Thursday, February 13, 2014

Kids in the Garden: re-grow your lettuce

This is the first in a series (maybe weekly, we'll see how fast I run out of ideas), of ways to get kids involved in gardening- other than ordering them to weed.  There are a lot of benefits to getting them into gardening, but it can be hard to find stuff that they can do and understand, and that are still compelling enough to keep their interest.
Some of the reasons to garden with your kids:

It helps them to get started on building curiosity about how the world works, and it's an easy way to get them to engage with the world, and to see that there is more going on out there than it seems at first.

You probably know way more than you think you do, and once you get going- you'll learn more, so it's a bonus for them to see you explain something other than how to clean their rooms.

It's a nice way for kids to get their hands dirty, and for you to approve, which they love.

It introduces them to new foods, and will definitely make them eat more veggies.

It teaches them about environmental stewardship- which is so important!

It provides a nice friendly way to introduce science to them- and the idea that science is all around us, and actually applies to real life (what you didn't know that gardening has loads of science in it? it's true, stay tuned...)

Okay so first lesson and it's February, and it's Manitoba, and everyone is dying for something fresh and green, so re-grow your lettuce!

Step one:

make salad- and save the tiny core of baby leaves from the middle- the ones that are all yellow and pale looking  it should look like this:

Explain that the leaves are light yellow because they were sheltered from the sun when they were growing by the outer leaves- you can show the difference to you child by showing the leaves you put in the salad. Explain that a plant produces Chlorophyll in response to the sun, an action which is called Photosynthesis, and that Chlorophyll is what makes a plant green (you can go further with this explanation if your kids are older- but N is 4, so the idea that plants turn green because of the sun was enough of a wow factor for her).

Step Two:

Plunk the plant in some water, about an inch- up to the bottom of the leaves in fine,  and put it in the sun, change the water daily to prevent nastiness.

Check the lettuce daily for changes- on day two it should look like this:

See how the leaves are much glossier and greener- that's the Chlorophyll!  Also see how they're opening up a bit? That's to make room for the new leaves growing in the center.

We didn't separate those leaves at all, they did it on their own! Amazing! (especially to a 4 yr old!)

Step Three:

After about a week or so in water- put the plant in soil, it should keep growing- after about a week in soil it'll look like this:

Notice how many more leaves there are, and also how green they are from the sun. There's another difference too- the leaves feel much crisper, and stiff (you could talk about a plant's vascular structure here- and how water brings the plant more support- but again the difference was enough for a 4 yr old). From there I'm not sure how long until you eat the lettuce, a couple of months at least, longer than in summer probably because the days are shorter. That's an experiment that could be added on to this- measuring the growth and seeing if there is any difference between summer outside and winter inside!

Here's a link to more info about Chlorophyll and Photosynthesis: Biology 4 kids

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