Rumble Your GrumbleWeeds!
Never been near a lawnmower in your life? Don’t know your shallots from your shitakes? Have a group of young people who would rather eat their own hand than consume something resembling anything remotely healthy or natural?
I run a veggie growing project with a group of young people aged 8-16 as part of our Reachout Pendle initiative based at The Waterside Centre in Colne. Getting young people to engage with activities that have an obvious educational benefit or which encourage them to try something new can be hard. But the benefits of growing your own fruit and veg can be really rewarding and being a complete novice to anything green fingered myself, I've found that it doesn't have to be as hard as it looks.
Here are my 8 top tips for growing your own fruit and veg with young people.
- Relax and just do it! – Many gardening enthusiasts will have lots of stories on the perils and pitfalls of growing your own fruit and veg. DONT PANIC. Yes, certain plants will need a particular soil, some plants will get attacked by slug, bugs and lots of other garden creepies and obviously you will struggle to grow an exotic fruit during the drab British summers which we often suffer. But I've found that nature is amazingly resilient and will do its best to grow and survive in whatever environment you put it in. When we started growing our veg the plot looked like something you would find on a builders site, full of rocks, bits of crockery and other debris. I couldn't believe that something would have any will to survive in such conditions! Low and behold though, at our first harvest we had a bounty of potatoes, onions, peas and pumpkins.
- Let the young people lead - Quite often in our attempts to ensure a successful project it becomes easy to over manage the project, preventing young people from learning from their own mistakes. It might mean your veg aren’t planted in perfect rows, you'll find compost here, there and everywhere and some produce will kick the bucket before it even gets going, but there's nothing which will put off a young person more from getting involved in an activity than if they feel they're just a mere spectator in it.
- Keep it Simple - At first concentrate on just a few different fruit and veg which are easy to manage such as potatoes, onions, peas, blackcurrants, blackberries, raspberries etc. You don’t need to be competing with the likes of Titchmarsh and co on your first go!
- Keep it small - You don’t need masses of land to get a healthy crop. If you don’t have a patch of land or allotment you can grow many things in containers. You don’t need to spend a lot of money either. Old bins, tyres, buckets - whatever can lay your hands on will often serve their purpose as well as shop bought plant pots.
- Go to a garden centre - Your local garden centre will often be more than willing to give advice on which variations of crop are easiest to grow and will often be more helpful than the big chain stores. Also, if you've friends or colleagues who grow their own, they may have cuttings which they'd be able to donate to you.
- Work to the strengths of the group - Each young person will have their own strengths, some being more practical than others. Bear this in mind when planning your sessions. For example, our older members of the group were bored easily when planting and watering, but they did love to build, dig, saw, cut and lead others. So if you can, get the older members of the group to actively get involved in the design and build of raised beds and containers. All five of our raised beds were built by our young people themselves and they were able put their maths skills into action also by calculating areas and volume.
- Get the right tools – So you’ve been to the shop and got yourself a load of the best spades, forks and rakes money can buy, only to find that your young people can’t even lift the things! Young people will get frustrated very quickly if they have ill fitting gloves, wellies and are using equipment they simply aren’t able to handle. It's also unsafe and will lead to accidents. Many stores have a full range of equipment suitable for smaller hands and are often cheaper than the full size versions.
- Eat It - Once you've grown your veg, incorporate a healthy eating message into the project. You can have “cut and taste” sessions or, if you have the facilities, deliver a cooking session with the produce you've harvested. Homemade vegetable pizzas were a great hit with our group!
I hope this information has been useful and inspired you to start your own growing project. If you want to see more photos from our project please like our Reachout Pendle Facebook page.