Treat yourself to an edible tent

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When I think back to my childhood, one of the most vivid memories is of the camps I made in the woods. The favoured spot was a tiny patch of trees in the local cricket club, where we’d amuse ourselves for hours as my Dad sweated it out on the pitch; we were oblivious to the game, only aware that when it was all over we’d get a soft drink and a packet of crisps as a treat.

They weren’t grand camps by any means, constructed mainly of sticks, leaves and grass cuttings kindly left in helpful piles nearby by the groundsman. But they were such grand palaces in my imagination, complete with several ‘rooms’ and all mod cons.

My daughter loves making tents and camps indoors but now the weather is warming up a little (well at least it was, briefly), I thought we’d take our camping adventures outside for a change.

You may be thinking ‘what’s this got to do with gardening?’ and you’re about to be rewarded for your patience hanging in there. With a few sturdy sticks or poles, some string and about 15 minutes to spare, you can make your own teepee suitable for a toddler in the back garden.

I used hazel cuttings for ours, as we had a tree that needed a prune so it was going spare. You can use most tree cuttings, but best to avoid willow as it will readily root in the ground. If you don’t have handy trees to prune, just use bamboo canes from a garden centre. It won’t look as rustic, and it will cost you a little more, but it will still work out just fine.

Mark out where you want your teepee to sit, making sure to leave enough room for a doorway. There’s no set number of poles you need, but I’d recommend using at least five to get a decent teepee-like shape. Simply push them firmly into the ground and then pull together to tie with string at the top, leaving the wispy bits sticking up if you have them.

This will eventually be an edible teepee, so make several horizontal lines around it (again, leaving room for the doorway) with string to provide support for the climbing plants. There are plenty of options for climbing beans, peas etc. and you can add some nasturtiums (edible flowers and the seeds can also be used as capers) as well for extra colour.

It’s a bit early to risk putting beans out yet, so best start them off in pots on the windowsill or greenhouse now, ready to plant out when the risk of frost is passed (which may be a while for us in the North East, but by end of May for everyone else….) Plant two to a small pot and make sure the lip of any beans you sow is pointing upwards – when you plant them out you’ll need enough to put two either side of each pole.
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I got a bit ambitious with my teepee floor, and it may not work, but I thought it would be lovely to have a soft cushion of scented chamomile (above) to sit on while you’re hiding in the teepee, so planted a couple of plants in the centre. You could try other creeping herbs such as thyme as well.

I didn’t think a toddler would be able to get much out of the actual making as it’s a bit fiddly for little fingers and you need to be able to reach fairly high, but my daughter loved adding her own kitchen, cooker, bedroom and the like made out of tiny sticks to the construction as we went along, muttering quite happily to herself – that was an added bonus! So why not dig out that inner child this weekend and make a teepee? You know you want to…

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Salad days

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Ever stared at a salad bag in the supermarket and thought the contents look a little tired? Or, maybe like me, you look at the price and then put it back! Well, the good news is you can be eating your own fresh salad every day with minimal effort and cost.

Children of all ages love sowing, and mixed salad seeds are just perfect for starting out as you can’t really go wrong. They also germinate on a warm windowsill pretty rapidly, so are ideal for those children (and adults) with a limited attention span…

The best container for your cut-and-come-again salad is recycled: a plastic punnet – the kind you get in supermarkets to stop fruit getting squished (just make sure it is one with holes in the bottom).

Once you have your clean container, put a layer of compost on the bottom about an inch (or 5cms) deep or so and press it down gently so you have a firm, even surface.

Then give it a light watering; some children are more enthusiastic waterers than others, so you may need to give them a hand to ensure you have at least some soil remaining in the punnet. It’s important to water before putting your seeds on otherwise you’ll end up with a bunch of seeds in one place and nothing at all elsewhere!

Sprinkle a selection of seeds over to ensure an even covering but don’t fret too much about exactly how many seeds are on there – it’s not an exact science! You can buy mixed salad seed packets for about £1 and if you’re feeling adventurous, add some spinach seeds, radish, spring onion etc. as well to the mix.

Lastly, scatter a light covering of compost over your seeds  – you’re aiming for just enough to cover them rather than a complete burying so that they expend all their energy getting to the surface.

Place the punnet on a piece of cardboard or something waterproof if you’re worried about your windowsill and then sit back and wait to admire your seedlings as they emerge. It should take a matter of days to see something happening (you can often see the first stirrings through the sides, under the soil – another reason why it’s a good idea to use the plastic punnets) and within a fortnight, it should be ready for a first cutting of mini leaves.

Be frugal with watering and only water if the soil is dry to the touch (but don’t leave it like a desert for days or the tiny seedlings will give up the ghost).

It’s up to you whether you thin some out and pot them on if you have space to grow them into full size salads, but if you leave them small, you should be able to get two or three cuttings out of each batch (scissors are the easiest way to harvest). It will look a little drastic, like a shorn sheep for a while in-between cuts, but it will come back again at least once. If you start another punnet as soon as you begin eating the first, you should be able to have a continuous supply.

And that’s it – a really easy and cost effective way to get fresh salad that has the added bonus of not being sprayed with chemicals to keep it fresh in the supermarket.