Growing a sweet potato in water is a great way to see plant roots growing. You will need a sweet potato, a jar, water, and four toothpicks.
You will want to dip the sweet potato into the water about a third of the way down. Stab the toothpicks into the potato to keep it in place. Fill the jar with water. Now watch the roots grow right in front of your very eyes.
First you will see stubble, like a man who hasn’t shaved in a couple of days. This happens within the first few days. Then a few of the roots grow longer, branching out with root hairs. Since the jar is clear, you can see all this happening.
Other people buy expensive kits that have glass walls on either side so that you can see the roots of carrots and radishes growing, but the dirt is still in the way. With growing a sweet potato in water, you can see the root developing without any dirt in the way, and it doesn’t cost a lot.
In biology this year, we studied the sections of a root, looking at the root under a microscope. The children were fascinated when they looked at prepared slides of monocot and dicot roots, which apparently have a different structure. Monocot roots have a circle shape in the middle, whereas dicots have an X shape.
The main way to know if a plant is monocot or dicot is to look at its leaves. If the leaves are straight up and down like leaves of grass, it’s a monocot. If the leaf has veins branching out, it’s a dicot.
One of my favorite places to go in the spring is to my local botanical gardens. My children enjoy seeing the buds come out on the trees and the sprigs of green pushing up out of the soil. The sun is shining, birds are singing, and it feels good to breathe in the fresh air after a long winter.
A large pond with waterfowl is surrounded by weeping willows and pink blooming hawthorn trees. My husband and I saw an osprey swoop down and catch a fish out of the water, later settling into the high branch of a tree. My children tried to touch the ducks, who soon ran away, realizing we had not brought any bread. We walked around the pond, pausing as the children noticed new birds or plants. I held my husband’s hand and smiled.
Our botanical gardens include a conservatory, which is an indoor garden with glass windows. This garden is already profusely growing in all directions because it has survived the winter, probably with air climate control. A couple of short bridges cross an artificial stream, which begins with a low waterfall. The sound of the splashing waterfall is tranquil and lovely. Orchids thrive in all their elegant beauty, along with many other types of flowers and cacti. Plants overlap the path low to the ground, and more flowers cascade off the trees overhead. The conservatory almost makes you feel like you’re in a jungle.
A Japanese garden is carefully manicured, with clipped trees and bushes that remind you of bonzai trees. A medium-sized pond holds large fish swimming around, and a waterfall completes the scene. A few benches intersperse the beautiful enclosed landscape. This would be a perfect place to sit, sketch, and watercolor nature. The trees, plants, and shrubs are reflected peacefully in the water of the pond.
To enjoy more pictures of our recent trip to the botanical gardens, click here.
Watch my children as they squeal with joy at the wonder of spring. Why not grab your camera and do the same? Try to get close-ups of green plants peeking up out of the soil, new buds on branches, and birds preparing their nests!
The best way to do leaf rubbings is to use oil pastel crayons. They are like creamy crayons, and the rubbings come out much nicer than ordinary crayons. I always cut the paper in half so the children can do one leaf per page, labeling each kind of leaf after doing the rubbing.
Always choose darker colors for the crayons; the lighter colors don’t provide enough contrast. Hold the crayon sideways, parallel to the paper. In other words, use the side of the crayon. Make sure to get good coverage so that you can see the veins of the leaf. Pay attention to the edges of the leaf, to make sure the shape of the leaf is clear.
You can hole-punch the pages and make a book out of the leaf rubbings by adding a construction paper cover and binding it with yarn.
Another variation is to grab some black paper and do a leaf rubbing with a lighter-colored crayon. Yellow, light green, or light orange work well. The leaf rubbings come out looking gorgeous. And if you shine a black light on it, it will glow in the dark!
My science teacher at boarding school was super cool. Besides having a live snake in his classroom, he gave each of us a plot of garden for our own, sectioned off by rope. During the first semester, we planted wheat. After it was ripe for harvest, we removed all the grains by hand, and we ground it and made flour. We baked bread out of it, and it was delicious, hot from the oven.
The second semester, we could plant whatever vegetables we wanted. That was when I grew to love the smell of the soil. (That is, before we were required to put old cow manure into it. It never smelled the same after that.) I made furrows the correct spacing apart, and I planted the seeds and covered them with soil. I ended up growing carrots, radishes, lettuce, cucumbers, beans, and peas.
Every day, I would run out to my garden, look at the progress of each tiny plant, and pull any weeds that were growing. When it was time to harvest the fastest-growing plants, we had a huge, absolutely enormous basket of radishes and carrots. The carrots were so sweet and huge, with beautiful green tops still attached. I felt like Bugs Bunny as I chomped away. I eventually got sick of burping radishes, and the rest of the radishes spoiled, even though we let everyone in our dorm eat as much as they wanted.
The harvest from the other vegetables was eaten by us little by little as it grew, so we never had any leftovers of those. I enjoyed opening the small gate and swinging it shut behind me. I would walk down the rows of plants, because I had left enough space to walk around each row. As I saw the vegetables growing, I would pluck them off like Peter Rabbit. What a clever way to get children to eat more vegetables!
I created a gardening binder with pictures, articles, and blueprints from my backyard. I’ve used this as a source of inspiration for years now.
When I moved into our first house 12 years ago, I saw an overgrown backyard with a lot of potential. I had never really been good at gardening (aside from my boarding school experience). So the entire backyard (and front yard!) loomed like a daunting task, waiting to be magnificent.
My first step was to sign up for an inexpensive gardening class, put on by the local community college. I took copious notes and asked lots of questions. The good thing about taking a local class was that the expert could tell me what grew well in my area.
I read some gardening magazines, ripping out any articles that were helpful “how to’s,” such as how to prune a bush correctly or when and how to plant bulbs. I punched three holes into the pages and put them into a binder. I made dividers: perennials, bulbs, herbs, lawn, trees and shrubs, exercises for gardeners, and general advice. I hole punched all my class notes and handouts from my gardening class and categorized them accordingly.
I also cut out pictures of inspiring gardens so that I had an idea of what I liked, and so that I would be excited to do all the work that needed to be done. I grabbed a black sheet of construction paper and glued some beautiful gardening pictures on the front. I slid this into the pocket on the outside cover of the binder. I wrote “Gardening” on a sheet of black paper and slid it down the binding pocket so that when the binder was on a shelf, I could spot it quickly.
In the back pocket I put “before” and “after” pictures. I went outside and took pictures for the “before” side. I left the “after” side empty for years. Behind the “before” and “after” pictures, in that same back pocket, I put my garden blueprints. I bought a sheet of blueprint paper at the art supply store while taking a landscaping class (another local class). I had to measure my entire yard with a measuring tape, and then measure out where each tree and bush was. I found out that day that I had 23 pine trees in my small backyard in the suburbs. No wonder my soil was acidic!
Over the years I have improved my yard, but I’ve had more failure than success. Being on a tight budget, at first I refused to buy dirt. But my soil was so bad, I really needed to amend it or it would never look good. The thought of buying dirt seemed ludicrous to me, but that was one secret that helped my garden to begin to do well. When I had no money whatsoever for plants, I threw a garden party, where people brought plants from their yard to share, and swapped their plants for other people’s plants. That was how I began my perennial garden. If you go to people’s houses with fabulous yards, you can compliment them and start letting people know that your garden is pathetic. Sooner or later people will start giving you plants, especially women from church who have seen your real garden and feel sorry for you. Then again, I also told my husband to never buy me flowers unless they had a root attached. In these sneaky ways, I built my garden over time, with virtually no money.