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.
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.
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.
- find out and describe how seeds and bulbs grow into mature plants
- identify and describe the funcions of different parts of flowering plants: roots, stem/trunk, leaves and flowers
- (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
What with all this rain, there has certainly been some mud around lately hasn’t there? If you are lucky enough to work in a school which is near a muddy track why don’t you take your class and invite them to see if they can deduce who has been there before? A lot of science involves trying to work out the whole picture from a limited amount of evidence. Astronomers, for example, use faint patterns of light to work out what is in outer space; forensic scientists examine the scene of a crime to ascertain ‘who dunnit’ and geologists and paleontologists find evidence of what happened many thousands of years ago from traces left behind.
How many different vehicle, people and animals have passed this way?
What could possibly have made this track?
What has been happening here?
What made this mark?
Could this be a clue?
If you are unable to take your class to a muddy track perhaps you could take some photographs to show them and then challenge them to take photographs of their own when they are at home? Perhaps they could share them on the school website and challenge others to work out what has happened?
Yesterday I went for a walk and saw a skylark; I would not have seen it if I had not heard it singing first. It is the same with goldfinches as, when I recognise their call, I look out for them. However, I find it hard to learn to recognise bird song; it can be difficult to locate sounds and connect them to their source. Especially when there are many birds singing at once.
Listening out for bird song is a great activity to do with children. It helps their concentration and general listening skills, as well as helping them to identify birds in their environment. It links well with literacy lessons. A brilliant resource to help you and your class learn to recognise different birds is the RSPB bird identifier which not only has pictures and descriptions of birds but audio clips of their song. One difficulty is that it is not possible to look up a sound in the same way that one can use an identification key to identify a bird by appearance. The way I have used it is to listen to a recording of a bird which I know is common in my locality, and then go outside and listen out for that song. Children have enjoyed doing this too, and are very excited when they recognise a song that they have heard in class.
Young female blackbird waiting for crumbs outside a cafe.
There is rarely time in a crowded curriculum to do this with older children. However, I have found that some children, once introduced to this free resource are keen to use it in their own time. It is often surprising how much bird song one can hear even during a noisy playtime. I would love to hear how you get on if you do decide to listen for bird song with your class.
Yesterday I went for a walk to look at puddles. In particular I was looking at the way light and images were reflected in them. Sadly, I forgot to put the memory card in my camera when I went out in the rain so I didn’t get any pictures of rain drops falling into puddles.
However, I was enchanted by the way the wind ruffled the water and distorted the images.
I love the juxtaposition of the squalid, grubby winter paths and the sublime images reflected in the puddles.
It was much harder to capture the clouds than the trees reflected in them.
Some were too muddy to have any reflections at all.
This one reminded me of Escher’s picture.
I love puddles! They are a wonderful opportunity to combine science learning with poetry and art. I would love to hear about your experiences of teaching with puddles.
Do you remember saying this rhyme when you were a child, and the weather stopped you going outside? Sometimes it is teachers that mutter it under their breath when yet another wet playtime is called. No time to get things ready for the next lesson, a classroom full of children messing things up and afterwards fidgity children not able to concentrate on their work after being cooped up all day.
I wonder though, how often it is not necessary to have wet play? Some schools hardly ever stop the children going outside whereas others seem to regularly decide that the weather is unfit for going out. Wet play was not common at my school nevertheless, more often than not, my colleague and I would get our coats on and take our class out anyway ‘just for five minutes’. So often five minutes would stretch to twenty and really it wasn’t so bad at all once we were outside. You can be sure that some of our colleagues would send their classes out too once they realised that we were out and saw for themselves that when we came in the children were only a little damp.
There are those who would argue that when the weather is as grey and damp as this it does not matter if children miss the occasional play time. What harm could it possibly do? However, I believe that when we call wet play we are doing more than denying the children twenty minutes of exercise. We are giving them a strong message that when the weather is inclemment it is better to stay inside, to get in the car, to avoid doing what we had planned to do. In the long term this is likely to have a negative impact on their health as they will be more sedentary than they might have been. Moreover, they are likely to miss so much about the experience of being out in the rain which really is not as bad as you might think.
The day after I posted this I was in a school while Storm Imogen raged outside; going out in that would have been madness!
When you are out with your children do consider taking some strong scissors or secateurs and asking them to help you to choose a few twigs to bring into the classroom.
When you look at them closely you realise that twigs come in so many different shapes and colours. The leaf buds and the flower buds are arranged differently on different types of plants. Look at the lovely green zig zagging of the Kerria Japonica twigs (these are often called Batchelor’s Butons). To the right of the bunch is a stem of Forsythia, the buds are arranged in pairs along this straight twig; it looks very brown and boring!
However, bring them inside and put them in a vase of water and all of these twigs may have a surprise in store for you. Why don’t you try it?
Today I also brought in a Hazel twig; it is already in flower. The catkin is the male flower and it dangles down so that it’s pollen is caught by the wind and taken to fertilize the female flowers which are much less obvious. By the autumn I am hoping that this tree will have a fine collection of nuts. Not that we ever get to eat any of them; the squirels see to that! It is lovely to see them scampering around the garden though. We watch them burying them in our lawn. They don’t always remember where they have left them so you can be sure we are always finding hazels sprouting all over the place!
Have you ever wondered why the trees flowering at this time of year have catkins and rely on the wind instead of having flowers to attract insects?
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.
The variety above is a mixture of oriental brassica seeds which rapidly develop to a size where they can be harvested and enjoyed.
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.
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.
I love that you can see the root hairs! Children often mistake this for mould and it leads to some interesting discussions.
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?
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).
I wonder how often we miss learning opportunites because we see them as problems to be avoided? Look at this patch of lawn which has had a pallet on it for the past couple of weeks. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful chance to encourage children to wonder why the grass had changed colour?
To speculate why the buttercup plants seem much bigger in the part of the lawn that has been covered (on the left) with that which has been uncovered. To wonder why there are more worm casts in the covered area. Time spent chatting to a child would provide so many assessment opportunities about their understanding about plants and the needs of living things. However, (and I totally hold my hands up to this) so often we would say “Move that from the grass” because, as adults, we already know what will happen and forget to look at our world in the way that a child does. On those rare occasions when we do see the world through child’s eyes there is so much more to learn; however old we are.
This pile of soil is left over from various projects in the garden, such as digging out for flower beds and paths. The ‘normal’ thing to do would probably be to remove it from the site to keep everything tidy. However, I think of this heap as a bonus; I have used it to create a different micro-habitat to the rest of the garden. In particular I have left it uneven with holes that could be used by bumblebees to make their nests in the summer. It will also be a place where the grass will be allowed to grow long and hopefully wild flowers will flourish. However, it is not something that I would have gone out of my way to do; the material came my way and instead of thinking of it as a problem to be dealt with I treated it as a bonus. I believe that my garden will be better for this unlooked for resource.
In schools where budgets are tight and resources are limited I believe that when staff take this approach there is much to be gained. For example, in my previous school an old pine tree that was blown down in a storm was sawn into logs. Some were left on their side with slice taken off to make a flat surface for sitting on. Others were placed vertically and children loved jumping on them, from one to another.
The bottom picture also shows some children using one of the logs to make a ‘birds nest’, which they later transferred to one of the nearby trees. Smaller branches of the tree were shredded and were used to create a temporary path around our vegetable gardens.
This was a small school with an extremely tight budget, looking out for resources in this way enriched the children’s experience without costing any money. What unexpected materials have you been able to use in your school?