“Neantog” Newsletter
written by Gaby and Hans Wieland of the Neantog organic farm in Cliffony, Sligo.

The “Garden in a box” project – Culinary connections – Parents and Children

Culinary connections between parents and children can often be very stressful. Screaming children in the shop or super market alley and fussy eaters at the dinner table are all a parent’s nightmare. I believe that connecting children to growing food at an early age can be part of solving these problems.

A recent family gathering at Christmas threw up interesting observations. All our children cooked in turns with fresh ingredients from the local farmers market and our garden. Our teenage- grandson wanted a recipe journal as a present to start collecting recipes of dishes he likes to eat and wants to cook and our 10 year old granddaughter helped harvesting lettuce from the polytunnel. I think this is all connected to having a garden where they all have sown seeds at various stages of their lives or were sent to fetch vegetables for cooking dinner. Like one of my food heroes Diana Kennedy, I believe “cooking is about understanding ingredients and respecting traditions”.

Imagine you have a garden with a vegetable and herb patch for your children, where you can grow and harvest many basic ingredients for dinner, imagine shopping with your children for the ingredients you don’t have at home and imagine your children helping to prepare dinner and the chance they eat what you have created together is quite high. It just means leading by example. If you can do it your children can do it.

Culinary connections between parents and children happen while eating together, they are enhanced by cooking together, broadened by shopping together but ultimately grounded in gardening together. The innocent and simple actions of sowing seeds in soil, looking after seedlings as they grow and harvesting vegetables to cook and eat will become skills for life.

The “Garden in a box” project:

You can start the project with four to five year olds to twelve year olds. Older children can grow in a few boxes to increase varieties.

What you need: a wooden or plastic vegetable box (30cm X  40cm or similar) from your market or shop, a sheet of plastic to line the box, compost or good weed free soil, a few packets of seeds for fast growing vegetables or edible flowers, labels, small watering can for children.

Suitable seeds are: Radishes –small bell varieties like Cherry Bell are best; perpetual spinach; lettuce – best varieties are Baby Leaf or Mixed Leaves and cress; edible flowers like nasturtiums, violas and marigold; sweet peas or mange tout (might need support with short bamboo sticks).

Suitable plants: Alpine strawberries

You can start the project from March onwards.

  1. Get your children to line the box with the plastic sheet and fill with soil or compost up to 5cm below the edge.
  2. Select your seeds from a seed catalogue and order online or buy together in a garden centre.
  3. Sow seeds in rows about 10-20cm apart, the depth of sowing about the size of the seeds, e.g. sprinkle the tiny lettuce seeds on top and firm down with your fingers, sow radish seeds a little deeper and so on.
  4. Once the first seeds have germinated put the box on a sheltered and sunny spot in your garden. You might cover it with a plastic cloche or garden fleece if it gets cold at night.
  5. Watch growing and water a little at a time, cress could be harvested as microgreens already after a few days.

Further details available about projects and recipes : neantog.ie