Tuesday, May 31, 2011

AgBCs: Q is for Quack

Quack, quack! There are lots of cool resources available for learning about ducks! Now duck farming is not a HUGE business here in Ohio, but it IS in our neighboring state of Indiana. But not only do farmers raise ducks on farms, here at OARDC we do a lot of research about natural resources and the environment, and ducks are a key component of our natural environment—especially wetlands!

This photo of Brian Blight Canvasbacks is from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Did you know wetlands rank with tropical rain forests in the diversity and productivity of plants and animals that they support? Or that they are found in every part of the world except Antarctica? Mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and invertebrates all use wetlands for food, water, breeding and nesting grounds, resting areas and shelters.

This photo of ducks in a wetland habitat is from the US Fish & Wildlife Service

Wetlands are the water filters of nature. Many wetland plants and animals remove harmful impurities from our water and keep it naturally clean. Some communities and businesses even use managed wetlands to purify their wastewater. And when spring runoff and heavy rains create too much water for the land to absorb, wetlands can sore that excess water and slow its flow, reducing both the risk and severity of flooding.

But despite all of these benefits (and many, many more), wetlands are also one of the world's most vulnerable and threatened ecosystems. Here at Ohio State University, we're even doing research on the differences and similarities between man-made and naturally occurring wetlands.

This photo of wood ducks in a wetland habitat is from the
US EPA & US Fish & Wildlife Service photographer Tim McCade

Considering how important wetlands are to not only animals like ducks but to our ecosystem as a whole, this may be a great area for you and the young people in your life to get involved in by participating in an action-based learning experience! These types of experience can be custom tailored and developed to your group's interests and age level:

  • Younger students may enjoy writing a poem, story or play about animals in their wetland homes, creating a poster or storybook about the wildlife who rely on wetlands or even building a diorama of a local wetland.
  • Middle elementary students can construct nest boxes, conduct a wetland cleanup, grow & plant native trees and shrubs stream side, write letters regarding a local wetland issue or share their wetland knowledge through science projects and displays.
  • Older students can build wetland trails and boardwalks, work with others to restore a wetland, research and plan ways to address a local environmental concern, or even contribute to research through bird banding.
The possibilities are limitless! There's no need to rack your brain to come up with a new and novel idea—there are many great ideas already out there. Ducks Unlimited Canada has some great ideas plus FREE educational resources and lesson plans! Local conservation groups are another great source for information on local issues and ideas.

Kids of all age will love learning about an important issue like this while "getting their hands dirty" in the process—especially when they feel like they've made a difference in the real world!

By the way, did you know May is American Wetland month? Go celebrate!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Homegrown Frugal Frugivorous Fruitfest!

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: You asked this last week: "Why would you want to grow your own fruit?" You mentioned a good way to learn about it.

A. My friend Miss McGillicuddy grows her own raspberries. She has bags and bags of frozen ones down in the freezer in her basement. Whenever she wants some, even in the middle of winter, maybe to make a raspberry cobbler, she goes downstairs and gets some. Simple. They're free, sweet and good. And in summer, whoa, during raspberry season, she picks them almost every day (she has to, there are so many) and can eat them fresh, if she wants to, till she pops. Which make, as I see it, some pretty good reasons to grow your own fruit or to try.

How to learn about it? Find gobs of helpful books at your library or bookstore. And also try this new one. It's called Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide. It's a fact-filled, fruit-filled, fruity fruitipedia. The place I work for, Ohio State, just published it. You can read about it here. You can buy it online here ($9.50)


P.S. More good reasons: It's fun. Good exercise. And cuts your food bill with fresh, healthy food.

P.P.S. Frugal ("FROO-guhl") means thrifty, inexpensive, economical. Frugivorous ("froo-JIV-ah-russ") means fruit-eating.

Another good way to learn more: Find a ton of fact sheets on fruit growing at Ohioline. Click the yellow "Yard and Garden" circle. Click the third bullet down: "Fruit." Then pick a fruit and start fruitin'! Learnin'! Both!

Remember, the kinds of fruit you can grow in Ohio and the rest of the Midwest include apples, grapes, pears, plums, peaches, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and a big bunch of others.

Our closing words come from three bards: "A crummy commercial?" (Ralphie, "A Christmas Story"). "It's a Major Award!" (The Old Man, "A Christmas Story"). "Tell me what I want, what I really, really want!" (Ralph Wiggum, "The Simpsons").

Good night, good luck.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

AgBCs: P is for Pumpkin

Did you know the pumpkin actually originated in Mexico over 9,000 years ago? American Indian tribes grew pumpkins long before any European explorers arrived in the Americas. Columbus actually carried pumpkin seeds on his return trip to Europe, but the resulting melons weren't used to feed people—they were used to feed pigs!

Pumpkins come in many varieties—including this yogurt pumpkin!

Even the early New England settlers were not big fans of using pumpkins for food—until the first long, cold winter set in and food became very scarce. Then they changed their minds in a hurry! One common cooking method wa to let the fire die down and place a whole pumpkin in the ashes. Once it was baked soft, she pumpkin was cut open and honey or maple syrup (along with some animal fat) was poured on top.

Pilgrims often cooked their pumpkins whole! You can learn how here...
The early settlers also made pumpkin pies, but they looked nothing like the pumpkin pies of today! They simply cut off the pumpkin top and scared out the seed. Then they placed apples, sugar, spices and milk inside. Finally, they put the top back on the pumpkin and baked it in the fire's ashes.

So have fun trying out some of the early recipes the Pilgrims used to cook their pumpkins, or here are some other fun ideas to try:

Pumpkin, Pumpkin: What Comes Next?
See what happens this fall after Halloween is over!

Halloween is over, so now what?
Check out these great reads on the life cycle of a pumpkin!

Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Now THAT would be a great pumpkin!
Ever wonder what would happen if there really were flying pumpkins? Get Twig's take on this unlikely phenomenon...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

AgBCs: O is for Onion

Onions are such a fun and accessible food to experiment with and learn about! Plus they have a long history. In fact, people have used onions for so long (before recorded history!) that no one is really sure where onions actually originated.

What we do know is that by 3000 BC several types of onions were grown in gardens, and writing on one ancient Egyptian pyramid wall even complained about the expense of providing slaves with onions and garlic! Other sources suggest Egyptian priests looked at the onion as a symbol of the universe with its round shape and the layers of the onion symbolizing the layers of heaven, earth and hell. In fact, onions are pictured on more pyramid tombs than any other plant!

Onions were even used in the creation of mummies in ancient Egypt.

Of course, the first thing most people think of when they think of onions is the aroma, which originates from an ail within the plant and escapes into the air as an irritating vapor when the onion is peeled or cut.
The release of oil from inside the onion is what brings tears to your eyes!

Early people thought onions with stronger scents had more power. In fact, early Romans often ate breakfasts of raw onions on bread, and Roman gladiators were often rubbed with onion juice to make them strong. Even Greeks in training for the early Olympics were told to eat 2 onions a day to make them strong.

Gladiators like these ate onions and rubbed their bodies with the oil from onions to improve their strength.

In North America, wild (meadow) onions grew long before the arrival of settlers, and Native Americans ate them raw after dipping them in salted water and dried them for food use during the winter. The first large yellow onions came over on the Mayflower in 1620, and they were a staple in Colonial gardens. Our nation's first president George Washington even said they were his favorite food!

George's favorite food? Onions!
Besides learning about the history of onions, how can you turn them into a learning lesson? Simple! Here's what you'll need:

  • 3 large onions (you may want to try 3 different varieties—some are easier to grow than others)
  • 3 jars/drinking glasses large enough to hold each onion without it rolling over
  • water
Simple put the onion in each had with the rounded side down and add enough water to wet the bottom of the onion. Don't use too much water or your onion may rot. Then just put your jar in a bright area with plenty of light.

Within a week or so, you should see white roots coming from the bottom of the onion. A week or two later and you should start to see long green leaves coming from the top of the onion. The food for the leaves is being supplied by the bulb of the onion. Just make sure to keep enough water in the jar to cover the bottom of the onion.

When the leaves get about 4 inches tall, have an adult cut open the onion to see how the leaves have grown from the center of the bulb.

For a special treat, cook your onion in a dish for everyone to enjoy!

Monday, May 2, 2011

AgBC's: N is for New

Spring is a time of reNEWal...a time for cleaning out and starting over. New babies are born on the farm...lambs, calves, colts and more. New crops are planted in the fields. New flowers are blooming. Newness is everywhere.

But in the midst of the newness is a new, yet never-ending cycle in the world of agriculture.

Wanna learn more about that cycle? It varies from farm to farm and from farmer to farmer. But here's a look at what that cycle looks like from some of my friends:

Here are their stories of the cycle of life on their own farms right from their own mouths (or keyboards as the case may be):
I hope you enjoy this look at what's "new" with these American farm wives and their farming operations!
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