Baking with local winter produce

Running garden programming in the winter takes some creativity. So does running gardening at schools which don’t yet have gardens. (Both are totally doable – there’s lots to learn about food and plants without the garden actually being there/accessible, but one does definitely have to think a bit outside the garden box.)

One teacher asked if I could do some baking with her class this winter. They had done some baking with the whole class earlier, but she thought that if I could work with them in smaller groups it would be a bit more manageable and the kids could get more hands-on. Some folks have wondered just how this links with my garden programming, but to me the links are clear. For me, an important element of food garden programming is preparing the harvest, and while we don’t yet have food from the garden, we can already start learning some cooking skills. We’re also learning about local food; we’re choosing one local and seasonal primary ingredient per week and finding something to bake with it. (Of course there aren’t really local ingredients growing right now, but we’re using Ontario fruits and veggies which store well and are available throughout the winter.) Learning about local foods can lead into lessons about what we could grow in our school garden this coming season. Cooking and baking can also be linked to a variety of curriculum requirements, like measuring, comparing liquids and solids, noticing changes of state when melting and/or baking… Lots of fun learning going on!

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Getting ready to bake carrot muffins.

So far I’ve worked with two small groups of students and we’ve made carrot muffins and maple apple crisp. This week’s plan is a little Valentine’s Day themed treat – beet and chocolate muffins. Not only are our primary ingredients local (carrots, apples, beets, etc.), but we’re trying to use as many local ingredients as possible. We’ve used Ontario sunflower oil and maple syrup, and many other ingredients which could at least theoretically be from Ontario, like flax, wheat and spelt. (There’s an egg allergy in the class, so we’ve been using ground flax and water as an egg substitute. I’m finding that looking up vegan recipes is a good way to find recipes which have been tested with the flax “eggs”. We haven’t stuck to all of the vegan’ness of these recipes – we’ve still used butter and cow’s milk, which are more local than many of the alternatives.)

During and after our baking sessions, the kids also fill in worksheets, focusing both on local ingredients and on the states of matter of the different ingredients. I’ve been typing the ingredient lists as charts, where the students check off whether each ingredient is a solid or a liquid. The teacher also put together a worksheet which asks the students to draw and describe the local fruit or vegetable we used for the recipe. There’s also a chart for them to list the local and imported ingredients from the whole recipe. Next, they describe changes which occurred either before and after mixing, or before and after baking. And last, they draw or write about their favourite part of the activity. I try to have these local vs imported discussions while we’re baking, but we often get distracted by the baking action going on, so it’s nice to have the worksheet which helps us refer back to our ingredients once things are in the oven.

It’s been fun baking with the small groups of grade 2/3s, and hearing how much they enjoyed the results (which we always share with the whole class). So far we’ve used fairly “normal” baking ingredients – carrots and apples – so I’m curious to see what they think of the beet muffins. Also looking for ideas for the next recipe or two, using different produce than what we’ve already used. Parsnips? Squash/pumpkin? Any other ideas/recipes?

Well, back to baking some beet chocolate muffins. (I’ve obviously gotta try out this recipe beforehand. It’s a tough life. ;-) )

Happy growing (and baking and farmers’ marketing and seed ordering…)!

Colour Scavenger Hunts

Have I seriously not written about this activity yet? I was wanting to show this to somebody and was looking for the blog post I was sure I’d written about it, but alas it didn’t exist. Ok, it’s pretty similar to leaf pounding, which I did write about, but still…

The activity in question if the Colour Scavenger Hunt. I mentioned it in my Fall-Winter-Winter-Fall post, but realized I haven’t really explained it. The original inspiration for this idea is from a booklet of lesson plans called Into Nature, which has lots of good, short and relatively easy lessons to help teachers get students outside. The lesson which inspired this one is called Rainbow Chips. As you can tell by my title for the lesson, it’s a scavenger hunt where we look for colours. Each kid (or pair of kids) gets a set of colour chips like these:

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Yes, I went and raided the local paint/hardware stores for paint chip cards. Each set of cards ended up being slightly different (though I did ensure I had a range of similar colours in each), but that actually lends itself well to keeping kids occupied who finish quickly – you just get them to trade for another set of colour chips. The names of the paint colours are often quite entertaining and I’ve been surprised at how the kids sometimes get distracted by them (sometimes it narrows the scope of what they’re looking for if the paint colour name is something specific – for example, if it was called grassy green, they’d start to only look at the grass for green and not all of the other green plants). It also surprises me, though, how the kids are able to find colours that adults might not have noticed – the purple edges on some stems or leaves, tiny red buds on branches… I’ve done this activity in all seasons, and they always manage to find at least most of the colours.

I generally do this lesson with Kindergarten classes (though the older kids in Garden Club and EcoCamp have loved it too). I start with a book called Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert and a brief discussion about colours in nature. Then we head outside to do the scavenger hunt. Before starting, I lay out a few ground rules, as we will be collecting pieces of the plants from our garden – only pick from healthy plants (which can handle losing a few leaves), don’t pick the fruits that we’ll eat (like tomatoes, peppers…) or the blossoms that will turn into fruits we’ll eat (which sounds sort of complicated, but they mostly get it), and make sure you’re gentle with the plants. I usually have a few baskets around the garden for kids to pick things into.

Then comes the magical part! Using the colour from the plant parts we’ve found for either colouring/drawing or for leaf pounding. But just rubbing the plant parts on paper, you get colour! It’s pretty amazing! That in itself is pretty cool (and fun to see their reactions when I demonstrate), but what else is neat is that the colours often don’t show up the same on paper as they were in the plant, so you never really know what colour you’re going to get. With the Kindergarten classes, I’ve kept with the rainbow theme of the book and we’ve coloured in rainbow colouring sheets with our found objects. With older kids, I often just give them blank paper and let them get creative. They’ve created some pretty neat pictures.

 

Happy growing (and colouring)!

 

 

So what’s a sunchoke anyway?

I wrote about harvesting and cooking with sunchokes a couple of posts ago. But whenever I mention these wondrous little things, I usually get some confused looks. One thing is, they have many names. These great little tubers are called sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes (despite having nothing to do with Jerusalem nor with artichokes), sunroots… They are tubers (as are potatoes), but from a plant in the sunflower family. Not hard to believe the sunflower connection when you see them in bloom in the summer and fall.

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Sunchoke blossoms

 

Sunchokes are prolific producers and tend to spread easily in the garden. There have been times over the past few years that I’ve silently (and lovingly) cursed whoever planted them in the tiny Withrow school garden. There’s a small’ish patch of them tucked away between some big rocks by the fence, but we often find them sprouting up all around the garden, taking over any space they can. If you’re ever tempted to plant them, do so in a container or far away from anything else you want to grow. Despite some lingering fears of sunchoke takeovers, I have grown to love them. The plants are beautiful, especially when in bloom. They grow, every year, no matter what. With very little effort, I know there’ll always be something for the kids to dig up, even in those years when other things didn’t do too well. And kids love digging up tubers, like potatoes and sunchokes – it’s like a little treasure hunt. Sunchokes are especially fun because of their wonky shapes.

This fall we had an especially prolific sunchoke harvest at the Withrow school garden. The Garden Club kids harvested about 10 pounds, and I’m absolutely sure there were plenty that stayed in the ground (which means more and more plants next year…). We cooked some during our Garden Club cooking session and I always offer some for kids and teachers to take home, but at the end of the day, my fridge is still pretty full of them. I’m not even sure where to donate them, as they are a relatively unknown vegetable. I have given some away to friends and I keep chipping away at them in my own kitchen, so I promise you they won’t go to waste. If you’re not somewhere near me and my crisper drawer, yet want to try these wonderful veggies, I’m finding that more and more farmers have them at markets. I haven’t really seen them in grocery stores yet (though some natural/health food stores have them).  (Disclaimer: if/when you decide to try sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes, please know that they’re nicknamed fartichokes. I don’t think I need to explain that any further.)

With the amounts of sunchokes I’ve been flooded with over the years at Withrow, I’ve looked for some interesting ways to use them. The simplest thing is to give them a good scrub (I don’t usually peel them) and roast them with your other root veggies. I also really like these super simple sauteed sunchokes as done by Jamie Oliver. When they turn out perfectly, they’re crunchy and garlicky on the outside, while the sweet inside melts in your mouth. Mmm… They also make a delicious puree soup. There are lots of raw recipes for them, though I haven’t tried any of those yet. I’ve fermented some in my kimchi-inspired fermentation creations, and they’ve turned out delicious. (I’ve even read that since fermentation starts to break down the veggies before you eat them, fermented Jerusalem artichokes are, well, less likely to be referred to as fartichokes…) (If you’re looking for fermenting recipes/inspiration, check out Sandor Katz’s website and books – I borrowed Wild Fermentation from the library and just got The Art of Fermentation for Christmas. Good information and interesting reading.) But probably the most creative sunchoke recipe I have yet to find is for a Sunroot Spice Cake. I made it with a friend a couple of months ago, and it was definitely worth it. It really keeps the earthy sunchoke flavour, which lends itself really well to this delicious moist cake. Mmmm… might be time to cook up another…

Have you tried sunchokes? Any favourite recipes?

Happy growing (and cooking)!

Happy New Year!

Happy 2015!

There’s a lot to look forward to this year, but I thought I’d do a brief recap of 2014 before jumping fully into the new year.

Where to start? 2014 was a great year! I finally got to fulfill a dream which I’d had for 20 years, of folkdancing with nearly ten thousand other dancers at the Dance Festival (or “Tantsupidu) in Estonia. Wow, what an experience! During that same trip, I was fortunate to get to visit many other friends and relatives, meet some little ones I hadn’t met before, go to a friend’s wedding… Shortly before this trip, I also became an aunt for a second time, to our wonderful little Agnes. In early 2014, I moved to my own apartment (a wee basement bachelor) in an amazing neighbourhood called The Pocket. Such a great community, and I can walk to all of the schools where I work in less than half an hour. Perfect!

But enough about my personal life – let’s move onto my school garden life. Right at the start of the year, I was asked to do a presentation at a teachers’ college environment day. I presented about connecting composting and earthworms with the curriculum. It’s a pretty cool feeling to be called on to do these types of workshops and it was fun to do. Though I was a bit disappointed that none of the teachers’ college students were willing to touch the worms. Sigh. ;-)

The biggest and most exciting change for me professionally this year was starting to work at two more schools, bringing my total up to four! I have one day each week dedicated to each school, and then work from home on Fridays preparing lessons for the upcoming week. I’m at three of the schools year round, while one of them is seasonal (though there, too, I got an extra month of teaching this year). Though I’m not 100% there yet, I’m pretty close to being a full-time School Garden Educator! It’s been a few years in the making, but going from 2 schools to 4 in 2014 was a HUGE step! I’m still working at the High Park Children’s Garden and kitchen as well, mostly during school holidays. Can’t believe I’ve been there for 5 years already!

When I think back to 2014 in terms of garden lessons, the first thing that jumps to mind is “seeds”! I really enjoyed developing some new seed-themed lessons this past year, and encouraging students to get up close and personal with seeds, their shapes and sizes, the patterns on them, how they’re dispersed… And I really enjoyed taking pictures of seeds too. When I bought a new camera a couple of years ago, one of the most important things for me was that it would have a good macro setting (for super close-up photos) – easily over half of my pictures are macro shots, of seeds, vegetables, insects… Fun!

Halloween 2014 - Ms FrizzleI also fully embraced my similarities to Ms Frizzle from the Magic School Bus this Halloween. Though I feel like I just am Ms Frizzle a lot of the time and don’t need to make it a costume, I couldn’t resist really getting into it for Halloween. I’ve got a red pepper skirt made by my aunt, a veggie sweater I bough in Norway, and had a hard time deciding between my numerous fruit/veggie earrings… :) Halloween was on a Friday this year, so I normally would have been at home prepping for the next week, but I couldn’t just get dressed up and sit at home. So Ms Frizzle went for a visit to Blake Street PS, the closest of my four schools. So fun! Highlight was a grade 1/2 student saying “Hey, Ms Frizzle IS real!”

I tried a few new things in the kitchen at home this past year. I made a sunchoke (aka Jerusalem artichoke, aka sunroot…) spice cake with some of the copious amounts of sunchoke harvested from the Withrow school garden. And I’ve also delved into fermenting foods (I’ve so far made sauerkraut and kimchi) and baking sourdough. Still learning, but have had some successes! Yum!

 

I’ve collected a few good kid-quotes throughout the year. When looking through them, it seems that the most common topics they get really excited about are tasting/eating and earthworms. No surprise, really. Some quotes are cute, some are heartwarming, some are just plain funny. Here are some of the highlights:

“I’m going to make Stone Soup for my birthday!” – grade 1/2 boy

“I wish I could take home some of this leftover Stone Soup for supper!” – grade 1 student

“Mom, I got to taste some dinosaur kale today!” – overheard in the halls

“Elin, I didn’t like those kale chips, I LOVED those kale chips!” – Kindergarten student

Kindie comments about parsley: “It tastes like cookies! It’s delicious! It’s like candy!”

“Ça c’est TROP bon!” (“This is TOO good!”) – grade 1 girl about kale and herb pesto

DSC_0819“Mon ver de terre m’aime! My earthworm LOVES me – it made itself into a heart shape!” – grade 1 student

Worm facts from Kindergarten kids: Worms like the dark, they eat banana peels, and they don’t do ballet.

“I think worms are my second favourite things after crystals.” – grade 2 girl in Garden Club

“So worms are like the opposite of us – they’re always wet and covered in dirt.” – Kindergarten student

“Thank you for teaching us that time goes quickly when you’re in Nature.” – gr 5/6 student

 

DSC_0570There’s a lot I’m looking forward to in 2015. The new schools where I started last winter, Dundas PS and First Nations School of Toronto (two separate schools but on the same site, so will be sharing a garden) still don’t have a garden… Creating a new garden, especially on school property, is a long process. But things are moving forward – the site has long been chosen, the soil has been tested, some containers have been ordered, and I’m looking forward to installing the containers and starting some planting this spring!

Though I’m nearly always working with people of all ages with my job, I do mostly work independently and often feel like I don’t have much in the way of colleagues who do the same work. This year, I hope/plan to connect with some other garden and food educators, especially in Toronto for ideas, troubleshooting tips, inspiration and sharing of all kinds.

I also have a few themes for which I want to find/develop some new lesson plans. I want to involve the kids, especially with the new garden, in choosing what foods get planted in the garden. It will be a relatively small garden shared by two distinct schools, so it will be an interesting challenge, but I look forward to it. I also want to use the growlight stands which each school has to do some winter growing – microgreens, sunflower and pea shoots, etc – and then make some salads with what we’ve grown. It is also the International Year of Soils as declared by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, so getting deeper into soil studies is another goal.

I was fortunate this fall to see/hear Vandana Shiva speak at an event in Toronto. She’s a wonderfully inspirational seed sovereignty, environment and agriculture activist. I’ll leave you with some inspiration from her:

“All of us who do this work get a joy in it. And that is why we last.” 

 

Happy growing!

Cooking up several storms

This fall was a busy one for cooking and taste testing activities! I feel like I had a record number of these lessons at Withrow this fall, and am trying to make sure every class at Blake gets to do some sort of food preparation this fall as well.

I’ve been working with the old hits, like kale chips and scissor salsa, and have made tons of kale and herb pesto all fall as well. (For recipes, see the blog’s recipe tab.) I also did some apple taste testing with a number of classes. (I described this activity back in 2012 – read more here.) We get to taste 4 varieties of Ontario apples and describe them using our five senses. (Yes, even hearing – we listen to how crunchy they are when we bite into them. It’s important to add a bit of silliness into lessons. hah.) Before starting the tasting, I get students to list as many apple varieties as they can. Usually they come up with about a dozen or so (which I was pretty impressed by). Then I have them guess how many apple varieties there are in the world! What do you think? (See the bottom of this post for the answer.) Before we start, I have them brainstorm some different descriptive words they might use for the apples – sweet, tart, sour, soft, crunchy, juicy… They’re pretty good at coming up with lots of ideas, though it does get a bit more challenging in French Immersion classes. We discuss why words like delicious, yucky and yummy aren’t the most useful descriptive words – they’re more opinions than descriptions. And then we start taste testing. It’s pretty neat to see the differences in their palates – some prefer sweet ones, other like the tart apples, some like crunchy, others prefer softer apples… With the younger grades, we’ve mostly just had time to complete the tasting and describing of the four varieties. But with older grades, the students had a chance to create short “TV commercials” for one of the apples they’d tasted. It was pretty entertaining to see what they came up with, especially the ones who created jingles.

I made Stone Soup with three classes this year, both at Blake and at Withrow. We made giant pot fulls of soup with the vegetables the kids brought in, and most of the soup was gone by the end of the lesson… As always, it’s amazing to see giant amounts of healthy food disappear into the kids’ bellies when they’ve made it themselves! Of course the kids were the ones doing the peeling, chopping, cutting (with scissors), breaking things apart with their hands… There’s a good variety of tasks, so that kids with different levels of motor skills can get in on the action. This part is always a bit hard to plan ahead, as I don’t know what veggies kids will bring in. But there’s always a way to make sure everyone is involved. Some kids peel with veggie peelers and chop with large plastic knives (they’re often called “lettuce knives”), some use scissors to cut leeks, celery and onion strips, some help smoosh garlic in the garlic press, some rip apart cauliflower and broccoli with their hands… Often the teachers and I do the initial big cuts to make things manageable for the kids, to ensure carrots and potatoes aren’t rolling around, etc. but mostly it’s the kids doing the food prep with adults managing the big picture.

One really wonderful thing that came out of making Stone Soup this fall (besides all of the wonderful things described above), was a moment of noticing how much the kids have learned through the garden programmes over the years. I was working with a grade 1/2 class at Blake; before we started to cook, I showed them all of the vegetables we’d be putting in our soup. My first question was “What is this?” – I wasn’t surprised they knew pretty much all of the answers here (carrots, potatoes, cauliflower… The only one they didn’t know was leeks.) But then my next question was “What part of the plant are you eating when you’re eating _____?” – they knew these too! They knew carrots are roots, celery is stems, cauliflowers are flowers, etc. Ms Barr, the classroom teacher, was surprised and thrilled! She immediately pointed out that her students in the same grades just a few years ago could not answer these questions as easily – the fact that I’ve been teaching the current grade 1s and 2s since they were in Kindergarten is clearly paying off! Such a great moment for the garden programme!

While the soup was cooking, the students drew some of the ingredients in big soup pots, and wrote and illustrated a brief summary of the Stone Soup story.

For a bit more (including some pictures) about the Blake Stone Soup sessions, check out the latest Blake school newsletter. There’s also a great picture of some garden themed artwork and poetry. Check out pages 8 and 10.

DSC_0847The Withrow Garden Club also got to do some cooking this fall. They do a lot of work in the garden, including planting, weeding, watering, sifting compost, cleaning, harvesting, etc. In earlier years, I’ve cooked up some of the harvest at home and brought it for them to try, but this year, I decided to have a little cooking session with them. It took a bit of doing, as the staff room (ie kitchen) is in use during lunch, but I got permission to pull my garden club kids from class and cook with them before lunch. We roasted potatoes and sunchokes, made some kale and herb pesto, and picked some herbs for tea. The students and I really enjoyed sharing this little meal at the end of a good Garden Club season.

One thing I really try to instill in the kids with all of the different tasting and eating activities is avoiding words like “yuck” and “ewww”. Not only is it not a useful descriptive words, it can be insensitive to others who do enjoy the food and can even discourage other kids from tasting it. When reading a great teaching resource from Shelburne Farms called Cultivating Joy and Wonder, I came across the following phrase: “Don’t yuck my yum!” I think it’s great! As I said, I really try to instill this idea in the kids I work with, so I get really frustrated hearing adults insult food in the same way. I pulled out a homemade smoothie in a Mason jar a few weeks ago, and a grown woman (no, it wasn’t a teacher or anyone at the schools where I work :) ) looked at it and said “Ewww, that looks like a jar of vomit!” It totally caught me off guard and I regret not saying anything to her, but I guess it reinforced the need to teach these simple lessons of politeness. Luckily it didn’t change my opinion of my smoothie, and I think I enjoyed that kale, cranberry and peach smoothie just that much more.

Any fun recipes you make with groups of kids? I’m always looking for new ideas!

So, how many apple varieties did you guess there are? Most sources I’ve read say there are about 7500 in the world! (Though recently I saw somewhere that there are 17 000…)

Happy growing (and cooking)!

Fall-Winter-Winter-Fall

There have definitely been ample opportunities to explore the unpredictability of fall weather with students in the past few weeks… When you’ve got a fall scavenger hunt planned and it snows that day, do you still do the fall scavenger hunt or do the winter one instead? Does snow necessarily equal winter? And when just a week before, it was a very balmy 18 degrees Celsius? We also got a live action demonstration of this unpredictability on a day when we were afraid it would rain all day, but then it turned out to be a fairly sunny day. While I started the fall scavenger hunt lesson with a storybook and introduced the activity, it was a bit cloudy but pretty nice out. We were about to get our coats on and head outside, when one of the students noticed it was raining. And not only raining, but POURING! Well, we had a little chat about having to be adaptable and how we can’t control the weather, and then we did a different worksheet about the seasons in the school garden… And by the time recess rolled around 40 minutes later, it was lovely outside again. (Not that I’m afraid to take kids out in the rain or other “bad” weather, and if it’s only raining a bit, I generally still take them out. But doing a worksheet when it’s soaked is sort of hard. And if they don’t all have proper rain gear with them, taking them outside when it’s absolutely pouring and then having them come back inside the classroom soaking wet is less fun…)

Luckily I did have a bunch of more successful scavenger hunts throughout the fall. We looked for signs of the season, like finding different types of leaves on the ground, counting how many different colours of leaves we could find, finding seeds, looking for bugs (which ones are still out and about in the fall?), and describing the weather. We also listed different things we can do in the garden in the fall – harvesting, cleaning up the garden, adding compost… Then we can come back to this list at other times of year and compare the changes in the garden throughout the year. This week, I modified the fall scavenger hunt and created a Kindergarten version which I did with the JK/SK class from First Nations School of Toronto (one of the schools where we’re starting a new food garden). We focused mostly on finding different types of leaves (different shapes) and seeds. They had a choice of drawing what they found or gluing their found objects to their sheet. Some of the kids did both! Here are a couple of examples of the great work:

 

 

A book I use a LOT for seasons in the garden is Plant a Little Seed by Bonnie Christensen.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned this one before. It’s great because it’s a seasons book specifically about a food garden, it’s got nice poetic text, it shows the year as a cycle… I love it and use it all the time! BUT, I need more garden-season books so the kids don’t hear the same stories from me every year, and also for introducing the different seasonal scavenger hunts throughout the year. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.

DSC_0901A lot of our crops in the garden can handle a bit of frost, like leafy greens (lettuce is surprisingly hardy) and root vegetables (which actually get sweeter after a few frosts, as they try to preserve their sugars safely underground in their roots). Luckily kale can handle some solid cold (we’ve still got a few plants at both Blake and Withrow). It just hangs out under the snow and waits to be harvested.

I’ve had a chance to do some great nature art in the gardens this fall as well. I’ve written before about the colour scavenger hunt activities I do, where we use coloured paint chips to guide us to find different colours in the garden, and then often use those found/harvested objects for drawing or for leaf pounding. I’ve mostly done this activity in the spring or fall, but decided to do it in the fall this time. It was pretty neat to see how different the colours were and how differently the pictures turned out! It also fit in perfectly with Ms Church’s Kindergarten class’ work at Blake – they were just finishing a colours and nature inquiry unit! Hooray for curriculum links in the garden! I also worked with the Blake Junior MID (Mild Intellectual Disabilities) class to create some autumn nature art. Instead of doing a scavenger hunt using worksheets, we went outside and collected lots of fall objects – dead leaves and stems, some sticks, leaves and marigold blossoms to draw with, and did some bark rubbings. Then we headed back up to class and worked in groups to create some murals for the classroom. They turned out amazing!

I’ve definitely got “seed goggles” on after all of my seed scavenger hunts all fall – I’m finding seeds everywhere! On a walk home from work this week, I saw these milkweed seeds in someone’s front yard, ready to fly to find new places to grow. Beauties!

More on my fall harvesting and cooking activities coming soon…

Happy growing (and hibernating)!

Spectacular seeds

Seeds fascinate me.

Within a matter of months, this tiny little speck can become a big and complex plant. This truly fascinates and bewilders kids; they often ask me how many seeds you need to grow one plant (and inevitably plant a bunch of seeds in one spot just in case I’m not really telling the truth about one seed becoming one plant). It’s sort of a LEGO-block mentality; they assume that putting a bunch of small things together makes one big thing. I won’t deny it, the process of a seed growing into a plant fascinates and bewilders me as well. Though I’ve learned the science behind it, it’s still a pretty magical process. Of course, I also love that seeds turn into food. Whether we’re eating the seeds themselves, or the fruits, leaves, stems or roots they’ve produced, they sure are important to us on a daily basis.

Seed dispersal, the way that seeds travel, is super intriguing. A friend and former co-worker from my High Park summers has gotten me hooked on this topic over the years. There are the many different structures which allow seeds to travel by the wind, like maple keys and milkweed’s fluffy seeds. Some seeds stick to our clothes and animals’ fur, like burdock burrs. (A seemingly fun fall toy, until someone with long curly hair is involved…) Some, like touch-me-not/impatiens seeds pop from their pods (something I loved to play with in my parents’ garden as a kid). Acorns and other nuts get buried by squirrels and other critters. (A brief aside: Have you ever observed a squirrel burying an acorn and then covering the spot where he’d just buried it? Next time you see that, I challenge you to go find that spot where the acorn is buried.) Berry and fruit seeds take an exciting trip through an animal’s gut and get planted right in their own little pile of fertile compost. (The kids love learning about these ones, of course.) Some seeds just drop and roll, like cilantro and mustard seeds (these plants are pretty happy to grow close to their neighbours, so traveling isn’t as essential). And some, like coconuts, float on the water to find another place to grow. All of these seeds are searching for a place to put down roots on their own; they need space to grow, and don’t want to compete with their siblings for water, soil, sun and air.

Seeds are also beautiful. Have you ever taken the time to look at them closely? The patterns, the colours, the textures, the shapes… I’ve been taking tons of pictures of them this fall. Wow. If you’re not convinced, see below.

I’ve done a few seed collecting and saving lessons over the years, as well as some germination experiments, some seed dissection, seed-to-plant matches, and some sorting/observing lessons. This fall, I developed a new seed lesson, which I’ve so far done with grade 3-5 classes. In this “Seed Scavenger Hunt“, students make observations about seeds using different attributes (size, shape, pattern, colour, texture…), and also guess how the seed travels, and justifying their answer. I like the lessons that really have them open their eyes in the garden and schoolyard. When we first went out, they took a quick look around and said they couldn’t find any seeds. I encouraged them to look for flowers, as they often turn into seeds. I got them to smoosh tomatoes and see what was inside. And I showed them that the dry brown parts at the tops of plants often contain seeds. Once they started seeing them, they found seeds everywhere and we ended up heading back to class with cups full of different seeds! I can’t walk anywhere now either, without seeing all of the seeds in parks, front yards, weed patches…

Here are some of the seeds I’ve taken pictures of over the past year or two. Try to guess what they are. I’ve given the answers in the captions, but don’t roll over the picture to reveal the caption until you’ve made your guess. :) Some are simple, some are way more complicated… Which ones did you get? Which ones surprised you? Let me know in the comments!

Another quick and easy seed dispersal activity I’ve done is one we sometimes do at High Park camp – Seed Dispersal Drama. This was super successful this past week with some Kindergarten kiddos. After an introduction about seeds traveling (often reading a book), we move around the field or room pretending to be different types of seeds: we fly like dandelion seeds, bob like coconuts in the waves, twirl like maple keys, pop from our pods, stick to people and animals… They love the different movements, and the Kindergarten teacher I worked with this week said it turned into a vocabulary lesson as well, to learn words like bobbing, floating, twirling, etc.

I’ve used a couple of different seed-themed books this fall. I’ve probably mentioned both of them before, but they’re worth mentioning again. I’ve used A Seed is Sleepy for all kinds of seed lessons over the years. Beautiful illustrations and lots of great information, in an engaging story form. Another one that’s great for younger kids is What Kinds of Seeds Are These? The rhymes are engaging, and kids have to guess what plants the different seeds are from. It also refers to how the plants travel. Would love a food garden specific version of this, but this one is great too! Any seed books you’ve used in lessons or read with your own kids?

The coming weeks will bring a bit more harvesting, some cooking (Stone Soup, among other things…), and cleaning up the gardens before fall. Stay tuned…

Happy growing (and harvesting and seed saving)!

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