Forced!

This is rhubarb ready to be harvested; you can be sure that we had a delicious rhubarb crumble for tea last night!  The reason that the rhubarb sticks in the forcer are so much taller and brighter coloured than the rhubarb in the open ground is that it has been stretching to reach the light.  Also, without light chlorophyll can’t develop in the leaves so there is no green to mask the bright red of the stalk or the yellow in the leaves.  Rhubarb is a very low maintenance crop to grow.  Even if children don’t cook it in school they might be able to sell it to their families.  I have also heard that the roots make a great natural dye ……more of this in a future post.

However, of more interest to me at the moment is the way that it can be forced.  The same has happened to the rhubarb as happened to the grass which  I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

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And also happened to these seedlings which I put in the airing cupboard to germinate but forgot to take out straight away.

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Encouraging children to talk about what has happened in all of these instances and why the plants are so pale and ‘stretched’ (the scientific term is etiolated) would be a great way to assess their understanding of what plants need to be healthy and why.  It would also help to reinforce the message that rhubarb and grass are plants too!  So often children think that plants include flowering herbaceous plants but forget that vegetables, trees and grass are plants too.

Dig for Victory!

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Now is the time to start chitting potatoes.  This is when you carefully place your seed potatoes with most of the eyes facing upwards so that the sprouts start to develop before they are planted.

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This potato has already started to sprout but the shoot is very pale.  Now it is in the light any new sprouts will be green and much sturdier.

The term ‘seed potato’ is something of a misnomer as they are not seeds but tiny potatoes.  Although it would be possible to collect seed from potatoes they would take longer to develop into productive plants.  Moreover, they would not be ‘true’ to the plant from which they had been collected as they would be the result of sexual reproduction and combine characteristics from both parents (including some unexpected, and perhaps unwelcome, characteristics from past generations).  By using tiny potatoes we are able to make clones of the original parent which means that the plants are exact reproductions of the one from which it was taken.

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I was therefore able to choose a variety (Arran Pilot) which I know will have a waxy texture which is perfect to serve in a salad and another (Red Duke of York) which is more floury and suitable for roasting.  They are both ‘first earlies’ which are the quickest to be ready to harvest.  I expect to harvest both of these before the end of the summer term.  ‘Second earlies’ and ‘maincrop’ potatoes on the other hand will probably be ready in the summer holidays or when the current cohort of children has moved on to the next class.

The Potato Council has a project called ‘Grow Your Own Potatoes’ which sends potatoes and growing bags into schools for children to grow.  Sadly, registrations are closed for this year.  However, it is still worth taking a look at their website which is full of materials about growing and weighing potatoes.

If you plan to grow potatoes in bags you will only need a few.  I managed to find bags of six in Yorkshire Trading.  It is no doubt an expensive way to buy potatoes if you are adding up the cost of each potato.   However, I have purchased two varieties for less than a larger bag  in which all of the potatoes would have been the same.   If you can’t find any small bags why not put a shout out in your school news letter or website.  You may well have a gardening parent or grandparent who would be more than happy to donate a few seed potatoes.

Year 2

  • find out and describe how seeds and bulbs grow into mature plants

Year 3

  • identify and describe the funcions of different parts of flowering plants: roots, stem/trunk, leaves and flowers

EYFS

  • (The World ELG) make observations of plants, explain why some things occur and talk about changes
  • (The World 30-50 months) develop and understanding of growth, decay and changes over time

 

Incredible Edibles!

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As I mentioned in my last post I was pleased with the ‘quick returns’ afforded by the rapid sprouting of the garlic.  It is so nice when children can see something happening within a reasonable time scale.  Even so, it will be the summer before the garlic is ready to be harvested.

On the other hand, now the days are getting longer and brighter micro greens are an opportunity for children, not only to see growth taking place almost before their very eyes, but to eat the results within a few weeks of sowing.  seeds 002.JPG

The variety above is a mixture of oriental brassica seeds which rapidly develop to a size where they can be harvested and enjoyed.

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However if you are not after quite such quick returns there are many edible crops that can be grown in this way.  They can be a profitable way to use up leftover seeds such as brussel sprouts, peas or spinach.

If you were to encourage children to sow a tray of seeds a week they would be able to see the stages of growth before their eyes.

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Guess which ones I planted first?  One crop was planted on January 18th and the other on January 23rd.  Below is a different type of seed (mixed lettuce this time) planted a day or two later.

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I love that you can see the root hairs!  Children often mistake this for mould and it leads to some interesting discussions.

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Children are often much more enthusiastic to eat plants that they have grown than ones that have been bought which is an added bonus too!  Anyone fancy a salad sandwich?

Garlic Progress

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I am pleased to report that all of the garlic that I planted on the 10th and 17th Januray has now sprouted and is looking very healthy.  I think that this is much quicker than when I planted them with my class straight into the open ground.  It is always nice to get a quick return so I think that I might grow garlic in pots again (providing we get a good crop).

Compost

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There is a website linked to this book which is well worth a look.

Today I thought that it would be worth thinking about compost!  An increasing number of schools have compost heaps and they can be a great way to learn about decomposition, the needs of plants and the importance of recycling and caring for the environment.

However, there can be pit falls.

Pitfall 1:  Ideally compost should be turned from time to time to mix the ingredients together and incorporate air.  Just who has time to do this in school?  Maybe if you have some enthusiastic Y6’s or an adult who is happy to spend an hour playing with the compost heap once in a while.  However, there are many schools where there is no one available to turn the comost heap.

Solution: Even if a compost heap isn’t turned it will still rot down, only more slowly, so don’t worry if no one in your school wants to take on this job.

Pitfall 2: Compost heaps can attract vermin from rats to flies, especially if they are neglected (and lets face it they may well be neglected from time to time in a busy school).

Solution:  Please don’t panic just because I said rats!  The chances are that there are rats outside your school anyway.  On the whole, in small numbers they will do us no harm and just want to keep themselves to themselves.  However, it is important that we don’t provide places where they can hide from predators and breed!  Avoid adding cooked food, especially meat to your compost.  Also, immediately cover any vegetable peelings with weeds or grass and keep the lid on the compost bin.  If your heap seems very dry try mixing in some grass clippings or get a watering can and water it.  Even rats don’t like to live in soggy homes.  However, don’t let the heap get too soggy or it will just go slimey and smelly instead of making lovely compost for your garden.

Pitfall 3:  Especially at this time of year there is lots of kitchen waste (fruit peelings in school) and not much else.  If you are not careful you end up with a slimy smelly fruity layer on top of the heap; yuck!

Solution:  Try keeping a pile of ‘covering material’ by your bin.  This might be weeds that you have pulled from your vegetable beds, long grass collected from around your field edge or shredded paper from your school office.  Everytime you add a layer of fruit peel add a layer of weeds and/or paper.  This will help to form a much more balanced heap and avoid attracting flies and wasps too.  A well balanced heap should never get smelly.

Finally.  Do make sure that you have a lid for your compost heap.  It will help to keep the heat in and the flies out.

If you have some money to spend the book illustrated at the top of this post would be lovely to share with younger children.  It has lovely illustrations and rhyming text.  If I were still teaching an infant class I think that I would scan it into my interactive white board and plan a week’s literacy around it.  I think that older children would enjoy and learn from it too.

Even if you don’ t buy the book the website is well worth a look.  I think that KS2 children would love to learn more about worms by reading about Squirmin’ Herman.  One of the other activities helps children to sort things that can be composted from those that can not.  Learning about compost might well be an unusual take on changing materials. Observing a compost heap would be an opportunity to take part in an ‘observation over time‘ enquiry.   Setting up a remote data logger in a freshly made heap could well prove dramatic as a well made compost becomes very hot indeed!  A compost heap would also make an interesting micro-habitat for children to explore as they learned about ‘Animals including humans‘.

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To finish here is a picture of a friendly robin on one of my compost bins.  This one is actually being used to make leaf mould which is completely different to compost.  Maybe I’ll write about it in the autumn.

Outside In!

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I do not know the name of this plant.  I grew it from a single leaf.  It is aromatic and the leaves are covered in fine hairs.  It is incredibly soft to touch.

Today I spent lunch time in a school staff room.  There were no staff in it (they were working through their lunch hour; nothing new there then!)  I was using the photocopier and had to smile to myself as everytime a member of staff popped into the room they said exactly the same thing.  “Brrr, it’s cold out there!”  I know that I have said that there is no such thing as unsuitable weather.  However, there really are some days when one is much less likely to go outside for a lesson than others: the wind blows not only paper but any other resource (maybe even the odd small child) around; it is too cold to stand and listen to simple instructions; it is not only raining but it is raining so hard that it hurts your face!  I am not saying that you wouldn’t go out in these kinds of weathers, but I am saying that you are much less likely to choose to take your class outside.

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This one is even hairier!  I bought it cheaply from Aldi’s last spring.

Maybe it is on days like this that we appreciate the ways that we have made room for ‘outdoors’ in the classroom.  On Saturday I wrote about our class experience of feeding the birds so that they could be easily seen from inside.  Another way of bringing the outdoors inside is to have a nature table.  Yet another way is to have a selection of plants in the room.  However, plants are inclined to die if not watered regularly enough and there must be more than one teacher whose plants have died during a particularly busy part of the term (Christmas plays, report writing, OFSTED; it is a hazardous business being a pot plant in a classroom).

This is where succulents come in.  They come in a range of sizes, shapes and colours and can cope with prolonged periods of teacher stress (and school holidays)!  However, they do keep growing and can become too big for the windowsill and less attractive than when they were originally introduced to the classroom.  Fortunately they take so easily from cuttings that you can make new plants and throw the older ones away (I don’t feel too guilty about this as the cuttings are clones of the original plant).

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A tray of succulents at various stages of development.

Succculents  are a wonderful way to practice sorting and classifying living things.  They are also a good starting point for exploring the adaptations of plants to dry and arrid conditions.  This selection have all adapted in a variety of ways to conserve moisture and to deter hungry animals.

They are also a fantastic first experience of taking cuttings as they rarely fail.  With a little advance planning they are a great way for children to make Mother’s Day gifts or build a collection of plants to sell at a school Fayre.

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I have more plants than I know what to do with here!

How do you bring the outside into your classroom?

Growing in January

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Healthy garlic cloves ready for planting.

Choosing crops to grow in school can be difficult; so many need harvesting during the summer holidays.  In this respect garlic is ideal as it is traditionally harvested in mid summer.  Although garlic is usually planted a little earlier than this it is not too late if you missed the boat earlier in the season.  If your garden centre has sold out garlic bulbs can still be purchased online.  The ground outside will be too wet and cold now, but you can plant it in pots so that it can start growing and be ready for planting out once the ground is a little warmer (and drier).

Garlic is planted a little deeper than onion sets; their tops should be just under the surface of the compost.  But only just; if they are too deep they might rot.  Once planted and labelled you need to find a place to keep it.  Indoors will be too warm.  If you have a school greenhouse or polytunnel you’re in luck as that would be perfect.  A cold frame would also provide enough protection for these hardy plants.  Failing that find a sheltered spot against the school wall which will be significantly warmer than in a more exposed location.  If you are worried about them you could always splash out on some horticultural fleece (or a bit of polythene at a push).

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A tray of freshly planted garlic alongside other plants in a cold frame.

If you follow these simple steps now you could be harvesting garlic to make garlic bread, and pizza with your class before the end of the year!

Another crop that you could be planting in pots now is broad beans.  These have the advantage of being ready for harvesting even sooner than garlic.  They have the disadvantage that not many children enjoy eating broad beans; however, they may enjoy flogging them to parents!  Another advantage of broad beans is that they are a member of the legume family.  These fix nitrogen in the soil and so improve the soil fertility for future crops.