When planting with preschoolers, most of us tend to go for peas, potatoes or other vegetables. But you don’t have to start out so small. For example, the children of Little Beehive nurseries in Scotland grow wheat throughout the year, to learn more about where their bread comes from.
Now you might think that you’d need an entire field or some industrial farm equipment to grow a wheat crop, but even if a combine harvester is a little outside your setting’s budget this year, you can certainly still give wheat a go.
To find out more about how to do it (and why you might want to try it), I met with Andrea Roach, the outdoor educator at Little Beehive. Andrea maintains the gardens at the five Little Beehive settings and delivers horticultural and agricultural activities to the children, according to the time of year.
With a background in horticulture, a diploma in herbology from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh and a role at the University of St Andrews (leading the Edible Campus project), Andrea has plenty of experience and advice to share with you and your budding farmers.
Let’s get growing…
Growing your own crops gives children a better appreciation of where their food comes from while also providing a meaningful source of nutrition. There’s nothing quite like trying something you’ve grown yourself.
“Food is part of children’s daily routines and we can include them in so much of how it’s prepared,” says Andrea, “From washing, peeling, and chopping vegetables to getting into the garden and actually growing food by weeding and watering. It’s good for their health too as they’re willing, for the most part, to try what we grow.”
And for wheat specifically, there’s a cultural significance to the crop too. Where the settings are based, the wheat harvest is still celebrated every year in an event dating back to medieval times, so growing the wheat supports the children to engage in local history. But despite being such an important crop, the actual growing is relatively easy for the children to do.
“With other crops, you might have to sow it inside, look after it, transplant it outside, water it, and maintain it,” explains Andrea, “But with wheat, you sow the seeds outside and rake it over and you really don’t have to do much until you harvest it.”
The project follows the cycle of the year, from sowing the seeds right through to harvesting:
While Soil to Slice is a fantastic project to show children where a key part of their diet comes from, you almost certainly won’t be able to use your wheat to provide your setting with bread permanently. Scotland the Bread advises that you’d need a plot of 8 by 10 metres to produce enough wheat to make bread for one person, for a year.
So what are some fruits or vegetables that settings can grow themselves, that could provide a more sustainable crop? Andrea says that this year at Little Beehive they’ve chosen carrots and potatoes, as they’re so simple to grow and harvest. However, in terms of cost, the highest-value crop is actually leeks.
And, to make your outdoor budget go even further, don’t forget about composting. Andrea advises mixing brown material (like dried leaf fall) and green material (like fresh grass cuttings) to get the right balance in your compost heap. In 8 to 12 months or so, you’ll have your own compost to add to your food crops. However, adding food waste to your compost could introduce pesticides or herbicides (that were added when that food was grown), or even attract mice and rats, so it’s best to stick to garden waste.
“The ultimate goal is to grow as much food that children can eat as possible,” says Andrea, “We want to aim for minimal waste and of course to save on the cost of ordering food in.”
You can find Andrea, along with plenty of advice for gardening with young children, on her website: Yellow Wellies Garden.
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.