There’s no sure way of preventing a child from destroying your veggie patch. Any parent knows how erratic they can be — one moment they’re sleeping on your shoulder like a saint, and the next they’re throwing your black Russian tomatoes to the dog. When dealing with children it’s important to strike a fine line between the potential damage to the current crop versus a learning experience that will benefit the future crops to come. Your child will one day repay your veggie patch… by monopolising all the riper strawberries. Here are a few ways to get your kids involved…

Make a compost bin

Most of us would like to spend more time with the people we love, pursuing activities that we are passionate about. Unfortunately, these pursuits are too often at odds with our work. Finding
that perfect equilibrium is a difficult thing, thus the topic of ‘work-life balance’ has become such a strong theme. While we haven’t yet cracked the code in our lives, balance in our compost bins is a lot easier to achieve. Sure, it’s a small step, but composting may just take us all one step closer to overall contentment.

There are two main types of organic household wastes: brown and green. Brown waste is ‘dry’ waste, including carbon-rich plant material such as straw, wood chips, paper, cardboard, dry leaves, and sawdust.  Green waste is ‘wet’ waste, comprised of nitrogen-rich plant material such as kitchen scraps, but also fresh garden trimmings.

The ideal ratio, two parts green waste to one part brown waste, enables composting to occur fast and efficiently. When out of balance, compost turns into a stinking den of sin (too much green) or a dusty old saloon (too much brown).

In general, we tend to have much more green waste than brown. Food scraps go into the bin every day and the result is that our compost can get a bit saucy, sloppy and stinky. When there isn’t enough brown waste to balance the mix, too much moisture and nitrogen can create an anaerobic environment. Food starts to rot and ferment, rather than decompose.

If your kids are yelling, “Yuck, it smells like a burnt gorilla hair sandwich” or “Eww, it’s like a fish market on a hot day,” it means you’ve got too much green waste. Keep a small container of mulch next to the bin so you are reminded to use it every time you visit the compost bin.

Tip: Avoid composting animal waste. In typical urban compost bins, it tends to attract pests, such as rats.

Plant cloves

Garlic and shallots can be grown from cloves. This will likely come as no surprise to people who have left garlic in the pantry for a long time, only to see it sprout a bright green shoot. Even without any assistance, plants always seem to find a way. The most important thing to remember is that each individual clove will grow an entire bulb.

HOW TO PLANT:

  1. Plant cloves with the pointy end facing up and flat end down.
  2. Push cloves a few centimetres into fertile, well-drained soil, spacing them about 15 centimetres apart.
  3. Water.

 

Grow melons

WHEN TO PLANT:

Propagating and then planting young seedlings needs to be one of the final acts of warm-season planting. Given that melons won’t tolerate any cold remnants of spring, but need a substantial growing period to produce fruit, it is best to propagate seeds indoors or in a greenhouse in early spring and then transplant in a warm position once conditions suit.

HOW TO PLANT:

Melons grow extensive plant matter, so the key to successful growth is in the preparation of the soil. Loading the patch full of nitrogen with manure and compost will ensure the plant has plenty of power to fuel its growth. We like to plant them in pots or on the corner of our veggie patch, 2–3 centimetres deep and spaced 1 metre apart, so that the vines creep out of the garden. Likewise, melon vines can also be trained to grow vertically, but ensure that the trellis is strong enough to support the expected fruit size.

Tip: The plants need ample hydration while growing, but once the fruit begins to form and is the size of a fist, cut back on watering to allow its flavour to develop. It takes 120 days to the first harvest. Ripe melons will start to yellow where they are in contact with the ground and should almost fall off the vine (or at least pull very easily).

 

Make a dummy butterfly

If you are growing brassicas or greens in autumn and winter, then you may get to know the white cabbage moth pretty well. The first thing to do is remind yourself that leaves with holes in them are still edible. The next thing is to remember that every moth was once a caterpillar. Enlist some helping hands and offer a reward for the most caterpillars captured. If they are still harassing your patch, it’s time to step up those defences.

Butterflies are territorial creatures — like possums — and if a patch is occupied, they usually abide by the gentlemen’s rule of ‘do not enter, sir’. They also have very poor eyesight. This means they will be deterred by some simple bits of white plastic attached to rigid metal wire sitting in the patch.

When making your dummy butterflies, don’t assume all white cabbage moths play fair. Rather than putting one in the patch, hoping the gentlemen’s rule is followed, make it look extremely busy and intimidating.

This is an edited extract from  (Hardie Grant Publishing, $45) by Mat Pember and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon of — a business dedicated to helping people grow food.