Monday, January 31, 2011

AgBC's: D is for Dates

The date palm and its fruit have been on the earth for more than 50,000 years! Dates grow on giant date palm trees in warm, dry places...that's why they are called a desert fruit. The first dates came from India, but today they are also found in the Middle East & Africa. And in the United States, they are grown in Arizona and California.

Dates are usually picked when they are hard and green, then they are ripened off the tree (similar to bananas). When ripe, most dates are dried, since food that is dried keeps for a long time. When shopping, choose dates that are soft and plump with smooth, shiny skin. Keep them in a closed container in a cool, dry place or in the fridge.

Dates were first introduced to America  in 1890 by the United States Department of Agriculture. Date trees are either male or female, and both are necessary for the plant to pollinate. Every spring, pollen is gathered from the male trees and under carefully controlled conditions, and under carefully controlled conditions, used to pollinate the flower clusters of the female trees. It then takes seven months for the crop to be produced! Harvesting starts in September and goes through December, because the dates to not ripen all at once.

Dates are an excellent source of potassium and dietary fiber. Plus, they provide calcium, iron and phosphorus as well as important B vitamins. A medium-sized California date contains only 24 calroies, but don't eat too many because they are very sweet. For more fun information and kids' activities about dates, download this California Dates for Kids brochure.

Have you (and your kids) tried dates lately? Three or four dates fit perfectly into your lunchbox as a dessert or snack. Or, try some of these great date recipes.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Bee Good!

Twig lives in and around the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, where he hangs out with the natice and honeybees around campus. His alter ego is Kurt Knebusch, one of our super-talented writers and editors on campus. Each month, look for Twig to answer a reader questions and some additional interesting facts below. After Twig's post, we will be providing some ideas and suggestions on how to incorporate the info in Twig's column into fun science learning for your students and children.

Q. Dear Twig: Alright, I'll ask. How do native bees help us? 

A. Most native bees go by two other names: solitary bees and pollen bees. Scientists call them solitary bees because most types live and nest alone, not in hives with thousands of others.

And scientists call them pollen bees because they (the bees) fly from flower to flower and gather up lots of pollen to eat.

The process spreads pollen from flower to flower because some of it falls off or rubs off the bees. The stuff is really powdery.

The pollen serves to fertilize the flowers. The flowers form new seeds, fruit or both. This leads, in the end, to new plants, too. And that's how native bees help us (as do honeybees).

That is, we eat all sorts of these fruits, seeds and plants. They wouldn't exist without pollination.

Get this: A scientist in Texas said native bees might be 100 times better at pollinating than honeybees are. Unbeelievable! But only honeybees give us honey.


P.S. Grapes, apples, lettuce and raspberries, to name a few, all get helped by bee pollination.

Notes from Twig:Other crops that need or benefit from bee pollination include (but aren't limited to) carrots, onions, melons, pumpkins, celery, cucumbers, strawberries and sunflowers, plus clover and alfalfa, which farmers grow to feed to their livestock. Read the whole list and more in OSU Extension's "Bee Pollination of Crops in Ohio." Sources also included "Most Bees Live Alone," Science News, Jan. 6, 2007, and "Native Bees Could Fill Pollinator Hole Left by Honeybees," from Texas A&M University by way of ScienceDaily, March 14, 2006.

About 3,500 of North America's 4,000 or so native bee species are solitary bees.

Monday, January 17, 2011

AgBC's: C is for Carrot

For over 2,000 years, carrots have been growing their roots in the underground. These root vegetables are related to beets, radishes, turnips and parsnips.

In the supermarket, you will find carrots both with and without their green, leafy tops or even baby carrots. Regardless, all carrots should be firm and smooth. Avoid those that are cracked or that have begun to soften. The best, tastiest carrots are young and skinny. Tiny baby carrots are very tender, but don't have as much flavor as their full-grown siblings. And if you buy carrots with tops, be sure to remove the tops right away so your carrots will keep longer.

Carrots originated in Central Asia and the Near East, where they grew in a variety of colors, including white, yellow, green or purple...but not orange! And, their first use was medicinal, not for food. Physicians prescribed using carrot juice to treat cancer, indigestion, snake bites and skin ulcers. Grimmway Farms, the world leader is carrot production (and located in Californic) has a cool "Fun Zone" on their site as well as lots more interesting history, recipes and buying tips for carrots.

In the Middle Ages, ladies used green, leafy carrot tops as decorations in their hair. Although you may not be willing to make that style leap, you can grow a leafy plant from a carrot top. Just keep in mind that since carrots grow underground from seeds, this plant will not grow a carrot to eat. This experiment can also be done with the tops of beets, turnips and parsnips. Here's what to do:
  1. Cut a 1/2-inch slice from the top of a carrot.
  2. Wet a paper towel with water. Lay it in the bottom of a plastic container.
  3. Place the cut side of the carrot on the wet paper.
  4. Put the container near a sunny window. Give it a little water every day or so to keep the paper wet. Leaves should begin to grow in about a week.
Looking for a good read for your young reader? Try The Carrot Seed.
This 1945 classic book has been in print continuously since its initial publication over 60 years ago. It was one of the shortest picture books ever published when it was first released, and it follows a little boy's hope and hard work as he plants his carrot seed and wait patiently for it to grow.

This series is inspired by the book The ABC's of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond.

Monday, January 10, 2011

AgBC's: B is for Banana

Ever wonder what fruit Americans love best? You guessed it, the banana!

Cool banana fact: Did you know banana's don't grow on trees? What we commonly refer to as banana trees are actually herbs. But these herbs up to 25-feet high!

Bananas grow in bunches, and a bunch of bananas is called a hand with each banana called a finger. One banana plant can have as many as 100 fingers! What makes bananas different is that though most fruit is picked when it's ready to eat, bananas are cut down when they're still green. Bananas actually ripe off the plan...they turn yellow and become tasty and sweet.

There are actually hundreds of kinds of bananas...some even have red skin! Others are small chubby bananas called dwarf bananas. The banana apple has an apple-like taste. Plantains, which are not sweet, are used for cooking. But in the United States, the most popular kind of banana is the yello Cavendish.

Want to try a new banana treat? Try Monkeys in a Blanket!

For each person, you will need the following ingredients:
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread
  • Honey or fruit-sweetend preserves
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • cinnamon
  1. Set the oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut the crust off of the bread and flatten the bread, wither with a rolling pin or by "smooshing" it flat with your hand.
  3. Spread a thin layer of honey or preserves on the bread.
  4. Place the banana half on the bread, then roll the bread over the banana so that it is completely covered.
  5. Place the butter in a baking dish and put it in the oven or toaster oven to melt.
  6. Roll each "Monkey in a Blanket" in the melted butter, then put them side by side in the baking pan.
  7. Sprinkle with a lot of cinnamon.
  8. Bake 15 minutes until the outside is crisp and the banana is hot and creamy. Let the "monkey" cool down a little before you take a bike.
Time for a little learning: Why not make a chart of the most popular fruits eaten in the United States?
We mentioned bananas are the most popular, with the average American eating 26 pounds of bananas a year....that's an average of 150 bananas! The next most popular fruits are apples, watermelons, oranges and cantaloupes. Do some research to find out how much Americans eat of the other fruits and graph your results.

This series in inspired by the book The ABC's of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond, which is also where the Monkeys in a Blanket recipe is from.

Monday, January 3, 2011

AgBC's: A is for Apples

For the first half of this year, we're going to try something fun: a look at the ABC's (or AgBC's as we'll call them) of various agricultural products, mainly fruits and vegetables. We'll look at the history of our featured products, share some simple experiments and maybe even some recipes to share with the kids in your life.
So first on the list: A is for apple.

Did you know that the apples we eat today come from apples that were grown more than 2 million years ago! Wow! When people first started eating apples, they just picked wild apples in the forest. These wild apples were small...only about the size of a strawberry....and they tasted bitter. Then about 10,000 years ago, during the Stone Age, people started planting and growing better apples.

Today's apples are related to those Stone age apples—only they are much bigger and sweeter. Apples can have skins that range in color from red to lemony-yellow to yellow-green. To me, apples taste yummy year-round, but the best, freshest ones can eb found in the fall just after they are picked. When buying apples, select firm, bright-colored apples with a fresh smell, andd they can be kept for a long time as long as they are stored in a cool place.

Now in this part of Ohio, Johnny Appleseed is pretty famous. John Chapman, as he was born, is responsible for introducing apple trees to large portions of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. This American legend was famous because of his kindness, his generosity, and his conservation efforts and use of the apple in symbolism. He's a fascinating historical character and well worth a second look.

And now, for a little experiment on how to keep apples from browning after they are cut:

Have you ever notice how apples turn brown right after they are cut? Ever wondered how to stop that from happening?

Supplies needed: an apple, lemon juice, and lemon-lime soda (like Sprite or 7-Up)

What to do:
  1. Cut an apple into quarters.
  2. Eat one quarter, because they are delicious.
  3. Sprinkle one quarter with lemon juice, dip one in the soda, and leave one untreated.
  4. Lay them on a plate on the counter and see what happens. Which turns brown first?
  5. Have an extra apple? Repeat, only put the 3 quarters of one apple in the refrigerator. Compare what happens with those apples that are in the fridge to those that are on the counter.
Looking for a good read? Check out First Apple by Ching Young Russell, a story of a young Chinese girl's dream to taste an apple and buy one as a gift for her grandmother.

 This series is inspired by the book The ABC's of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond.
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