A couple of months ago I followed a twitter link to The Wellcome Trust’s new initiative called ‘The Crunch’ which aims to get people thinking and talking about our food, our health and our planet. The idea was interesting and within an hour I found I had volunteered to be an ambassador for ‘The Crunch’ during 2016. (I’m currently undergoing therapy for compulsive volunteering!)
The role of an ambassador is to get discussions going, so alongside working with local children to look at how we grow, cook and eat our food, I thought I’d blog about ways we can entice our kids into gardens. Growing their own crops has proved fascinating to my children, especially when they get to cook and experiment with their produce.
In my childhood I had a complex relationship with fruit and vegetables. I loved being out in the garden with my dad and treasure the photographs of my two-year old self in red wellies in the vegetable patch. I loved harvesting raspberries and strawberries, peas and potatoes – tangible evidence of magic in the soil. However, I have less nostalgic memories of kale infested with ‘extra protein’ and stringy runner beans. Last year I grew ‘White Lady’ runner beans for the first time, finally coming to terms with the trauma of my childhood, 30 years on!
My godson’s favourite foods were apples and peas, so when my son was born I thought introducing food from the garden would be child’s play. I was unprepared for a child who screamed every time he had peas on his plate – even if he didn’t have to eat them. Consuming fruit in anything other than miniscule pieces was unacceptable (he still struggles to eat a piece of fruit whole) and I found the whole process of preparing and sharing food with the family disheartening. It has taken several years of perseverance, but at 7 he is now a moderately enthusiastic fruit and vegetable eater, and much of this change has been achieved through engaging him in the process of growing his own food.
The first time we really explored the food in the garden, when he was about 2, it led to a discussion about the colour of raspberries. At that age kids are wonderfully free of preconceived ideas, so the fact that our raspberries were red at one end of the row and yellow at the other was merely an interesting observation (a range of red summer and autumn fruiting varieties, and our favourite – ‘All Gold’ at the end). Although I did wonder what his nursery teachers would think in his next lesson on food when he insisted that raspberries are yellow or carrots purple!
Both children love exploring colour in the garden – it’s exciting to grow rainbow carrots – ‘Yellowstone’ and ‘Purple Haze’ are particular favourites. (I love yellow carrots for the extra sweet taste and purple carrots – well, just for being purple and for the way they have concentric rings of orange within the purple exterior.) We enjoy growing dwarf beans, like ‘Purple Teepee’ and then watching the colour magically leach into the water as we cook them – leaving purple water and green beans.
In fact, I think I enjoy growing different coloured varieties as much as the children. I’ve been particularly interested in trying different coloured tomatoes over the past few years. I love ‘Black Russian’ for its deep, meaty taste, even though it doesn’t crop as heavily as other varieties. I wasn’t going to sow it this year, but then my daughter requested black tomatoes again and it didn’t take much persuasion to get the seeds out and sow them together. I’ve decided to try the one truss method with it this year (more on this later).
I also grew ‘Indigo Rose’ last year. The kids loved the way the tomatoes were almost entirely black, but then when we lifted the calyx, underneath, the skin of the tomato was bright red. ‘Golden Sunrise’ are a must sow each year for their sweet burst of flavour and this year I’m trying ‘Green Zebra’ – my first go at a green tomato (supposedly a sweet one too). I’m also trying a yellow variety called ‘Millefleur’, a centiflor type, which are indeterminate bushes with up to a hundred small fruit on each truss.
The kids love picking fruit and blueberries are a particular favourite – sweet easy mouthfuls and at just the right height for little hands. Last year I bought a Pinkberry ‘Pink Lemonade’ – a variety of Blueberry which they were keen to try. Gardening teaches patience (not a trait many 3 and 7 year olds have in spades), so we’re all excited that this year’s buds indicate our first crop this summer.
I could go on – purple chillies, cornflower, calendula and nasturtium petals which the kids picked last year from their plot to decorate salads, red and yellow oca (the most marvellous sight in November when the garden offers few other coloured treasures). There is something particularly uplifting about bright colours in nature, from the first zingy orange ‘Ballerina’ tulip which emerged earlier this week in my garden, to the basketful of oca which I’ll hopefully be uncovering in the raised beds at the end of the year. Colour makes us happy and happy childhood memories in the garden have enriched my life in so many ways.
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