What to do in Quarantine

Since both the U.K. and South Africa are in, essentially, full ‘lockdown’ now (movement restricted, shops and businesses closed), I’ve decided to dedicate a few posts as promised to what it is we, as a family, are doing to stay sane during this extended quarantine.

First things first, we have to acknowledge how incredibly lucky we are right now. As I said in my last post, my in-laws’s home is not a bad place to be quarantined – second only to being at home. I know most people probably won’t have easy access to the space that we have, and I can’t claim it as my own so this is in no way a smug post. What I can do is share ideas which have worked for us, and which can, hopefully, work in smaller spaces, too.

My mother-in-law, since she moved to this house 20 years ago, has become a keen gardener. She’s had the girls helping her with doing the borders – if you have a balcony, terrace, or even a big, sunny windowsill, this is definitely possible.

She’s given me a tutorial in the best things to plant for little kids – they can get their hands dirty AND make the place look lovely! Kids love knowing they’ve been involved with something they can see; they love feeling proud.

Firstly, please, don’t be put off if you only have a sunny window. Secondly, you may think that, in quarantine, you can’t find seeds etc, but most can be found either at your local supermarket or on Amazon. Finally, these are super purse friendly, even after all the corona virus nightmares. If you don’t have a plant pot, find a decent size, deep bowl – make sure to gently drain it the evening after you’ve watered, to make sure you don’t get stagnant water in the bottom.

The best flowers to start with for kids, and ones that yield pretty flowers, are probably sunflowers (seeds available at every supermarket with your fortnightly big shop, on Amazon for less than £3 or Takealot where you can get an entire 2kg for R149) or Nasturtiums (Amazon for £5 or Takealot – R99 for a bulk pack, also including sunflowers!).

Both can be planted in a small-ish pot, either on a windowsill, on a balcony/terrace or in your garden. Make sure to keep the seeds far enough apart, treat them lovingly, and watch them grow! If you have access to a bird table, or space for birds to land, then, once your sunflower has lived its beautiful life you can pop the spent head on the table and watch all the birds flock to nibble on the seeds in the middle. Nasturtiums are, as I’m sure you know, the edible flowers you see on cakes and cheese boards. Plant them now (before the end of April) and they’ll flower all through summer. They’re a no-brainer for kids – they look pretty and they can eat them afterwards!

Other easily bought options are herbs (you can buy them already planted in small pots at most supermarkets), which you can pop on a kitchen window and eat straight from the pot. Rocket seeds are easy to get hold of, and can be grown in 3 weeks (plus, it’s a year-round herb). It can be eaten straight from the pot, and occasional ‘thinning’ (i.e. eating and tasting, so nobody can see) only helps it grow better. French beans and carrots are also easy to grow, and start in small pots – and Sweet Peas are great fun if you want another cute little flower – plant them now, and they’ll flower from May until October.

I understand gardening might not be for everyone, but it’s a fun way to keep kids entertained and concentrating. Another, really easy way to amuse them, especially the younger kids, is to feed the birds. You might think that sounds overly simple, but why not mix it up a bit? Fat balls and suet-based feed (available at bigger supermarkets, on Amazon and Takealot) last for ages. You can make a bird-feeder out of old wire coat hangers, or buy from the same places. My girls love watching the birds (and squirrels, ahem) eating the food they’ve put out for them, but they also really like dividing the food out, too.

It can be difficult trying to keep children occupied when they’re not allowed out of your property (even in the U.K., we can only go out once a day for exercise purposes) – and trying to do things other than screen time can be trying. Much as we’re resigned, for now, to letting the girls watch more telly than usual, we’ve still started saving ideas to do over time. Tomorrow, we’ll be making banana bread. Watch this space!

How to Grow a Tomato Plant…

Okay, so the title is slightly misleading. I actually don’t know the slightest thing about growing a tomato plant! But now, we have a perfect combination on big, beefy tomatoes and tiny, round vine tomatoes growing next to our braai…

Here’s what happened. A few months ago, I took seeds and stones from various fruits and planted them in the garden. There was no rhyme or reason for where I planted what – it was more just a bit of fun, to see what happened.

Well, needless to say, not much came of any of it. We’ll see in the next few years whether my apple or peach or plum trees grow or bear fruit – but my tomatoes are thriving!

My mum is a lot more green-fingered than I am – and she seems to think it’s the roses that have helped the vines to grow. They’re using the hardened stems to climb up, but because the roses are so well-established, so far they’re not being suffocated. We’ll see what happens there. All I know is, I’m getting some really lovely, fat tomatoes! And Stevie is very proud.