Observing plant growth with bulbs
Bulbs can easily be grown both outdoors and indoors and they can give a splash of colour during grey winter days. They can also grow in soil-free conditions making it fun for kids to observe their roots growing as well as the rest of the plant.
Fill a see-through glass (or plastic cup) two-thirds with pebbles or large grit and place the bulb on top. Cover the pebbles with water so only the initial roots of the bulb are in the water and leave on a sunny windowsill. Make sure to keep the water topped up and avoid having the actual bulb sitting in water. It won't take long until the roots will start growing all around the pebbles and the bulb will start sprouting!
Taking pictures or drawing what you see daily is a great way to create a time lapse of the growing bulb!
Grow herbs indoors
Herbs and microgreens can be a simple option for growing indoors in winter as all they require is a sunny window sill. They also present a simple way to explain and show the link between seeds and the food we eat. Even the simplest of dishes can be turned into a special one adding fresh herbs or microgreens!
Just fill a container (with holes at the bottom to avoid water logging!) with compost, drop the seeds on it and cover them lightly with compost. Use water spray to get the soil damp and leave somewhere warm to sprout. Once the seeds have sprouted you can move the pot to a sunny window sill and observe the little plants grow. Once they have reached the expected size (for microgreens this is probably around a few centimeters only), just trim the tops and use in your cooking! Bon appetit!!
Plan your garden
January is a great time to start planning for the new growing season and involving your mini gardener in the process makes them more invested and excited about growing plants.
Just grab some old gardening magazines, a seed catalogue, paper and pens, and let your imagination run free. You can create a mood board, a collage or a neat (or not so neat!!) drawing of the areas that need sowing or planting. When doing it, you can talk about: whether the area is in full sun or shade and how that affects the planting; what type of soil you have; what type of pollinators you'd like to attract; companion planting for growing food or even just what your favourite colours are!
Did you know that our Little Robin Education Gardening Journal has a section specific for planning?
Even thought it feel quite early in the year to start sowing, some plants can benefit from the extra growing time. Your mini gardener can start sowing aubergines and chillies from January, broad beans and peas in February and toward the end of winter cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce seeds can be sown in March.
Potatoes are a great crop for children as they can be grown in large pots, are fairly easy to look after and the harvesting is great fun!
A good way for children to better understand how potatoes grow is to use a method called chitting. Chitting allows the seed potatoes to sprout before planting and it offers a very visual experience for kids.
It is recommended that early potatoes are chitted about 6 weeks before planting out. This usually equates to the end of January in warmer parts of the UK and February in the colder parts. All your mini gardener would need is to place the seed potatoes in an old egg box and leave them in a cool (but not frosty) place with plenty of natural light. Shoots will soon start appearing and the potatoes should be ready to be planted out when the shoots are around 1.5 to 2.5 cm (up to 1in) long.
Make a terrarium
If you don't have much or any outdoor space or if like me you are a 'fair-weather' gardener, creating a mini garden indoors is a great idea to get kids into gardening.A terrarium is the perfect option as it usually does not require much maintenance (ideal for kids!) and it can be customised to the interests or passions of your mini gardener.
I'm planning to be making one soon with my girls so in the meantime, you can find instructions on how to create a jungle (could be adapted to other themes) terrarium on this Eco Kids Planet blog.
Plant a tree or shrub
The soil can be quite hard in winter but during spells of milder weather your mini gardener can help you plant a new 'bare roots' tree or shrub. Bare root plants are usually only available to buy between November and March because in order for it to be dug up and left without soil it needs to be dormant.
Bare root plants are really interesting for children because it is the only time that roots can be properly observed up close, measured and touched. Normally, shrubs and trees come in pots and even if they are being re-planted, their roots are usually encased in soil and only partially visible.
When planting bare root trees and shrubs it is good to discuss not only the roots but also the 'dormant' state that deciduous plants enter during Winter, why they do and what happens before, during and after it.
Observe tree bark up close
In winter, the bark of trees can be absolutely stunning and much more visible due to the bare surroundings. A great way for children to get familiar with various tree barks is through making bark rubbings using paper and crayons.
On a dry day head out in the woods with some thin paper and crayons with no wrappers. When your mini gardener sees a tree or shrub with interesting bark, the paper can be placed on the bark and by rubbing the full length crayon's side, the texture of the bark will appear on the paper. Make sure to be gentle and avoid wet bark as the paper can easily break.
Once you get home can your mini gardener match up the bark pattern with a specific tree?
Learn to identify trees without leaves
Without the leaves, trees can be hard to identify so it is great for kids to learn about other features such as twigs and buds. The Woodland Trust have created a fab resource to help your mini gardener learn more about this way of recognising trees. All you have to do is print the Tree ID sheet and head to your favourite outdoor space!
As with the bare root trees and shrubs, this activity is a great conversation starter to talk about the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees, to understand what buds are and to discuss what will happen to the trees in Spring.
Re-purpose old wellies
If you have old wellies that have been replaced by nice new Christmas gift ones, rather than throwing them away, your mini gardener can re-purpose them to make a fun and colourful planter.
Help them make three or four holes in the sole so excess water can drain out. Add a layer of pebbles at the bottom of the wellies to help with drainage, followed by some compost. Leave enough space to fit a couple of small winter flowering plants such as pansies, bellis or primroses, making sure that their roots are firmly pressed into the compost.
The finished flower wellies can be hung from the fence or placed in a grey part of the garden to brighten it up!
What gardening activities do you like to do with your mini gardener in Winter?