Category Archives: Sophie is gardening

Perfect pumpkins

The unschooling diaries: week forty-one

This is not a reflection on my amazing pumpkin-carving skills, but rather just a realisation of how the humble pumpkin makes a perfect vehicle for learning.

Our pumpkin journey began back in May, with three tiny plants from Rocket Gardens. Arthur helped me plant them, and over the weeks that followed we watered them and watched them grow.

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And grow.

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And grow!

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To be honest I had probably been a little ambitious with the amount of plants we tried to squeeze in to our raised beds, but the pumpkins soon made a break for freedom and found the space they needed by crawling across the deck.

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Arthur has been asking since August whether it is Halloween yet – he has been desperate to bring the pumpkins inside and carve them into lanterns. And this weekend we finally did.

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He was bursting with excitement as we cut the pumpkins open and scooped out the seeds and flesh from inside

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He had very clear ideas about what he wanted to create from his pumpkins: a ghost, a spooky dog, and an astronaut (we had to pilfer a squash from our veg box for the third one).

We looked online for images that fitted his vision, and then he guided me as I drew the outlines on the orange skin. We worked together to carve the shapes out, using Arthur’s ‘ghost knife’ that we’d picked up this time last year and a handy little saw.

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As soon as the lanterns took shape Arthur sought out candles to illuminate them, insisting that we took them somewhere dark immediately for a better view and staring full of wonder when night began to fall and he could watch the flames flicker at the kitchen table before we finally dragged him off to bed.

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This was only the start for the pumpkins, though.

Whilst Arthur and I had been carving their shells for Halloween lanterns, Leigh had been busy making pumpkin pie for Sunday lunch.

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And once the carving was done, we dried and roasted the pumpkin seeds for snacking on – a real treat in my nut-allergic world where every packet of commercially available seeds warns of possible cross contamination!

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There is even a portion of pumpkin puree left in the fridge, waiting to be cooked up into Halloween cupcakes this afternoon.

Honestly, who would have thought a simple vegetable could bring so much joy – and so much learning? I think we’ll all be sad to see the pumpkins go once this week is out. I’d best get thinking about what we can grow next…

Very hungry caterpillars

The unschooling diaries: week twenty-five

After the success of our tadpole project, I’ve been on the lookout for another opportunity to explore metamorphosis in action. A couple of weeks ago one appeared, in the shape of several very hungry caterpillars eating their way through our lettuces.

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We picked out two, and created a little habitat for them in the fishtank, complete with the remains of one of the lettuces they had been munching so that they could continue to prepare for their transformation.

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They were already pretty big when we found them, and it wasn’t long at all before they each settled into a crevice in their new home and began to spin a web of silk around themselves.

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This was fascinating to watch, as was the way their bright green bodies slowly went brown and hard as they pupated.

Whilst we waited for them to hatch, we read up about the process – Usbourne Beginners ‘Caterpillars and Butterflies’ had lots of interesting facts, and of course we re-read Eric Carle’s classic. I also did a bit of googling to try to find out what sort of butterflies we might expect, and discovered that actually the silk cocoons suggested that we were more likely going to be welcoming moths.

And indeed about ten days later first one then the other broke out and spread their wings.

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We watched them for a couple more days, and when we were sure that their wings were strong enough Arthur reluctantly agreed to let them go.

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Once they had flown away, he was keen to have a closer look at the empty cocoons. He felt the sticky silk, and prodded at the shell of the pupa within.

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And after that, whilst I attempted to tidy up our overgrown veg patch, he even washed out the tank, ready for his next pets.

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As it happened, he didn’t have to wait very long. I had a feeling that the latticed spinach and calendula might be hiding some more little creatures and, in fact, it was teeming with them.

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It made for some very interesting conversation, around how these bugs are interesting to watch and study but are also pests, especially when they’re competing for our vegetables! We transferred some of the caterpillars we found to another part of the garden, but because they looked different to the first ones we’d found we decided to keep a few back so we could observe the metamorphosis process again and see if we noticed any changes.

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After this lot I think we’ll be done though, at least till next year…

Anyone have any ideas how we can make the remains of our crops slightly less attractive to the very hungry caterpillars? After all, it would be quite nice to be able to enjoy some of our vegetables too!

Green fingers

The unschooling diaries: week twenty-four

I have never had much luck with growing things, but it seems that with my green-fingered assistant by my side my fortunes are starting to change. In fact our little veg patch, which we planted together about six weeks ago, is almost growing too fast for its own good!

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Before we actually started planting, we had lots of fun getting the ground prepared – pulling out the weeds and making sure the earth was well and truly turned over. Most mornings Arthur would be straight out there in his wellies and pyjamas, and we even discovered the thrills of making volcanoes after our trip to see them in Lanzarote.

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It was almost a shame when our plants arrived, but Arthur helped me then too – watering in the seedlings and positioning his scarecrow to watch over the growing crops.

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He was particularly interested in the potatoes – not just because they’re used to make chips, but also because he couldn’t quite believe that actual potatoes would turn into plants. He watched the planter for a while, hoping to see some evidence that this was true, but reluctantly accepted in the end that it might take a little bit longer than he was willing to wait…

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As time went on, he was brilliant at reminding me to water the plants as they grew – though with all the rain we’ve had that hasn’t been such an issue!

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In fact the rain might be one of the reasons why the garden has just exploded in the last couple of weeks! I’m actually thinking I might have to transfer some of the plants to pots, having paid very little heed to the recommended planting distances…

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Arthur has loved watching his garden grow – especially because we came up with an alternative place for muddy play in the shape of an old planter. He’s dying to taste his peas, but only the lettuces and the spinach are really ready for harvesting. We checked on the carrots the other day, but I think they have a way to go yet too… And would definitely benefit from not being completely overshadowed by pumpkin leaves.

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What we did find, though, when we were looking through the leaves, was a little cluster of caterpillars – the perfect subjects for our next metamorphosis project! After demolishing the lettuce we sacrificed to feed them, they are now resting in their cocoons. Once again I suspect I might be even more excited about the change to come than Arthur is, though he’s enjoyed reading about their life cycle – and revisiting The Very Hungry Caterpillar of course.

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All in all this year’s garden is turning in to a wonderful learning space. I think I may try to keep it going right through Autumn and Winter so we can explore what grows in the changing seasons – the thought of home-grown food all year round is pretty enticing too, even if we might not enjoy quite such lushness as we’ve got right now.

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Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

23/52

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

This week, fuelled by sunshine and jet lag, we have mainly been getting the house ready for summer.

As part of this, on Sunday morning, we went to our local garden centre. Arthur was lured along enthusiastically by the promise of a visit to their play area, and was initially a little put out when we couldn’t go there STRAIGHT AWAY.

Actually, though, I think he surprised himself by how much he enjoyed looking at flowers. When we walked out to the back, basking in proper summer sun, he exclaimed “It’s so beautiful!”. And it really was. We meandered between the rows and through the poly-tunnels, picking up things that looked pretty and not too easy to kill.

Arthur was tremendously careful with the trays he was given to carry, and loved being part of our little garden project almost as much as he loved being let loose on the climbing frame when we were done.

And now, after a couple of hours of planting, we have a garden resplendent with colourful troughs. Arthur disappeared off around the corner this morning, and when I asked where he was going he said he just wanted to look at the flowers.

Now I just need to remember to keep them watered and fed…

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Green fingers

For a few weeks now, Arthur has been desperate to get out into the garden whenever he can. He’s had a very particular mission: spotting his little watering can has triggered memories from last summer, and now every day without fail he asks “Arthur water plants please mummy?” image

Naturally I can’t refuse – not only because of the extreme cuteness of his polite enthusiasm but also because I am RUBBISH at remembering to keep plants watered, so this would be an extremely handy tendency to foster. It has all seemed a bit pointless though with the state the garden’s been in, and I found myself cringing as I’ve watched him water the weeds that had usurped the vegetable garden and the dry husks left from last year’s herbs. But this week we finally did something about it. image

The weather has continued to be glorious, and we seized the opportunity to go to the garden centre. Arthur was utterly enthralled by the huge variety of plants, and it was all I could do to keep up with him as he darted between them. image

We decided to focus on edibles – Arthur really enjoyed picking dinner from the garden last year, and I’m hoping it might help with his increasingly ambivalent attitude to vegetables. So we got a courgette plant, and a variety of lettuces. And more herbs. And, most excitingly of all, some strawberries, with a special pot and everything. image

There’s definitely space for more, but I figured it was best not to get too ambitious straight away…

And in between another hectic week of campaigning we managed to get it all planted. Clearing out the raised beds was the hardest bit, though Arthur was thrilled by the worms and woodlice we discovered. We kept the kale as it seems to have a bit of life in it yet, and now just have to wait for our new specimens to catch up…

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Arthur loved getting his hands dirty, and whilst his efforts were perhaps more hindrance than help in the planting stage he was back on form with his watering efforts and had made sure I haven’t forgotten our responsibilities as the week unfolded. I’m keen to get some more plants in before my enthusiasm passes – maybe some sweetcorn? Or peas? I had my eye on a miniature apple tree too which I think Arthur would really enjoy… image

What would you recommend for a green fingered toddler and his decidedly novice mummy to get started with? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

My word of the week this week is planting.

The Reading Residence

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall