March is the perfect time to start growing fresh herbs – why not get the whole family involved?
Herbs have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes – and they’re now one of our kitchen staples. They’re also the perfect crop to get the whole family involved.
Sometimes, it can be hard to involve children in gardening activities as the process from planting to harvest can be too long to keep them engaged – herbs, however, grow quickly and are easy to incorporate into meals that can be cooked as a family activity.
Choose a varied selection of the most common herbs that you’re most likely to use in the kitchen and create a herb garden at home: it will not only be useful, but will look fantastic too. If you only have a small garden, it’s also easy to grow herbs in containers. They’ll not only look attractive – they’ll be easy to keep close to hand in the kitchen to add to your food.
GROWING HERBS FROM SEED
Spring is the perfect time to plant herb seeds: sow them and keep them indoors until the end of March, when the frosts disappear and the weather starts to get warmer. Plant in seed compost in half seed trays or small pots with holes punched in the bottom to ensure easy drainage.
Children will enjoy sowing the seeds in the compost and watering them once done: consider using a spray water bottle instead of a watering can, to avoid drowning the seeds. You’ll also want to remember which seeds have been planted in which pots, and children can get creative in making their own plant labels from lolly sticks or other bits and pieces they find around the home.
After the end of March, you can repot in containers outside, or transfer to flower or vegetable beds. Many of the herbs that we use regularly originate from a Mediterranean climate and so will need a good amount of sun, while herbs with darker leaves (such as mint), will flourish in areas with more shade. If you’re looking to plant in containers, have children hunt to find fun ways to grow their herbs: you can use anything from old baked bean tins to wellies – even plastic toys that they have outgrown, as long as drainage holes are made in the bottom.
NOT JUST FOR THE KITCHEN – FOR NATURE TOO!
While herbs are fantastic for adding flavour to our meals, they’re good for our garden’s wildlife too. They make great companion plants: certain herbs, when planted alongside other plants in your garden, can offer protection from the elements, help to increase the nutrients in the soil that these plants need, and act as pest control too, encouraging beneficial pests and repelling the harmful ones.
HOW TO LOOK AFTER YOUR HERBS
Another reason why growing herbs is a great activity for the whole family is that many varieties require very little maintenance.
Children can get involved in watering, and also in helping to thin out rosemary and lavender after they’ve flowered, which will keep them from getting too woody. With herbs such as mint, sage and tarragon, encourage children to help you to pinch them out: removing the upper portions of the stems will help to encourage better growth.
Because of their diverse flavours, homegrown herbs can be a great way to introduce some fun into the kitchen! Many children will recognise the flavour of certain herbs – such as mint – so why not challenge their senses with a blindfolded quiz?
Place varieties of home-grown herbs in front of them, and encourage them to touch, smell and taste each one to see if they can figure out what’s in front of them. It’s a fun way to give them a greater understanding of the flavours of herbs, and get them interested in how they can be used in the kitchen.
Growing herbs is a great way to start children on their gardening journey. The next time you need fresh basil for a homemade pizza or rosemary for a Sunday roast, sending them out into the garden to harvest the herbs that they’ve helped to grow from scratch will really make them feel a part of family mealtimes.