“ Brand: Dunecraft / Type: Cactus Growing Kit „
Although he's only two, I'm always looking for little projects to complete with Freddy, where we incorporate learning into our fun. Last year we had great fun planting beans and watching them sprout and grow, so when I saw this Dunecraft Eco Plant Carol Cactus growing set half price in Wilkinsons, I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to once more combine science with fun. Coming in at a bargain £1.50, Carol Cactus is one of a range of miniature growing kits firmly aimed at children and contains everything your child needs to start growing a selection of different cacti.
Within a cardboard wrap that has the instructions printed on it you will find a small transparent plastic pot with a tightly sealing lid. Inside this pot there are : a small hard block of compacted compost, pack of seeds, sticker and collecting card. The instructions are logical and simple enough for a reading child to follow, but some help may be needed with the various stages even above the age of six or so. The first step in preparing to sow the seeds is to rehydrated the block of compost and this is where the first looks of amazement come in. The block really is tiny but when water is added it miraculously grows to about ten times it's original size, literally in front of your eyes. I put the compost into the pot and then allowed Freddy to fill it with water and within ten minutes the little block had puffed out much to Freddy's amazement and amusement. At this point I took the opportunity to talk about how the compost had started hard and then become soft and encouraged Freddy to feel the newly fluffy compost. My only slight problem here was that it wasn't completely clear how much water should be added, but it turned out that filling the little pot to the top was just perfect.
After rehydration the compost was easy to mix with a finger to make sure it was evenly wet and filled the little pot about three quarters full. It was then time to add the seeds, and these simply needed to be sprinkled on the surface and then pressed into place. As Freddy is a little heavy handed, I let him sprinkle the seeds himself but pushed them into the surface myself. The final steps were to put the lid on the pot, stick the sticker on so we knew what was growing and place the pot on a warm windowsill. The instructions state that the seeds will take anything from two weeks upwards to germinate and that there are several varieties within the packet (I don't remember the exact names, but they are all American varieties). Checking the little pot soon became a daily activity which we would do every day after breakfast and it took a long time for the seeds to start to germinate. In fact it was just over two weeks before the first seed sprouted and we took this opportunity to talk about how some seeds grow really quickly and others take a long time.
As the seeds sprout they form little domes, that look more like succulents than cacti, other than the tiny little thorns and they need very little watering. In fact the instructions state only to water once the compost dries out and after a month the compost is still plenty damp enough, so we haven't even needed to water yet. From reading online, cacti seedlings are a little prone to infection if they get too wet, so the only care I've really carried out is to wipe the condensation that forms on the lid at regular intervals. Our seedlings are growing quite well and so far out of the eight seeds in the packet five have germinated and the little seedlings range from about a millimetre in height to half a centimetre. Cacti are extremely slow growing and I can't see us needing to transplant them for at least a year. It's really amazing to see the difference in size between these little seedlings and other cacti plants I have growing on the windowsill.
At only three inches in diameter and less than three inches tall the pot doesn't take up a lot of room either, it can easily fit in any small spare space on a windowsill. What is even more to be appreciated is that this is also an ecologically sound product, the pot itself is made from corn and therefore can be composted after use and the compost is peat free.
All in all the Carol Cactus growing set has proved a great investment, that has allowed me to share a little science and growing with Freddy. Although the instructions do state they are safe for children over four, I had no hesitation involving two year old Freddy in growing these little plants and he thoroughly enjoyed watching the compost grow, planting the seeds and checking if they had germinated. As these are so slow growing, I can imagine that even a child well over the age of four will become impatient waiting for them to grow, but as they need very little care they will see results over the months with very minimal parental input. The little collecting card is a nice idea and carries a few facts about cacti, but for obvious reasons went straight over Freddy's head.
Personally I think this is a fantastic and unusual growing set, that was more than worth the price I paid for it. Although very hard to get hold of in this country, if you do see it for sale and have a child who is in the remotest bit interested in growing plants then I would definitely say to pick it up. I have no hesitation in giving Carol Cactus five stars out of five and only wish that I had the foresight to pick up a few more when I bought this as they would also make unusual presents for all ages from two to one hundred.