Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick; The Biggest Tomato Ever

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: What's the biggest tomato ever?

A. The biggest tomato ever in weight – the heaviest, that is – weighed an amazing 7 pounds, 12 ounces. That's actually just a little bit more than the average weight of a newborn baby born in the United States! 

Whoa. Big tomato ...

Scientists at Cornell University say tomatoes come in a huge range of sizes. One wild type grows tiny fruit that weigh less than a tenth of an ounce: way less than even a blueberry or cranberry.
Other types – ones bred especially to crank out whoppers – grow tomatoes that weigh nearly a thousand times more than that!

The variety called Brandywine, for instance, grows fruit that weigh about 2 pounds each. Dutchman and Gian Beligan tomatoes can tip the scales at up to 5 pounds. The record tomato, the baby-sized one, came from a type called Delicious.

Giant tomatoes tend to look like soccer balls with the air half let out. Big, but caved in on tom. Also juicier.



P.S. Plant scientists call the tomato a fruit. But in general we call it and use it as a vegetable.

Notes: The record tomato was grown by Gordon Graham in Oklahoma in 1986. Read about him and it in Southern Living. Learn more about growing giant tomatoes in Organic Gardening. Sources included Guinness World Records 2006 and "Dissecting the Genetic Pathway to Extreme Fruit Size in Tomato ..." by Lippmann and Tanksley, Cornell University. Note, too, the "World's Largest Tomato" (artificial category),  Leamington, Ontario, Canada, which Twig in fact has had the pleasure of staring in open-mouth wonder at.

Using this information in the classroom:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

AgBCs: Terrific Tomatoes

It's the most popular edible plant grown in the home garden. The National garden Bureau has even designated this year as the year of the tomato. Who knew, right?

But what most Ohioans don't know is that Ohio is a tomato mecca, ranking second nationwide in tomato production. Tomatoes are even Ohio's official state fruit. And our state drink? Tomato juice.

Want to have fun learning more about tomatoes? Check out Ohio State's interactive tomato model.

Want to learn even more cool tomato facts? See what OARDC scientist Esther van der Knapp is doing with her award-winning research on the shape of tomatoes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

AgBC's: S is for Sensational Soil

Soil is so important, yet we hardly think about it! Soil anchors plant roots, holds water for plants, and even provides air spaces for plant roots to grow.

Image from the Extreme Pumpkin Store

But for all that, did you know soil is basically made of of 3 sizes of particles? Sand is the larges, clay is the smaller, and silt falls in the middle size-wise. The proportion of each of these particles varies from soil to soil, giving each soil unique characteristics. Some solid drain more quickly (sand), while others hold water or become saturated with water (clay). Many plants, trees and shrubs prefer to grow in a balanced mixture of these particles called "loam." Loamy soils hold a moderate amount of water, air and nutrients while supporting the plant.

A vineyard in Lake County, Ohio

Because characteristics of the soil can affect plant growth, farmers and gardeners often test soil to determine if it's good for growing specific plants. Two such simple tests include the ribbon test and the "soil shake" test. The results are a good predictor of whether or not the soil is good for growing specific plants. More accurate assessments can be sent to soil testing labs, and today it is increasingly common for farmers to have their cropland grid sampled and have the results of their soil testing GPS mapped to improve the efficiency of their farming operations.

Here are some simple instructions for conducting the ribbon and "soil shake" tests with your students:

  • Ask the students if they've ever heard of the ribbon test. The explain that is can help determine what kinds of particles are in their soil. 
  • Demonstrate the text by moistening a handful of garden soil or silt in the palm of your hand until it has the consistency of putty. Work the soil into a ball about 1/2" in diameter. Press the ball between your forefinger and thumb to form a ribbon (see below).
  • If the soil will not form a ribbon, it is sand. If it makes a ribbon 1-2 inches long, it is loam. Ribbons longer and 2 inches are clay. Here is a more detailed description.
  • Explain that each of the three types of soil particles forms a different type of ribbon. Repeat the test with clay and sand.
  • Ask the children to describe the difference between the three ribbons.
  • Pass out different kinds of soil without telling the students what soil type they have; let them each conduct their own ribbon test and hypothesize about what type of soil they have.
Making a soil ribbon.
Students can also conduct a "soil shake" test:
  • Fill a jar 1/3 full with soil.
  • Fill the jar 1/3 full with water.
  • Add a tablespoon of alum (alum speeds the settling process and can be found in the spice section of the grocery store.
  • Ask the children to predict what will happen when the jar is shaken. 
  • Divide the children into groups of 3-4. Ask them to collect soil from outdoors or give them some soil you have collected.
  • Tighten the lid and shake for 3 minutes. Make sure all the lumps have broken apart. Tell the children to observe the jar after 30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes and 3 minutes and write down what they observe.
  • Have them report their findings to the class. Discuss how the soil separates by particle size and identify the particles int he layers they see. The larger sand particles will be on the bottom, with the silt in the middle and any clay particles on top.
For more fun, investigate what kinds of plants grow best in various kinds of soil.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

AgBC's: R is for Roots

Last week we talked about ducks and their wetland habitats. But did you know one of the other important functions of wetlands is that they help to stabilize the soil and hold it in place? This  helps to prevent erosion and trap sediments, which helps to create a rich, fertile habitats for plants and animals. But how do they do this?

The roots of the plants in this interior wetlands in North Carolina help protect the soil.
Photo from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

The roots of wetland plants play a critical role in protecting the soil from erosion and keeping it in place. Want to see hands-on for yourself if and how roots hold soil in place? Try this simple experiment. Here's what you'll need:

  • 5 radish seeds
  • 5 mustard seeds
  • 2 glass or plastic contains, about 1-cup volume
  • earth/soil free from lumps
  • water
Fill both containers roughly 2/3 full of soil. Then plant the radish seeds in one container and the mustard seeds in the other. Cover the seeds very, very lightly with soil. Add 1/4 cup water to each container and place in a sunny area or near a bright light. Make sure the soil stays slightly damp.

After 2 weeks, empty the container with the radish seeds onto some newspaper. Do the same with the mustard seed container. What shape does the soil have? Why? Talk about the impact of this discovery. What would happen to the soil if a fire burned all the plant material from a hillside if there was a heavy rain?

Students will have fun with this simple experiment, and you will, too!
Related Posts with Thumbnails