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Growing Your Own Fruit and Vegetables to Educate your Baby-Led Toddler: Basic Tips for Gardening Nov

Helping Your Baby-Led Baby Learn About Fruit and Vegetables

I'm sure all of you have been in the kitchen at some point and all you can hear is "what are you doing?", "can I help?", "what's in there?", "I want to see!" which is usually combined with a little person pulling at your clothes and generally getting in the way. Daddy W has a system whereby he will tell Little Miss E to stand back in the "safe zone" (i.e. 2 metres away) when we're carrying hot water/pans etc. I always feel my irritation rising as our kitchen isn't very large and I already feel like I am tripping over things without toddler twins thrown in the mix! However, I try to remind myself that at least they are showing an interest in food and cooking. I believe that it is important for our children to know where food comes from and that cooking fresh meals in your own kitchen can be just as delicious (if not even more so) than eating out. I will be writing a post on cooking with your Baby-Led Baby/Toddler later on, but in keeping with the seasonal timetable I will concentrate on Growing Your Own Fruit and Vegetables to Educate Your Baby-Led Toddler.

Grow your own Fruit and Vegetables - Baby-Led Weaning for Busy Parents (BLW)

Little Master A helping with the watering duties

Curiosity Didn't Kill the Cat (and Education Brought it Back)

Celebrity chef and healthy food campaigner, Jamie Oliver, was shocked to discover that many first-graders didn't know the names of basic fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes and cauliflower (click here for brief clip). I also found this troubling because we always play games with the twins when we are cooking by asking them to name ingredients that are being prepared/going into the pan so they know what things are from a young age.

I believe that one way to combat this lack of food recognition could be to grow your own fruit and vegetables at home. I know that this may seem daunting, but even if you start with a pot of cherry tomatoes, a bit of cress on the windowsill or some salad leaves this will pique your child's interest in not only where their food comes from, but also encourage them to eat the healthy fruits (literally!) of their labour. I find that the twins (as with many other children) find pride and enjoyment in creating meals/baking etc. even if the results don't turn out as an adult would have planned. The fact is that THEY helped to prepare and cook the food and there is nothing more rewarding than watching everyone around them enjoying their efforts.

Baby-Led Baby Steps to Growing Your Own Produce

I had always wanted to grow our own fruit and vegetables, but we used to have a small garden with lots of neighbourhood cats that would relish having a root around in our vegetable patch! However, we were lucky enough to move house and now have a lovely, large garden with great sunlight throughout the day and an amazing pear tree (incidentally it turns out that the ground our house is built on used to be on an orchard). We moved in during the autumn so last summer was the first opportunity for us to grow our own.

Firstly, I bought a great book called "Grow Your Own Crops in Pots" by the Royal Horticultural Society. It gives detailed information on when/how to grow each type of fruit or vegetable, the conditions that it thrives in and also tips on how to prevent insects from attacking them. We found this particularly useful when I found that something was eating the leaves of the Romano Pepper plants that we were growing!

Suttons Seeds have a great guide telling you what month you need to start growing your fruit/veg (link here) and they even sell dwarf fruit trees if you have a small garden but want to grow fruit (link here). The Royal Horticultural Society also has similar information - select the Fruit, Herb or Vegetable A-Z to find out when to sow and harvest

It may not be suitable for all fruit and vegetables, but as we were novices we decided to keep things simple and bought a multi-purpose compost to start with. I was also lucky because my workplace gives away used coffee grounds for free which is also great for using in the garden as fertiliser to give your soil/compost an extra boost!

We don't have a greenhouse and couldn't be bothered to install one at the time so we invested in a Veg Trug with a cover. Everything in there grew really well (it is less prone to slug/pest attacks as it is raised from the ground) and it took up less space than a greenhouse!

We started by germinating our seeds indoors; it is a good idea to start your seeds off in seed trays or small pots (on a windowsill or in a conservatory work well). This will give your seeds a chance to germinate without being disturbed by strong natural elements or predators. Once they are strong enough you can then plant them outside (this was the most nerve-wrecking time for me as I was anxious as to whether they would survive or not!). Little Miss E and Little Master A really enjoyed messing around with the compost and pressing seeds into the trays. However, germinating seeds indoors isn't without its setbacks; be prepared for keen babies/toddlers that want to over-water the seedlings or have a nosey prod about!

Harvest Time with your Baby-Led Toddler

For some reason I became fixated on peas as we eat them often and I'd tasted some of my mother in law's home-grown peas which were so delicious and fresh. Unfortunately, peas are one of those vegetables that deteriorate quickly so by the time they're frozen and packed (or sent freshly picked to the supermarket) they just don't taste the same! We sowed the seeds in trays indoors for 2-4 weeks until they looked strong enough to brave the outside world. Little Miss E took great pleasure in helping us pick them when they were ready and we actually preferred to eat them raw as a snack or in a salad because we found that their taste was compromised when cooked (they tasted like any other frozen and cooked peas)! Of course, we now have the problem that when our crop came to an end she only wanted to eat home-grown peas, so Daddy W and I had to tell a few "white lies"!...

Home Grown Peas - Baby-Led Weaning for Busy Parents (BLW)

One of our best pea pods

We also had quite a good harvest of courgettes last year which the twins watched keenly until they were ready (*insert "are they ready yet?" times 100 here!). My plan of eating zucchini flowers didn't quite go to plan though as the sunlight in our garden was so strong that they wilted before I was organised enough to pluck them! We also left some of the courgettes for too long so they grew enormous and into marrows! However, they were delicious and made into many meals for the family (we also gave some to my parents as we ended up with so many)! We only grew two seeds and knew that they would need lots of space to grow, but as novices we underestimated this so will try to not make the same mistake this year!

Little Miss E with one of our first courgettes... oops! Marrows...

Other vegetables that we grew were: sweetcorn (we only managed one successful ear as I don't think we allowed them to cross-pollinate properly, let's hope for better this year!), romano peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and radishes. I had been told that it is a good idea to grow vegetables that you will actually eat; this sounds ridiculous/obvious but makes a lot of sense! We're not huge radish eaters so I'm sad to say that some of them did go to waste and we won't be growing them again this year. However, we are hoping to grow more of our "regularly cooked" vegetables this year. Nothing went to waste as we also started composting; not only does this reduce food wastage in your household but it means that you can save money by not needing to buy expensive compost when planting/germination time begins!

Preparing for This Year's Planting Season

As spring is now upon us (in the UK) Daddy W and I have now been thinking ahead in preparation for germinating season. Unfortunately the winter seemed to suddenly creep up on us so we haven't cleared the pots/beds from last year and need to somehow find time to do this when the twins aren't around! I've included a few helpful links and tips below for growing your own fruit and vegetables and hope that you and your Baby-Led Babies enjoy giving it a go!

Growing your Own Produce for Beginners

A good way to ease yourself into things is to create a herb trough. Daddy W bought me a lovely wooden one in which I planted our most used/favourite herbs (English Garden Mint, Thyme, Chives, Rosemary). We did actually go to the garden centre to choose our herbs as there are so many subtle variations that it was nice to smell/examine each one before choosing the ones that best suited us.

Herb Trough - Baby-Led Weaning for Busy Parents (BLW)

The Herb Trough (with rosemary, thyme, English garden mint and chives)

A few easy fruit and vegetables to start growing if you are a complete novice are: salad leaves, spring onions, leeks, onions, herbs, bell peppers/capsicum, peas, beans, berries and apricots. You can find some great guides from The Royal Horticultural Society and also Grow Your Own.

Many supermarkets now sell vegetables (such as tomatoes) in pots. This can be a good way to make your first home growing experience less stressful as you can simply try cultivating a few of these rather than growing things from seeds.

Grow bags – garden centres sell these and to make things easier you can grow your produce straight into the bag of compost which is usually enriched with plant nutrients.

The Royal Horticultural Society also has some good advice about growing all sorts of vegetables in pots if you have limited space in your garden.

If you are growing a lot of different vegetables perhaps you could split the responsibilities between you?

Last year both Daddy W and I were maniacally rushing around the garden watering everything, but I think that some of the vegetables didn't get the due care that they deserved! Perhaps this year we could take responsibility for different vegetables in the hope that they will get better treatment? (I don't have a competitive streak in me, honestly!...) Whatever happens we're all looking forward to introducing the twins to more interesting fruit and vegetables this year by growing our own!