In the Garden

First crops ... Two of Owen Pidgeon's grandchildren, Christopher Fitzsimons and Isabelle Pidgeon, sowing corn and beans.
First crops ... Two of Owen Pidgeon's grandchildren, Christopher Fitzsimons and Isabelle Pidgeon, sowing corn and beans.

Gardening with children can be fun, even with little ones whose attention span is quite short. There is nothing better than to have your youngster run inside saying: ''Look, I've picked our first beans and beetroot for dinner,'' and you look around in hope that the bean plants are still growing in the garden.

I've chosen five vegetables that have large enough seeds for small children to handle and with generally quite short harvest times.

Beans

Corn ... Great for children.
Corn ... Great for children to learn the ropes. Photo: Eddie Jim

Stringless bush beans are easy to plant and quick to mature. Good varieties include blue lake, pioneer and strike.

The seedlings will appear in seven to 10 days and you can expect to begin picking some fresh beans each day after about eight weeks. Plant the seeds 4-5 cm deep and 10-15 cm apart. Keep the plants well watered on hot days, especially when they begin to flower.

Beans can help you teach a scientifically minded young person about naturally building up the health of the soil. When the harvest is over, pull out one or two plants and identify the nitrogen-producing nodules growing on the roots. Then chop up all the leaves and dig them into the garden bed in preparation for a follow-on crop.

Beans ... Easy to plant and quick to mature.
Beans ... Easy to plant and quick to mature.

Beetroot

This is a good vegetable to grow at home and handling the crinkly seeds will teach the young helpers about the diversity of plants. Detroit is a good producer.

Beetroot does not attract many pest or disease problems. Sow the seeds 1½ cm deep and 10 cm apart. Your little helpers can easily pull up the beetroot. Young beetroot leaves can be used in nutritious summer salads.

Silverbeet

This is also an easy green vegetable to grow at home. Fordham giant is a good one to plant. Plant the seeds directly into one or two rows of the garden bed, at a depth of 1 cm, and leave 15 cm between seeds because the plants can grow to quite a size when well tended.

Sweet corn

This makes my list because the seeds are big and easy to handle, and a cob of corn is delicious cooked and eaten straight from the garden. It does take longer for the corn harvest to come but, in the meantime, children love to see the stalks growing tall and hide away between them in their own little worlds.

The garden bed needs very good preparation. Dig in lots of homemade compost and some pelletised organic fertiliser.

Corn can teach the young about ''gross feeder'' plants. It belongs to the group of vegetables that draws out lots from the soil and needs more water than nearly any other vegetable.

Plant at least four rows of corn for good pollination. Plant seeds 2½ cm deep and allow 25 cm between seeds in the row. Space the rows 50 cm apart.

Growing corn also demonstrates the way that many different things work together, including the vital role bees have in pollinating your plants and how earthworms and tiny little microbes break up the soil, digest humus and help feed the roots of plants.

Potatoes

Seed potatoes are so easy to plant and it's fascinating for children to watch how a vegetable can grow so much above the ground and yet produce its crop below the surface.

Plant seed potatoes 20 cm into a trench, below the garden bed level, leaving about 60cm between each potato. Leave 75 cm between each row.

Potatoes take about four months to produce a fully mature crop and this is a long time for children to wait. But you can dig up small new-season chits much earlier and children will love to bandicoot the potato patch after two to three months. Encourage them to be careful as they dig into the side of each row to uncover small chit potatoes.

As potatoes produce about 80 per cent of their crop above where the original potato has been planted, keep building up around each plant to increase the harvest. This can be done by hilling up with additional soil or adding layers of straw. If you have just a tiny courtyard, you can grow a good crop of potatoes vertically using a bin with drainage holes, or something similar.

>> Owen Pidgeon runs the Loriendale Organic Orchard near Hall.


This week's tasks:

■ Plant rows of snowpeas, beans and lettuce, as space permits.

■ Prepare trenches or round circles in the garden with deep layers of compost in preparation for planting pumpkin, zucchini and cucumber seeds directly. If you have raised some seedlings, it is now safe to transplant.

■ Finish preparing the garden for planting tomato, capsicum and eggplant seedlings. They need to go into a bed that has been rotated away from these families, and from potatoes, for at least three years.

■ Apply a good thick mulch of lucerne hay, pea straw or sugar cane mulch to all garden beds and around berries.

■ Keep checking fruit trees for heavily laden branches and thin where appropriate.