy yellow plumage, the nursery children were allowed to gently handle the ducklings under close, adult supervision, of course. The children were told to stay calm and quiet and to avoid sudden movements, so as not to scare the ducklings. It was a dream come true for many children and their delight was clear to see. They loved seeing the ducklings learning to eat and drink in their lovely warm brooding unit. It was also fun to see them get excited when staff or children gently scratched around at their food, making them run over to peck it.

Ducklings can swim just a couple of days after hatchingOne of the joys of having ducklings this time (the nursery had hen chicks a couple of years ago) was that ducklings absolutely love swimming! Containers of water or a paddling pool can be set up and ducklings are able to take to the water within just a couple of days of hatching. It’s great fun to watch them learn to dive and to dart around — and it’s super cute!

An Educational Experience

As well as getting to know the beautiful little creatures, the hatching experience was an educational one, touching on several areas of the EYFS curriculum. This includes, primarily, the key area of Understanding the World including learning about nature, living creatures, life and the world around the children. Learning about how animals come into the world and about how they all have their own individual needs and feelings is incredibly important.The ducklings are as cute as can be! So the hatching experience also teaches children respect for nature and may even grow a long-term love of nature and the natural world within them.

“If children grow up not knowing about nature and appreciating it, they will not understand it, and if they don’t understand it, they won’t protect it, and if they don’t protect it, who will?” (Sir David Attenborough)

Returning Ducklings to the Farm

It will be sad to say goodbye to the adorable ducklingsOn April 1st, the ducklings will leave Treetops Nursery and go to live back at the farm. It will be very sad to see them go, but it was always a part of the plan and, in any case, the farm is set up to care for them very well as they grow into adulthood. Looking after any creature is a huge responsibility, so it’s good to know that the ducklings will be in just the right environment and will be cared for by professionals. The nursery looks forward, however, to next year, when we hope to do it all over again and watch with the children as more magical lives begin.

A Place for your Baby or Child at our Nursery in Willesden

Are you interested in nursery places for babies and children in Willesden, or near Willesden Green, Kensal Green or Harlesden? If so, Treetops Nursery may be able to help. We’re a high quality childcare setting in Willesden, London NW10 and would be happy to discuss a possible place for your child here, while a few spaces remain available. If this is of potential interest, please contact us using one of the buttons below:

020 8963 1259 Book a Visit Get in Touch

Microgreens: fun, nutritious, food growing for little ones

There are now microgreen farmsThere is one class of edible plant that can be grown all year round and is perfect for kids to grow indoors, for example on a windowsill. Some types of this food will sprout in as little as a week. What’s more, it’s tasty and highly nutritious. Growing it is super-easy and a perfect way to keep kids entertained, educated about nature and eating healthily. It’ll also be a welcome addition to mealtimes for the whole household.

Growing Microgreens

We’re talking about Microgreens (also referred to as micro leaves). These are the early, edible, sprouting leaves of very young herbs, leafy greens and some root vegetables that might usually be thought of in a larger, more mature form. The tender new leaves are cut just days after they first sprout and can be made into wonderful salads, garnishes or meal accompaniments. They also bring some very tasty flavours to mealtimes. The young micro leaves are full of vitamins and minerals, look fantastic on the plate and will grow back time and time again after snipping. The secret is simply to harvest the immature micro leaves and to stop them from growing to full size. Just harvest … re-harvest … and re-harvest.

“Micro leaves are usually eaten fresh and raw, and the fresher the leaves are, the more vitamins and minerals they contain. Each little leaf is a gold mine of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals such as iron, folic acid and potassium.” (Gardeners World)

Various microgreen leaves sproutingHere are just a few examples of plants that make suitable microgreens and can easily be grown by children indoors:

  • Basil — their tasty baby leaves are full of flavour and can be harvested just ten days after seed planting. They’re wonderful on salads, pizzas and can even be made into pesto sauce.
  • Coriander — their tiny, delicate leaves pack a unique and punchy flavour that’s perfect with salads, stir-fries, chopped onions and curries. They can be harvested a couple of weeks after sowing the seeds.
  • Rocket — ready to harvest just a week after first sowing, rocket microgreens are another flavoursome and slightly peppery leaf to add to salads and put onto pizzas. Very tasty!
  • Mustard leaves — these may not be to every child’s taste, but many adults will enjoy the slight heat they’ll bring to salads, stir fries and Eastern dishes. Ready to first harvest in 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Salad with microgreensFennel — just 10 days after first sprouting, leaves from young fennel seedlings will give a pleasant aniseed tang to dishes like pasta salads, risottos, soups and even stuffing.
  • Beetroot leaves — the sprouting microgreen leaves from the beetroot take just ten days to appear after sowing. With their rich green leaves and red stems, they look wonderful in salads and lend their mild, earthy flavour to garnishes for some fish dishes.
  • Radish leaves — in just a week, the young, fiery leaves from the radish seedlings will be ready to snip and add to salads, stir fries and sandwiches. For some, their microgreen leaves are even tastier than the traditional root.
  • Spinach — tender leaves from young spinach plants can be harvested in ten days or so. They’re really good for you too. With their mild flavour, they’re a perfect addition to leafy salads, risottos, pastas and noodles.
  • Broccoli leaves — these will be ready to first harvest in just a week and have quite a different flavour than their fully-grown counterpart. With their slightly spicy taste, they’re also great in salads, risottos and omelettes.
  • Red cabbage microgreens are packed with nutrientsRed Cabbage micro leaves have one of the highest Vitamin C concentrations of any microgreen. They also contain Vitamin K, potassium, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium and antioxidants. As with many of the microgreens, many top chefs use them as an attractive and tasty garnish. They can be sprinkled over soups, salads, grilled vegetables, stews and cooked meats. After sowing, they take only days to appear.

How children can grow microgreens at home

Your children will need very little to get started. You’ll need to buy them some packet seeds, which you can get at your local garden nursery or online. If you’re unsure who to order from online, Suttons are probably the best-known supplier and seed packets there seem to start from as little as just a pound or two. You can also find mixed seed packets. (If you’re on a really tight budget, you can alternatively take a look at the excellent post about growing food virtually free of cost, by our sister nursery in Streatham).

Along with the seeds, your child will need some multi-purpose or seed and cuttings compost (peat-free is more eco-friendly) and something to sow the seeds in. If you’re going to grow the microgreens on the windowsill, you could use flower pots, slim seed trays (perhaps left over from plants or herbs you have previously bought), containers, yoghurt pots with drainage holes pierced underneath, egg cartons, or even the cardboard cores from used kitchen rolls, cut down to a suitable size. Any of these will need something to sit in, to catch any draining water, for example a saucer or seed ‘drip tray’.

Lemonbalm micro leaves sprouting in compostYour child will need to fill the chosen containers with compost, not quite to the top. Tap it to level the soil, then pat it down just a little to firm it. Some gardeners also indent the compost where the seeds will go. The seeds then need to be carefully placed or lightly sprinkled into the indented areas. It’s important that your child spaces the seeds out so there is no clumping, otherwise significant problems can occur (the crop might get diseased or even completely fail). The seeds don’t need to be covered but a light dusting of sieved compost will keep them in place while allowing light to get through. The seeds then need to be lightly watered. It’s best for your child to do this part outside, just to avoid potential mess indoors, taking care not to over-water nor to wash the seeds away. A way to water them indoors is to simply stand the vessels in some shallow water for 30 to 60 minutes, so the compost naturally draws up the moisture.

The rest is also very easy. Your child simply needs to place the potted seeds on a light windowsill and ensure that the compost is always kept damp, taking care not to over-water. Also consider a label for each pot for identification purposes, particularly if several different seed types have been planted. Some people cover the seed pots or trays with a single sheet of kitchen towel, newspaper or even cling film to keep the moisture in while the seeds initially germinate. Your child will need to check under the covering every day. The moment little shoots can be seen, the covering will need to be removed, so long as the soil is kept moist thereafter, so it never dries out. Ensure the potted plants get full light and ventilation too. Within a week or two depending on the seeds chosen, the young shoots will grow baby leaves and can then be harvested. Snip them near their bases before mature leaves start to replace the baby leaves. If you want to benefit from them for longer, snip them like this rather than pulling up their roots, so they can sprout and re-sprout time and time again.

Eat & enjoy!

A sandwich with microgreens as a garnishOnce rinsed, the tender young micro leaves can be enjoyed in meals by the whole family. They’ll add often exquisite tastes and textures to meals as well as adding much-needed vitamins and minerals to the family diet. That’s even more important for growing toddlers and preschoolers, of course. And, throughout the growing journey, the children will absolutely love seeing the new shoots grow into young plants. They will have learnt new skills, had great fun getting to know more about nature and have a real sense of achievement. Chances are, too, that they will love the taste of the micro leaves.

Treetops Nursery in Willesden

We hope you and your family enjoyed this article and will have fun growing your very own microgreens. The post was brought to you by Treetops Day Nursery in Willesden, London NW10. We are a childcare nursery and pre-school, suitable for babies from 6 months and children up to 5 years of age. We’re also convenient for parents and carers who are looking for high quality weekday childcare near Willesden Green, Harlesden, Brent, Kensal Green, Brondesbury Park, Kilburn, Mapesbury, Dollis Hill, Church End, Roundwood, College Park and Park Royal. Please do get in touch if you’d like to learn more about a possible nursery place for your child.

For further details, contact Treetops Nursery:

020 8963 1259 Book a Visit Get in Touch