Wednesday 29 September 2010

10 Things I Love To Do With Our Little Garden Helpers in the Garden

I have been invited by p3chandan at Go Right in... My Garden to list 10 things I love to do so I thought it would be a good opportunity to tell you 10 things (in no particular order) I love to do in the garden with our Little Garden Helpers;
  1. Sow seeds; our little garden helpers always approach this with such studied care and attention and they listen attentively when I tell them what they are planting, what they need to do to help the seed grow into a plant and what the plant will look like.
  2. Lying on our backs and finding pictures in the clouds. This is great for their imagination and also a fabulous way of getting them to calm down after energetic outdoor play. It also gives me a great insight into how their minds work.
  3. Pulling up weeds; If you are regular reader of my blog you will know that I dislike weeding, but having the company of our Little Garden Helpers really livens up a dreary task. We sing songs, hold each others waists and all tug together on really tough weeds, falling backwards in a heap of laughter (usually leaving behind all the roots but having fun regardless). We pick the pretty weeds and put them in water to decorate our kitchen table and stop to eat ice lollies when we just can't be bothered to carry on.
  4. Jumping in puddles. If he spots the rain, Garden Boy runs to get his wellies and we all head outside for the sole purpose of jumping in puddles. I need very little encouragement to join in.
  5. Creating archaeological excavations for our Little Garden Helpers, then visiting their Wendy House Museum. They love to do what Mummy used to do and take their displays very seriously!
  6. Harvesting vegetables and fruit. They are so eager to help pick, carrying their baskets or buckets and filling them up till they can't really carry them. They always sneak a taste of the strawberries and tomatoes (often devouring the strawberries before they make it indoors) and scrabble to have the biggest marrow in their bucket. They also enjoy the search to find things that are ready to harvest and they are so good at finding the ripe tomatoes now that I can leave them to harvest them themselves now, a responsibility that they absolutely love.
  7. Searching for Garden Bugs. They get so excited when they spot their favourites like butterflies, caterpillars, ladybirds and worms. Garden Boy is particularly good at spotting insects and will insist that everyone comes to have a look his ladybirds (he always refers to them as his!).
  8. Digging. Watching them dig is a little pleasure of mine. Garden Girl concentrates on one spot, digging it over carefully, over and over again creating the one perfect spot for growing, all be it big enough for one carrot. Garden Boy on the other hand digs everywhere he can and everywhere he shouldn't. Soil flies over his shoulders and leaves a film on his head and beware anyone digging close by!
  9. Cleaning things - the greenhouse, plant pots, potting benches. We get very, very wet but have a lot of giggles and I know cleaning stuff at the end of a season would be a very dull task without the extra bubbles, the water fights, or muddy puddles created by the tipped over buckets of water. 
  10. Sitting on the patio with a hot drink (coffee for me, hot chocolate for the children) and talking about our day.
I should pass this on to 10 more people but instead I will invite you all to join in if you want to.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

A Sensory Tour of the Garden

We probably should have been doing something useful in the garden this week, especially today with the wonderful autumn sunshine. However we got distracted. You see Garden Girl has been learning all about her senses at nursery school this week. So when we went out into the garden with all the very best intentions and got a lovely waft of the hundreds of tomatoes we really ought to pick I was inspired to take my Little Garden Helpers on a sensory tour of the garden.

I blindfolded Garden Girl and guided her to various parts of the garden where she was under instructions to take a deep sniff and see if she could guess what she was standing in front of using her sense of smell. Garden Boy protested when I tried to blindfold him so instead he agreed to offer clues to Garden Girl if she was struggling to guess. The herb bed was our first port of call where she guessed Lavender and Rosemary with no problems. She eventually guessed oregano when I gave her the clue pizza. Garden Boy's clue of pointing at it and saying 'It that,' strangely didn't help.

We also tasted many things without looking. Garden Boy was quite a bit more eager to close his eyes when the offer was food! We tasted tomatoes, loads of herbs, one of our tiny carrots and cucumber. And just for fun I threw in a spoonful of chocolate spread which was met with the response 'That's not from the garden silly' and 'more, please'. I will leave it to you to figure out which was Garden Girl and which was Garden Boy!

Using the sense of touch in the garden was by far the most fun and by far the messiest. We felt dry soil and wet soil, water, leaves, flowers, stones, sticks, vegetables, garden tools, smooth wooden beds and rough wooden fences. We talked about the shapes we were feeling and whether things were soft, hard, rough or smooth. Garden Boy loved this and was really engaged by the activity but after touching the wet soil and thinking it was some sort of horrible slime Garden Girl was a bit more tentative.

Using our eyes was also a great way for Garden Boy to explore the garden as he loves to show off his knowledge of colours and shapes and there is so much to see outdoors. I sent them off with little tasks, such as 'find three red things' or 'bring back something round'. They raced around trying to be the first one to find things which usually involved Garden Boy running around in circles on the spot, flapping his arms, for a few minutes before he finally ran off in a then surprisingly decisive direction.

I left listening till last as it was a good one to calm them down after all the excitement. As we walked back to the patio we listened to the different sound our feet made on different surfaces then we sat quietly and listened to the leaves in the wind, the birds in the trees, people behind the house talking, a baby crying and cars brumming.

Garden Lass looked all around her, watching from her perch in my arms my the whole time soaking up the sights, smells and sounds of the garden, learning with all her senses as babies do, until she fell asleep in time to sit quietly on the patio.

A perfect afternoon.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Teach Your Toddler: Worms

Now that our Little Garden Helpers are back at playgroup and nursery school the summer holidays seem an age away, but I still have one last week of garden bug activities to tell you about and this time it is worms; Long, thin, slimy ones, Short, fat, juicy ones and Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy wuzzy ones.

Things to Tell Your Toddler
  • Worms help our plants to grow
  • By wiggling through the soil, worms create tunnels into which rainwater falls. These tunnels send water to plant roots.
  • Worms don't just move soil out of their way as they tunnel but they actually eat it as they move along.
  • Worms do not have teeth but small stones and fine grains of sand get lodged in a worms 'gizzard', the part of the body they use to chew. The stones and sand act like teeth, helping them to grind down the soil.
  • Worms digest leaf and plant bits, which when digested come out of the back end in small pellets which also help plants grow.
  • Worms also help plants grow by pushing dead leaves into the soil when they tunnel down from the surface. These leaves rot inside the soil and act as plant food. 
  • Worms also push seeds into the soil where they are more likely to grow into healthy plants.
  • Worms can tie themselves into knots.
  • Worms do not have legs. Instead they stretch forward as long as they can then pull in their tail ends to move along.
  • Worms have no eyes or ears. Instead it feels vibrations.
  • Like snails, worms dry out in the sunshine so they prefer the rain and hide in damp soil when the sun comes out. They also hide deep in the soil when the ground freezes.

Activities We Did
  • We made our very own worm by stuffing a leg from a pair of tights with cotton wool then adding eyes, nose and hairy bits. In hindsight we should have also added coloured tissue paper to brighten up the worm but they loved stuffing the tights with cotton wool.
  • We made worm bookmarks using circles of shiny card. All our Little Garden Helpers had to do was glue them together and add faces. 
  • We created garden pictures with carrots and flowers growing in them and added holes for 'finger worms' to poke through. We had a lot of fun with these.   

  • We read 'William Worm' by Sheila Bird and Corinne Bittler, which all three of our Little Garden Helpers love, as well as Wiggling Worms at Work by Wendy Pfeffer and Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin which were great for teaching them about worms.
  • We looked in the garden for worms and watched them wriggle about. Garden Boy was even brave enough to touch one to feel for the rings on its body but Garden Girl was too squeamish to touch.
  • We restarted our wormery and made endless trips to rescue escaped worms.  
  • We wriggled around the room and sang worm poems. Why do they all involve eating worms? Garden Boy loves these poems and the idea of eating worms (although I think he enjoys the squirming, disgusted reaction he gets from Garden Girl when he pretends to eat them, as much as the thought itself!)
  • We indulged Garden Boys desire to eat worms and made 'worm rice crispie cakes' by adding sour worms to chocolate covered rice crispies, which we pretended was the soil. 

  • We ate spaghetti. 
We have all had loads of fun learning about garden creatures this summer so despite the holidays being over I am sure we will continue to learn about more as we come across them in the garden. Given my inability to distinguish a frog from a toad I am thinking that they should be next on our list!

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Brown Frog/Toad

Is it a frog? Or is it a toad? How can we tell the difference?

The only thing I do know is that it should have been green. Garden Boy ran excitedly to see the frog when Uncle H called him to the garden, but hung his head sadly when it turned out not to be his favourite colour.

Tuesday 14 September 2010


Garden Dad picked Garden Girl up from nursery school today and walked back to his office through the park. On the way they collected their first conkers of the year and this brought back a few memories for me of playing conkers as a child and always being slightly scared of getting a broken finger. I was consequently never very good at it. Garden Dad on the other hand loves conkers. Every year he collects new conkers, plays conkers with his workmates and stores them for years to harden them up. In 2006 Garden Dad wrote his one and only blog post on his own blog and the subject was conkers. Here is an extract from that post;

It is conker season here in the UK and I have been diligently collecting for the past month or so. However, I have only had the chance to play one game. And even then I don't know who won. The Apple Crumble Guy finished with a nine-er, so I guess he did. But I don't think that he necessarily won the most games, just the last one.

I guess we were so eager to play we didn't think of who would end-up as the winner. Or more importantly, the loser.

So I now have around 30 conkers in a cupboard at work, waiting for a game. It is starting to look like this might not happen this year. At least the longer I wait the harder the conkers get.

Those conkers are still in his cupboard at work getting more and more lethal. Every year he threatens to get them out and play a tournament but I manage to persuade him to collect new ones. Its part of the fun after all and there is no chance in the world that I will play conkers against him while these maturing conkers still exist. I'll stick to playing with our Little Garden Helpers. 

This post is just a reminder to Garden Dad to leave the 2006 conkers in their cupboard! 

Friday 10 September 2010

Talking trees

When we were walking home from dropping Garden Girl off at nursery today Garden Boy insisted we stop at every single tree. And there are quite a few. The reason? Well apparently they were tallking to him. At the first tree he said 'Mummy, look. A talking tree.' What's the tree saying?' 'He wants a word with me' 'And what does he want a word about?' 'His leaves. They are falling off.' 'And did he tell you why?' At this poont Garden Boys eyes light up and he says 'Yes! For me for stamping in'. While Garden Boy stamped in circles on a scattering of leaves I asked him if the tree intended to drop more and he said 'Yes. Lots. Lots. Lots.' And so, with summer never really getting started, it would seem that autumn is already on its way. I have it on good authority from a wise old tree!

Other trees waved at Garden Boy with their 'big green hands' and told him to look at the pretty flowers nearby. One tree told him a 'next door tree' didn' t have hands but feathers instead, leading to a conversation about the different shapes of leaves. Another tree said it had berries to feed the birds with and another had apples to feed Garden Boy with, although they were all bruised so we left them for the birds instead. Garden Boy very sternly told the tree to drop some nice ones next time!

It was thrilling to see Garden Boy's imagination at work so vividly and also to discover what he knows about trees without any prompting. Wouldn't it be lovely if the trees really did send wise words our way as we walked by? Imagine the stories they could tell!
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Thursday 9 September 2010

New Growth

At this time of year harvesting is the main task in the garden, along
with clearing away old growth. It is nice therefore, to see some new growth in the garden. A couple of weekends ago I planted some salad leaves and some spring cabbage. The salad leaves are now starting to peep through the soil in nice neat rows because I planted them myself one afternoon when our Little Garden Helpers were out with Garden Dad. Neat rows that is, where Garden Boy didn't dig up the seeds to make sandcastles the following weekend. Thats what comes of working in the garden without my little helpers. They don' t know where they can dig and they don't have a sense of ownership over the new seeds. I'll make sure they help me next time.
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Wednesday 8 September 2010

Not In My Cuppa

I was recently invited to go into London to see 100 'cows' escape onto the streets of London in protest over the proposed development of a 'mega dairy' and although I was unable to attend I believe that the issue they were raising is worthy of sharing. The WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) launched the campaign 'Not In My Cuppa' to raise awareness of what life would be like for the cows if Nocton Dairies are successful with their planning application for a 'mega dairy', as well as the implications for British Dairy farmers.

A massive dairy such as this could potentially put over 100 smaller dairy farms out of operation and yet the UK is virtually self sufficient in milk so there is no real need for a new large dairy. Nocton Dairies will have a herd of 8100 cows which will be milked three times a day in comparison to the twice daily milking that is the norm for UK farms. The cows will be housed in small cubicles with time spent outdoors limited. The WSPA therefore have strong concerns for the welfare of these cows if the dairy gets the go ahead. In addition to this, there is the possibility that with reduced grazing times, the milk produced by these cows will contain fewer nutrients. Is this really the milk we want on our cereal or in our brew?

To learn more about the 'not in my cuppa' campaign and to follow their progress visit the website at or sign up to follow them on twitter.
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Tuesday 7 September 2010

A Broken Laptop and a Big Day

Our laptop keeps breaking down so when I came to post tonight I couldn't log on to the operating system. We are currently looking into getting a new hard drive but in the meantime I am relying on my new phone to post so I may only post briefly till it is fixed.

Despite the computer breaking however we did have a good day today, although not in the garden. It was Garden Boy's first day at playgroup today and he loved it. Thats what comes of dropping his sister off there for so long. The only bit he didn't like was the songs at the end but that is nothing new. The only time I am allowed to sing to Garden Boy is at bedtime. At other times he just puts his hands over his ears and shouts 'STOP'!

It was a big day for Garden Girl as well as her nursey school teachers came to meet her in preparation for her first day on Thursday. We will have to make the most of tomorrow because as of Thursday I lose one Little Garden Helper every morning and two some mornings. It will seem very quiet at home and I will have fewer excuses for not doing the weeding.
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Monday 6 September 2010

Odd Jobs and mushrooms

This weekend Grandma and Grandad South came to visit so Garden Dad and Grandad South managed to get some odd jobs done. They fixed the garage roof which had sprung a leak, mowed the lawn, found a home for our roof box on the garage ceiling, finished mending Garden Dad's bike, fixed some broken toys and did some weeding.

Our Little Garden Helpers and I also got our mushroom logs started. I received some mushroom plugs for Christmas but we never managed to find any freshly cut logs to put them in, so when we ordered our replacement worms we also ordered some ready plugged mushroom logs. I am too nervous about poisoning everyone to actually go foraging for mushrooms, so home-grown ones seemed a like a good option. We had to shock them to get them going, so we went to the shop to buy a couple of bags of ice which we had to put into standing water. Rather than waste water I decided to put them straight into the water butt.

Then we needed to drop the logs from a couple of feet which I asked Garden Girl and Garden Boy to do for me.

This shocks the mushrooms into starting to fruit, but to give them an even better start, they also need to be added to the ice cold water for 48 hours.

Then all you need to do is remove them from the water and keep them in a cool, shady part of the garden. They grow best when kept moist so it is worth checking on them every now and them to make sure they haven't dried out. We should have mushrooms to harvest in 2-3 weeks.

Friday 3 September 2010

Fairy Furniture

Earlier in the week when we walked to our local shop we came across loads of mushrooms. It is only a short walk away, along a residential footpath but the mushrooms are thriving. They weren't there a few weeks ago but all the rain we had last week must have created the perfect environment for them. Our Little Garden Helpers loved looking at all the different types, although there was a moment of upset when Garden Boy decided to stamp on some. 'NOoooooooooo! The fairies will have nowhere to sit' shouted Garden Girl, bursting into tears as she examined the carnage. I managed to persuade Garden Girl that the fairies would be too shy to sit in such an open place, although she still occassionally mutters that Tinkerbell would have been brave enough.

Garden Dad tells me he has seen some in the park growing in a circle. We must search these out. Garden Girl will love the idea of a fairy tea party taking place so close to her house. And if you happen to be a fairy reading this post, here is a selection of the local fairy furniture range:

Seating for a more open, sunny spot:

Seating for a shadier position:
Two stylish tables to choose from:

And finally, cosy, comfortable beds for an afternoon doze in the shade: