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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New beginnings

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I’ve been writing a blog for The Hop Garden for many years, and this is a new off-shoot of that one, for little green fingers.

I hope it might provide some inspiration for those wanting to get out in the garden with small people, but not sure quite where to start.

Gardening with children, even from a very young age, is a wonderful low-cost activity. It also has the added bonus of giving us adults the perfect excuse to switch-off from our often hectic lives for a while and re-connect with the childlike delight that comes from growing and exploring the natural world.

And Spring is a perfect time to start: the nights and mornings are getting lighter and there are some encouraging signs of nature starting to wake up from winter, even in Northern England!

For a simple activity, head out in your garden or the local woods or park and see how many signs of Spring you can spot together such as flowers and buds on trees and bushes.

Take time to look closely at the tiny petals on snowdrops and crocus you find and, if you fancy something a bit more imaginative with a toddler and upwards, ponder on who might live in them (fairies are always a favourite with my daughter!)  A whole host of stories can evolve from these humble beginnings.

It’s also a good time to start sowing seeds, and as soon as they can handle small objects, children will love playing with seeds and compost. I have some wooden paper potters, which aren’t essential, but they have been a great investment for our community garden (I think they were about £8 the last time I checked) as you can make endless pots out of newspaper from them for free.

They are also great for reducing the amount of plastic pots we use and as the paper is compostable, you can plant the whole thing into the ground or into a bigger pot, which is particularly effective for crops such as peas which get a bit grumpy if they have their roots interfered with.
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If you’re just starting out, you can’t go far wrong with early peas and a packet of seeds will last for ages. Just plant two in each pot – little hands can push them gently under the surface approximately up to their knuckle deep.

Simply make sure they’re well covered and the exact depth doesn’t really matter as long as they’re aren’t so deep that the port peas give up trying before they get to the surface! Let the strongest seedling grow on once it appears and keep them well watered, but not soaking, on either a window sill or in a greenhouse until the risk of frosts are past.

Peas do need some support – just old twigs and branches stuck in the soil to make a frame will do or you can make an elaborate teepee out of poles and string if you’re feeling more adventurous, which has the added bonus of being an edible hideaway.

I’ve found even the most vegetable-averse child cannot resist a pea they’ve just picked out of the pod 🙂