Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Autumn gardening

 After the torrential rains and high winds of the last week we finally decided to give up on our tomato plants and make the most if a sunny spell to sort out the garden.  Our garden is a postage stamp sized top patio, then a couple of steps down to an area about the same size but with flag stones and slate chipping where we gave up on trying to grow a lawn.  It is on the teeny size, but we're so lucky to have it as it means we can do some REALLY messy play involving making puddles with the water butt or digging out a pot of compost over the patio looking for bugs.

Our first job today was pulling out the old tomato plants, which led to a nice discussion about compost and how the 'goodness' in dead plants and animals is recycled to make lovely compost that new plants can grow in.  I did the trip down to the compost bin
solo though since one of the neighbourhood cats is currently using the slate chippings as a toilet and I couldn't face cleaning cat muck off the kids boots again.  This was a shame as the compost bin is heaving with worms at the moment which the boys love to watch.

Next Ollie carefully dug over the soil while Toby carefully emptied a bucket of water over himself.  Ollie went through the soil picking out snails and inspecting the other residents, including woodlice, spiders, worms and a big centipede. This was a good starter for talking about which minibeasts bite and which don't, and why that is, which was a lead into talking some more about foodchains.  Ollie laid out the plants he wanted to put in and then dug the holes and plopped in his chosen plants - cyclamens at the front and sides and pansies at the back.  I helped him to firm them in to make sure the roots are well covered by soil.

Next we tidied up the big decking board trough that hubby Matt made a couple of years ago and where we plant the majority of our crops.  We thinned out the strawberries and then planted garlic cloves in between them.  I don't know if there is any science behind it, but we found this year that the strawberries companion planted with garlic were huge and bountiful compared to those in a pot without garlic.  We pulled out another finished tomato plant and filled up some gaps were something had eaten some of the herbs we planted a couple of months ago.  The chamomiles had just died, which retrospectively was just my poor crop cycling - chamomile likes it fairly dry and nutrient poor but I planted the poor things in the space where the broad beans had been.  Beans are wonderful at fixing nitrogen in the soil due to the action of symbiotic bacteria living in nodules in the roots of the beans, so I should have followed with something
that appreciates a fertile soil.  I've plopped in some wallflowers to fill the gap for the moment, but I'm not sure how well these will fare either for the same reason - they're not called 'wall' flowers for nothing.

While we were digging around, Toby found the biggest worm.  He is hugely interested in animals, but not quite keen on touching them, so he kept putting his hands out to hold the worm and them backing away when it actually got close to him.  Ollie had no such worry, holding the worm out to Toby and saying 'it's Ok Toby, we like worms, they drag down own leaves and eat them and poop out soil for our flowers'.  I couldn't have put it better myself.  Toby, however, remains unconvinced that anything so wiggly is quite alright.

Gardening with kids does require an extra measure of patience, especially when they're small.  You have to accept a certain amount of collateral damage in flowers picked off for close examination and things dug up that you've just put in.  As Toby heads towards his second birthday and Ollie his fourth we are starting to get to the point where there are less random decapitation of plants and far less leaping to remove pebbles from mouths.  We may even get to the point of totally relaxed pottering about in the garden with children that you see on the gardening shows.  In the meantime we have fun learning about garden science, the environment, water cycles, food cycles and all sorts of things, while getting a little late autumn sunshine on our faces, and enough dirt on us to boost those growing immune systems and ward off allergies.  A tidy garden can wait.