Salad days - the IoS schools gardening campaign - Gardening - Property - The Independent

Salad days - the IoS schools gardening campaign

Our schoolkids are getting their hands dirty. Now, for home growers, Emma Townshend has devised a calendar to guide you from packet to plate. Yum!

This May bank holiday weekend, we are in the heart of spring, with the growing season going at full pelt. But don't despair if you haven't yet joined in our campaign; there is plenty of time to get your kids growing for the summer.

To start with, crops such as salads, peas and carrots are always sown in succession over the summer months to keep a good supply for the kitchen. So you can still start these from seed. For crops such as tomatoes, sowing time was earlier in the year, but garden centres and DIY shops are selling a great selection of small plants this year allowing you to skip the fiddly seed-sowing stage.

Finally, you still have time to start big main crops such as beetroot, kale and even potatoes, as long as you are prepared to eat them while they are still small, fresh and tasty. And how much of a hardship is that?

When you are growing crops with kids, the most important thing is to make sure that they succeed. There is nothing sadder than seeing your home-growing experiment go to pot because you haven't fed and watered regularly. Vegetable growing requires a special sort of attention: little and often is the best mantra. Most plants will need daily watering in a sunny spot, especially if you are growing in containers. And keep them weeded – just one intruder will take valuable resources from your little plants.

As far as pests go, make the fight against slugs and snails part of the game if you can. Older kids enjoy the idea of putting out slug pubs filled with beer to drown the little beasties, but for younger kids, get them to collect snails in a bucket before you dispose of them elsewhere.

Kids are notoriously impatient, so opt for "early" varieties which mature more quickly, or look out for specially-marked packets. In the meantime, use a digital camera to show them their plants are genuinely growing. A daily snapshot can become a fun part of pre-bathtime routine, along with the watering, and the images will make a great poster for their bedroom wall or for school Show and Tell.

May

Plenty of veg to be sown, from beetroot to tiny seed potatoes. Salad is a great place to start

Monday 4 Sow salad and seed potatoes in containers or flowerbeds.

Saturday 9 - Monday 11 Try lunar planting – the moon's position is just right to sow carrots, beetroot, and other root vegetables. Plus, add a line of radishes for faster cropping satisfaction. For more astronomical information see farmersalmanac.com.

Friday 15 Remember to water seedlings. Put in sunflower seeds for summer colour.

Wednesday 20 Begin nightly slug patrol. Order nematodes (natural slug killers) online, for spraying.

Sunday 24 Earth up the potatoes, adding more soil around the stems, to make the crop bigger.

Thursday 28 Check out veg plants at the garden centre. Try something colourful: ruby chard or purple-sprouting broccoli.

June

Have your own complete salad experience. Kids, particularly, love cherry tomatoes

Wednesday 3 Get grow-bags going with courgette and tomato plants. And try Tumbling Tom cherry tomatoes for the hanging baskets.

Sunday 7 Keep watering, and add a seaweed feed once a week now, too.

Wednesday 10 Sow summer peas such as Hurst Green Shaft, somewhere protected from direct light and mice – try the spare room windowsill.

Saturday 13 You should have some salad leaves and radishes already, so enjoy a first homegrown salad.

Saturday 20 Sow a few French beans in rich soil.

Friday 26 Buy organic tomato food for the grow-bag plants – they need extra potash once the first fruits have formed.

July

Thursday 2 Keep feeding and watering.

Monday 6 Sow pumpkin for Halloween.

Sunday 12 Put in canes for the peas, beans and sunflowers. Cover the tops to prevent accidents. Pinch out pea tops and eat them in a salad, or with a steak.

Wednesday 15 You should be beginning to get tomatoes now. Try to resist eating them till they are really ripe.

Wednesday 22 Plant mint for grown-ups to have with Pimm's. Look out for apple and Moroccan mint, and buy a plant of peppermint for mint tea too.

Wednesday 29 Should get first carrots and baby beetroot around now.

August

Saturday 1 Away on holiday? Ask neighbours to water in return for picking all they can eat.

Saturday 8 Courgettes should be in full flow now – dig out some recipes.

Monday 10 Make sure to pick all the peas and beans, to keep the plants producing.

Friday 14 If it's dry, water every day.

Thursday 20 Pick new potatoes planted in May now. Make homemade mayonnaise!

Tuesday 25 Think big: remove all but one fruit on the pumpkin plant.

September

By now, you should have too many courgettes. Try them in fritters, with an egg, mint and a tablespoon of flour

Wednesday 2 Change the salad mix as the weather cools: lamb's tongue, chicory and rocket.

Wednesday 9 Eat carrots. And sow another crop right now for an early start next year.

Sunday 13 Intensive feeding for the pumpkin with seaweed.

Sunday 20 Get next year's seed catalogues and start planning. Order garlic for autumn planting.

Tuesday 22 Allow last few tomatoes to ripen on the windowsill. Put bananas in a bag with the tomatoes, which encourages them.

Tuesday 29 Sow winter spinach outside.

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