You may have noticed a new range of children’s gardening tools and accessories on our site, or seen them in garden centres (where they’re open). Developed in collaboration with the National Trust, Europe’s largest conservation charity, the new National Trust ‘Get Me Gardening’ children's gardening range is colourful, fun, and built to last – just right for kids to get active in the garden. You can read more about our collaboration with the National Trust and the new children's range in our Journal.
Gardening is a fun activity that families can enjoy together, bringing the wellbeing benefits of time spent outdoors in the natural world, plus it helps children learn about the environment, sustainability and where food comes from. It has helped keep us all active and busy through some strange and scary times over the last year, and it’s been fantastic to see how children have loved getting to know the nature on their doorstep.
We know that a lot of families are planning on building on last year’s successes with more gardening projects this year. With perfect timing for getting things growing, the new ‘The Little Grower’s Cookbook’ by Ghillie James and Julia Parker is a beautifully illustrated hardback with over 60 gardening activities and recipes to inspire families to get outside and get growing – and then create tasty treats with the results.
To get you started, we’re giving away a selection of gardening goodies from the ‘Get Me Gardening’ range, plus a copy of the ‘Little Grower’s Cookbook’.
Ghillie and Julia have kindly shared one of the book’s projects with us, so read on to get them growing this Easter!
A CAN OF TOMATOES
Tomatoes are actually a fruit, not a vegetable. They are easy to grow from seed but you can also buy young plants from your local farmers’ markets or garden centre. There are lots of varieties to choose from in different colours and sizes as well as two types – ‘bush’ tomatoes and taller ‘cordon’ tomato plants. Here we used the bush (also known as compact) tomato as it will grow happily in a large container (ask your local pizza restaurant for an extra large tomato or olive tin) and it will reward you with lots of tasty fruits. Homegrown tomatoes, picked straight from the plant, remind Julia of her childhood – harvesting sweet, juicy tomatoes, full of flavour and scent, with her father in his greenhouse.
WHEN TO GROW
Sow seeds in spring and plant in early summer, when the weather is warmer.
YOU WILL NEED
- Packet of bush (compact) tomato seeds or 1 small bush or compact tomato plant
- Recycled supermarket fruit punnet, small yogurt pots or biodegradable pots
- Bigger yogurt pots or drink cups for transplanting
- Recycled, extra-large tin, about 20–25cm tall, clean and with no sharp edges or 1 large deep flower pot
- Multi-purpose or potting compost
- Growbag compost (this is a compost from a garden centre that is good for growing tomatoes)
- Plant label (wooden lolly stick), pen or pencil
- Watering can
- Stick for supporting the plant, such as a bamboo cane
- Gardener’s twine or string
How to grow
If you are using tomato plants rather than seeds then you can skip straight to the transplanting section.
A recycled, clean fruit punnet, small yogurt pots or biodegradable pots are the perfect containers to grow your tomato plants from seed. Fill each punnet or pot with your compost, rubbing it through your hands to remove any lumps, and add some water. Sow one seed per cup or six seeds per punnet and top up with a little more compost. Alternatively, see our ‘mini greenhouse’ project on page 186 for a fun way to do this using a fresh tomato.
About two weeks after sowing, your tomato seedlings will have appeared. When they are about 8cm tall and have two true leaves you will need to move them to the large yogurt pots or drinks cups to continue growing. You will need to make some drainage holes in the bottom.
Using a pencil, make a hole in the compost. The seedlings will have very thin stems so carefully pick them up by their leaves and place into the hole gently, one plant for each pot, trying not to damage the roots. Water the seedlings carefully and leave in a sunny warm place; tomatoes need lots of light to stop them becoming thin and weak. Don’t forget to label your plants and stand the pots on a tray to catch water spills.
When your seedlings have 3–4 true leaves you can transplant them to the extra-large tin or large deep flowerpot that you have filled with grow bag compost. Tomatoes are hungry plants and will love the rich nutrients in this compost. Water the plants regularly but be careful not to overwater if your container does not have drainage holes. When the weather warms up, move them outside to a sunny, sheltered spot.
Bush tomato plants need little attention other than watering daily. Soon lots of yellow flowers will appear and each one of these flowers will turn into a tomato. Your first tomatoes will be ripe and ready to pick by midsummer, but more tomatoes will keep coming! Keep checking your plants to see when the tomatoes start to turn red – that’s when to pick them. If there are lots of sunny days the tomatoes will ripen very quickly.
Plant some basil near your tomato plants. The lovely scent from the leaves will stop white fly attacking your plants. Or even better try the ‘pizza box’ idea on the next page.
Tomatoes are self-pollinating which means they don’t need another tomato plant or bees to help produce fruit, unlike some other fruit and vegetables. You can give them a helping hand by gently shaking the plants when the yellow flowers appear; this spreads more pollen and guarantees lots of juicy tomatoes for you.
Extracted from: The Little Grower’s Cookbook by Ghillie James & Julia Parker (Lettuce Publishing) 4th March 21, £20 Hardback, Photography by Ali Allen
Images of our 'Get Me Gardenin' range of children's tools and accessories with thanks to the National Trust, Kingston Lacy.
You could win a prize bundle consisting of: watering can, bucket, spade and digging fork from our new National Trust ‘Get Me Gardening’ range plus a copy of ‘The Little Grower’s Cookbook’ by Ghillie James and Julia Parker. Together it’s a bundle worth £82.96, so enter now and get the little ones gardening, growing and cooking this summer!
How to enter
To win this little grower’s goodie bag and get them gardening this summer, all you need to do is leave a comment on this blog. Scroll to the bottom of this page to comment (your email address won't be published). You could tell us something you’re planning on growing with your little ones, for example. You’ll also need to be a subscriber to our monthly email newsletter to be a winner, so if you're not already signed up, fill in your email address in the grey band right at the bottom of this page. Every email we send has an 'Unsubscribe' link at the bottom, so it's easy to opt out at any time if you don’t enjoy our monthly updates.
The small print
‘The Little Grower’s Cookbook’ prize draw, 2021