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The Kids’ Garden

 Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman 
The garden is a wonderful place for kids to be kids, yet at the same time learn the virtues of self-help as they grow food for the dinner table.

The first thing about starting a children’s garden is that it should be proportional to the size of the child – small – and it should be filled with interesting plants that are easy to grow and that the kids want to eat.

Pretty much the same rules apply to a kids’ garden as for a big-persons’ plot: good fertile soil, in a warm sunny spot, with access to water. We recommend having a raised garden, because it’s easy to dig with a plastic bucket and spade!

According to our oily rag letter writers, the trick is to get kids involved from the very start. That includes talking about what sort of garden to have and how big it should be. They should be encouraged to help in selecting the timber for the frame, putting down the weed barrier, dumping in the soil, making the compost, organising the worm farm if you want one, selecting what to grow, when and where to plant it, when to pick it, and best of all how to prepare it for eating!

The garden only needs to be about a metre or so square – maybe a little more – so either make the frame about a metre by a metre, or make it long and narrow (a couple of metres by half a metre, depending on what spare – free – timber you can locate) so little hands attached to short arms can reach across it. You can also used edging like stones, ponga or other logs, bricks and the like if you don’t have any timber handy.

Use compost that is light and easy to work. Mix in some fertiliser like sheep pellets (no putting in your mouth please!)

A kids’ garden should be a fun garden as well as a productive one so we like the idea of planting things in addition to vegetables. Big, bright, happy, sunflowers are fantastic.  Use the bigger varieties that grow up to 3 meters tall and have heads 25 cm across. Plant the seeds directly into the soil.

Swan plants are another great adventure – they are a full nature study in themselves: watching as monarch butterflies lay eggs that hatch into caterpillars that grow and grow until they turn into a chrysalis and finally transform into a beautiful butterfly.

As far as veggies go, try carrots, lettuce, beans, peas, courgettes – and cherry tomatoes that can be popped whole into small mouths.

For herbs try peppermint (kids love the smell), parsley, rosemary, and mint. Add mint from the kids’ garden and a slice of lemon to a cool jug of water and you can delete fizzy drink from your weekly shopping list!

A reader has sent in an interesting activity for kids. She says they grew vegetable bottles! Here’s how it was done. “We took an empty two litre plastic fizzy drink bottle and poured about 75mm of top soil mixed with compost into the bottom. We then dropped in some runner bean seeds and used a thin bamboo stick to push the seeds under the soil but against the side of the bottle so we could see them sprout and grow. The bamboo stick was then pushed into the soil and left to stick out of the top. In no time at all the beans sprouted and grew up the bamboo stick and out of the bottle. It was really cool to watch. We tried the same thing with cucumbers and leaf lettuce. We had to cut the plastic bottle open to get to the greens which made it even more delicious when eaten!”

Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag by Frank & Muriel Newman is available from all good bookstores or online at If you have some favourite money-saving or money-making tips, share them with others by visiting the oily rag website or write to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.

*Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at The book is available from bookstores and online at