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How to get your children to become keen gardeners and learn about nature, the seasons and how plants grow.

Roots, Shoots and Muddy Boots by Samantha van der Riet is a book for children aged six to nine. It will inspire budding gardeners to grow their own vegetables, and show them how to use the fruits of their labour in simple, yet tasty, recipes.

Read about why playing in dirt is good for your child.

Seasons of nature

In nature, there is a special time for planting, growing, harvesting and resting. This cycle depends on the sun. When the sun gets hotter and shines longer every day, plants react to it. They start to grow faster and differently.


Vegetables that grow in a short time can still be planted, but it is too late to plant sweet peppers and eggplant, as they require more time to grow. Sow/plant beans, carrots, spinach, lettuce and beetroot now.


In all the regions, winter vegetables can now be sown in seed trays: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions and peas, so they’ll be ready to be transferred to the garden beds next month. Vegetables which grow quickly may still be planted for a last harvest before winter sets in. However, in the warmer regions the heat of summer is too fierce for planting spinach and lettuce.


Transfer seedlings of winter vegetables to your garden. Carrots, broad beans and beetroot are planted directly in the beds. Peas, spinach and lettuce may be planted now that the worst summer heat has passed. It is the last month to sow winter vegetables on the Highveld and in the interior regions.


It is the end of the planting season for the Highveld and other colder interior regions. Seedlings should be strong by now to withstand the cold and frost. In the winter rainfall regions and other more temperate regions; winter vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, peas, carrots and beetroot may still be planted.


Subtropical climate regions such as Mpumalanga and the coast of KwaZulu-Natal have temperate winters, so those vegetables which grow in summer traditionally, like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant may be planted in these regions. Winter vegetables may still be planted in the winter rainfall regions.


In most regions it is now too cold to sow/plant. Seedlings of winter vegetables may still be planted in those regions free of frost. Traditional summer vegetables may be planted throughout winter in the regions with a subtropical climate.


Lettuce, spinach, cabbage, leeks, broccoli and peas may still be planted in regions where no frost occurs. Summer vegetables may still be planted in the subtropical climate regions.


Broccoli, asparagus, peas and other winter vegetables may still be planted in regions that experience no frost. Strawberries may be planted now, to give the little plants time to grow stronger before their spring growth season. The Highveld and other interior regions still get frost. Gardeners in these regions should start planning and preparing for the spring planting season.


Most summer vegetables may now be planted: Sow/plant beans, carrots, tomatoes, pumpkin, cucumber and potatoes. Sweet pepper and eggplant seeds need high temperatures to germinate and should not yet be sown. If you are on the Highveld, wait for the last frost to abate before transferring seedlings to the garden.


Summer vegetables may be planted in all regions. It is now also warm enough to plant sweet pepper and eggplant. It is a good idea to plant cucumber and pumpkin now, so the harvest will be ready before your garden is overrun by all sorts of bugs during January and February.


Sow/plant potatoes, beans, carrots, beetroot, sweet corn, tomatoes, sweet pepper and eggplant. It is the last month in which to sow sweet pepper and eggplant, because of their long growing time.


Tomatoes, beans, cucumber, potatoes, carrots, beetroot, sweet corn and pumpkin may still be planted.

Earthworms are good for your soil

  • Earthworms make very fertile compost. They eat organic waste and soil. Then they excrete organic material rich in food for plants. This food is very easy for plants’ roots to absorb.
  • Earthworms dig tunnels through the soil. They mix and turn the soil. This gives the soil a better texture.

A certain type of earthworm lives on the ground surface. These earthworms eat plant material. Another type of earthworm lives in the top layer of soil. They eat tunnels through the soil. While they move through the soil, they excrete material. In this way, they fill up the tunnels again. There is also a type of earthworm that lives in permanent tunnels deep under the ground. These earthworms pull organic material down from the surface into their tunnels.

Attract birds to your garden with a bird bath

Birds eat cicadas, snails, grasshoppers, worms and lice. That’s why it’s good to have birds in your garden. But remember, birds also eat berries and other fruit. You should protect these fruits from birds. Birds also eat seeds. These seeds come out again in the bird’s droppings. In this way, birds spread seeds all over your garden. Put out food for birds in winter, when there is less food for them in nature.

Birds like to eat some of your harvest. Here are things you can do to protect your plants from birds:

  • Put up a net to keep the birds out.
  • Push sticks into the ground in beds where seeds or small plants are sprouting. The sticks will keep the birds away from the seeds and seedlings.
  • If you want to protect a tree from birds, hang shiny things, like old CDs, shiny Christmas decorations or tinfoil from the branches.

Home, sweet home

You can attract helpful insects to your garden by building them a home. You need hollow sticks, for example bamboo sticks. Cut the sticks into short, equal pieces. Put them in a bundle and tie them together with string.

  • Hang the bundle from a tree branch or a railing in a dry, sheltered part of the garden.
  • Now the insects can move in. They will think it’s a palace!

Make a scarecrow

Be creative. You can make a scarecrow from almost anything. An old broom will work well for the head and body. Tie a stick across the broomstick to make the arms. Find shiny things that will blow around in the wind. Hang them from the scarecrow’s arms.

Put a hat on the scarecrow’s head. Dress him in an old shirt. Use small sticks or stones to make eyes and a mouth on his face.

Taste the fruits of your gardening labours

Tomato tart
  • 1 roll shop-bought puff pastry
  • 1 large handful of small tomatoes
  • basil leaves or basil pesto
  • 1 small block of cheese: Camembert, mozzarella, or even goat’s cheese

1. Unroll the puff pastry and lay it out flat. Score a line about 2cm from the edge all around the sheet of pastry to make a frame.
2. Prick the part inside the frame with a fork all over, to prevent it from rising as it bakes.
3. Cut the cheese in blocks and sprinkle it over the dough on the inside of the scored line. Sprinkle the basil leaves over the cheese, or spread basil pesto in between the cheese blocks. Now place the tomatoes all over with the cut side up.
4. Bake in the oven at 200 C° for 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden.

Corn fritters
  • about 3 cups cooked sweet corn
  • 1 wheel feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup milk
  • oil for frying

1. Sift the flour and baking powder together.
2. Beat the eggs and milk in a different bowl and add this to the flour mixture.
3. Now add the corn and feta and stir.
4. Heat oil in a pan.
5. Fry spoonfuls of the mix (4 fritters at a time) until golden on one side, then turn over and fry on the other side.

Delicious with a sweet chilli sauce.

Basil pesto

1. Take three cups of basil leaves, one clove of garlic, half a cup of Parmesan cheese and half a cup of nuts (walnuts or pine nuts). Use a hand mixer or a pestle to grind all the ingredients together.
2. Bit by bit, add one cup of olive oil. Keep on mixing the ingredients as you add the oil. The mixture will become a paste. It shouldn’t be too fine. Add salt and pepper. Store the paste in a screw-top container in the fridge.

Basil pesto is delicious on pasta, like spaghetti. You can also add a teaspoon of basil pesto to vegetable soup.

Find more ideas about interesting children in gardening here.


Did you know?

National Garden Day falls in October each year? It’s a day for people across South Africa to celebrate their green spaces – no matter how big or small.

About the book

This beautiful children’s book, Roots, Shoots and Muddy Boots (Tafelberg Publishers, an imprint of NB Publishers), will inspire budding gardeners between the ages of six and nine to grow their own vegetables, and show them how to use the fruits of their labour in simple, yet tasty, recipes. They will learn about planning a garden, types of soil and preparation, planting and pruning and the all-important task of harvesting. There are also craft projects for them to tackle. Each page offers plenty to do with useful bits of information, photographs and illustrations. Van Riet, an illustrator by profession, came up with the idea when she struggled to find a suitable gardening book for her children. Available at all good bookstores.