Having disappeared for a very long walk this morning – leaving Monkey Man (MM) in charge of all three kids – I felt I needed to put in some child-based time this afternoon. I would have taken them outside, but it was drizzling and chilly, so far safer to do some indoor gardening.
I decided on a bit of sweet pea planting. This offers a lot to keep children interested and it guaranteed MM an hour’s peace and quiet with Radio Five Live.
First of all we made some eco-friendly plant pots. For each one, you need a sheet of tabloid size newspaper which you fold in half then wrap around a suitable sized object (we used an old juice bottle) before sticking it together with sellotape.
You will have some excess newspaper below the base of your bottle which you simply fold upwards, shape around the bottle and sellotape it down to form the base of the pot. Finally, simply slip your ‘pot’ off the bottle.
You can even create a pot without tape – if you’re adept at origami – just have a look at http://www.geocities.com/newspaperpots/.
Now things get messy. You will need to get a large bowl of compost from which the children can fill the pots. I have a length of oil cloth which I use to cover the kitchen table for this sort of indoor gardening activity – you can buy this by the metre at any fabric shop.
Once the pots are all full, you may need to exert some quality control, especially to check the compost has been pushed down gently to ensure there are no large air pockets.
The children can make a 3cm deep planting hole in each pot using their own fingers and then they simply drop in a seed into each. Be warned, the seeds are poisonous, but if you explain this and watch closely, there shouldn’t be a problem (most children baulk at eating soft green peas, so I can’t really see the appeal of small, hard brown ones). Also, make sure they wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.
I did soak my seeds for a few hours before planting. This should help their germination, but it’s not absolutely necessary so feel free to skip this step.
Once planted, cover the seed with the compost and water in (again, a very popular, if potentially messy activity).
To make some of the pots look a little more interesting, we cut some thick paper to size and decorated it to form a plant pot cover. You can do this by wrapping the paper around a slightly larger bottle and securing with sellotape. This should then just slip over the sweet pea plant pot.
Now simply place them on a windowsill and wait for the shoots to appear. If you have a coldframe, you can move them out to this when they have 3-4 leaves. If not, then just plant then straight outside when the soil warms up in May.
You can put them directly in the ground, still in their newspaper pots. This stops the roots being disturbed (which sweet peas resent) and the newspaper will simply rot away. Remember to put some canes in the ground for them to climb or else place them near some trellis.
You should be enjoying flowers from June until August and best of all, picking the flowers prolongs the flowering, so the children can feel free to bring posies in to decorate the house.