Monday, April 25, 2011

Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Backyard Fruits that You Can Grow

Twig Walkingstick lives in and around the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. 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: OK, here's another kiwifruit. So what did you mean, "more cool backyard fruits" last month?

A. Thank you. Chomp, chomp. I meant that you can grow a lot of other fruits in your own backyard, not just kiwifruits. (And you can grow those, too, if you want to.)

Like what? Well, in most places you can grow apples.

And peaches.

And pears and plums.

And grapes and cherries and peaches and apricots.

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries.

Plus weird ones, too, that you might not find in a grocery store: pawpaws, currants, mulberries, Juneberries, gooseberries, even ground cherries.


Next: Why would you want to do this? A good way to learn how to do this. And a chance to win that good way free.



P.S. Q. Why do elephants hide in strawberry patches? A. The research is inconclusive.

Notes from Twig:

The fruit types listed are for Midwestern growing conditions (like in Ohio, where I live). Others include quince, medlar, bush cherry, Cornelian cherry, persimmon and highbush cranberry.

Source: If you're eager to learn, check out Ohioline and start to dig around.

Q. Why do elephants paint their toenails red? A. To hide in a strawberry patch or in plantings of certain kinds of grapes, apples, cherries, currants, raspberries, gooseberries, mulberries, bush cherries or highbush cranberries depending on the shade they use.

Using this information in the classroom:

There are many, many cool ways to incorporate plants into your classroom. Here are two of our favorites:

Check out Growing Together, which you can buy at the Ohio State University Extension E-Store for $13.50. There are tons of cool activities and lessons inside and we use them in our program all the time. Love it!

And secondly, I bet you don't think of using plant to teach math, do you? Check out Math in the Garden for $29.95 from Gardening with Kids.

Lots of fun, hands-on ways to heat up your outdoor summer learning in the coming months of spring and summer. Enjoy!

Monday, April 18, 2011

AgBC's: M is for Milk

Nothing goes better with cookies or cake than a nice cold glass of milk! Yum! So be sure to think of the dairy farmers of America the next time you enjoy your favorite sweet treat with a cold, refreshing class of milk!

But have you ever thought about all of the hard work that gets that milk from the farm to you? Dairy farmers don't get to sleep in on the weekends and the cows don't wait until the presents are opened on Christmas morning. Every day, every morning and every night the cows must be fed, cared for and milked. Nutritionists work hard to calculate the perfect, balanced ration to help the cows be as healthy and productive as possible.

Feed mill workers mix and deliver the feed that was made from grains grown by still more farmers. The cows are fed, the stalls are cleaned, and the cows are milked each and every day.  Decisions are made about which bulls the cows should be bred to to produce an even better generation of cows than the generation before.

Milk trucks come to collect the milk almost daily. The milk is transported to a processing facility where it is pasteurized and either bottled as fresh milk to turned into other delicious dairy products like chees, cottage cheese, ice cream, butter and more.

But did you know you can actually make milk stiff? Think about it...then check out this cool experiment on the stiffening of milk.

Interested in learning more about dairy farms? Check out these cool links:

Monday, April 11, 2011

AgBC's: L is for Land

Without land, nothing can grow. No green grass under your feet, no shade from the trees, no flowers in your garden and no food on your table. Ouch! Land is pretty important, huh?

Today's farmers use the latest technology to care for their land and ensure it's fertility is maintained.  After all, 91% of America's farms are considered "small family farms" with even more considered "large family farms." It just makes sense that farmers would want to take care of their livelihoods as well as their homes!

Many times we tend to romanticize "the way things used to be" and imagine that old methods were simpler and better....but that's not necessarily true. Remember all those old-fashioned methods? Remember the dust bowl?

Soils hold natural water and resources for plants and ultimately animals. All the food we eat and the materials we use (like paper, wood and clothing to name a few) depend on soil and land. It's important to understand the importance of land and it's role in the ecosystems and agriculture.

The physical properties of soil affect the type and amount of vegetation that can grow in a given location. The water-holding capacity affects the plants than can survive....some plants need well-drained desert soils while others grow in heavy clay and wetland soils.

Have you ever taken the time to feel and explore the texture of soil? The way it feels? The amount of sand, silt and clay particles in soil all affect the way the soil feels because of of these particles are different sizes. Sand particles are the largest and clay particles are the smallest. Most soils have a mixture of sand, silt and clay.

Here's a fun way to determine the texture of your soil:

  1. Take approximately 2 tablespoons of soil and add enough water to moisten it. It should make a ball when squeeze.
  2. Using your thumb and forefinger, try to make a "ribbon" of soil.
  3. If the soil will not hold together in a ball at all, the soil is sand.
  4. If the soil makes a ball but will not make a ribbon, it is loamy sand.
  5. If it makes a ribbon less than 1 inch long before breaking, it is loam. If it feels gritty it is a sandy loam. If it is equally gritty and smooth, it is loam. And if it feels smooth, it is silt loam.
  6. If the soil makes a ribbon 1-2 inches long before breaking, it is a clay loam. It it feels gritty, it is a sandy clay loam. If it is equally gritty and smooth, it is a clay loam. If it feels smooth, it is a silty clay loam.
  7. If the soil forms a ribbon 2 inches of longer before breaking, it is a clay soil. If it feels gritty is is a sandy clay. If it feels equally gritty and smooth, ti is clay. And if it feels smooth it is a silty clay.
Have fun and enjoy getting your hands dirty!

Questions to to think about:
  • What kind of soil did you have?
  • Why would it be important to know what kind of soil you have?
  • What might be some good uses for your type of soil? Poor uses?
These are just some of the questions farmers ask themselves about the land they have and some of the factors they have to consider when making the decisions about what crops to plant on their land.

And it's just about that time of year for spring crops to be going into the ground!

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

Monday, April 4, 2011

AgBC's: K is for Kids

Looking for something fun to do with your kids? Your students? Precious little ones in your life? Bring them to the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center! We love having kids visit our campus to learn more about agriculture and how it impacts their lives everyday.

Not a farmer? Probably not...less than 2% of our country's population is. But did you eat today? Thank a farmer! And thank agricultural researchers like those here at OARDC for the research and technological advancements that allow Americans to enjoy the safest, most affordable, most abundant food supply in the world.

And we love to share that story with the younger generations of kids. How?

Well, we host school groups, scout packs, 4-H groups, family reunions, summer camps and all kinds of other groups on our campus for tours all the time! And what do they do and see? We have a bug zoo, animal barns, greenhouses, laboratories, an 88-acre arboretum, a bee lab, a pollinatorium and more where our researchers are happy to share the story of their work with students.

Every April, we host a special event called A Bug's World..this year held on April 13 & 14. There are many, many fabulous learning opportunities and sessions that are only available these two days. Like what? Check out the complete listing. Plus, this event is free with lots of hands-on learning. But, pre-registration is required. So go check it out today!

Then in the fall, we host a Science of Agriculture event. Like A Bug's World, this two-day event is chock-full of hands-on learning and free as well. Only this time, the focus is not just on covers all areas of agriculture. And, the event is divided into two days...the first day is for grades k-5 and the second day is designed for grades 6-12. For a look at the kinds of learning opportunities and sessions we've offered in previous years, check here.

And for those schools who don't have the funding to make the trip to our campus, we do off-site visits to schools in need as well. From preschoolers to high schoolers, we have on-site programming designed to connect with students of all ages.

Interested in learning more? Contact us to set up a visit for the youngsters in your life to learn more about agriculture on our campus today!

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