1. Flower Dissection
All year. Using any available flowers, have children pull apart or cut apart flowers and examine the parts. Look on the Internet for labeling flower parts. Enchanted Learning is one of my favorite sites. Become a member! You can use garden flowers or request older flowers from a florist. Adults can help younger children with slicing and cutting. See my previous blog in the Laidback Gardener called Dead Flowers for more information.
2. Leaf Rubbing Greeting Cards
Summer/Fall. Fold a sheet of white copy paper in half the “hamburger way”, like a book. Place a tree or shrub leaf topside down inside the fold. Alder leaves work well, as the venation is very distinct. Use a broken crayon with no paper to make a leaf rubbing. You can use realistic colors, or get wild and make a blue leaf, or a rainbow leaf! On the inside of the paper, write a note to a family member or friend. Or you can make a leaf rubbing collection of plants in your area. There are many techniques, such as those at First Palette.
3. Plant Press
Summer/Fall. Commercial plant presses are available and inexpensive. You can make homemade presses easily, or simply press leaves and flowers inside layers of newspaper weighted down with books or weighted boards. Do not dry plants inside books as the water in the leaves or flowers will stain the pages. Some great books to read with your projects are Look What I Did with a Leaf by Morteza E. Soli, and Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert. Try making an herbarium for native plants and trees, or even a weed collection. If you glue dried leaves on card stock, you can run the pages through a laminator. Remember to add a label. Pansies dry beautifully!
4. Seed Tape
This is a great activity for late Winter and early Spring when you are thinking about planting but can’t quite get out to the garden yet. Start out by reading The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, or The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle. Seed tapes are sold commercially but are easy and fun to make, and you have a choice of plant varieties. Cut paper towels into 1 inch-wide strips, the length of the towel. Use a ruler and add a dot every one inch, in the middle of the strip. Add a drop of school glue (water soluble), and drop one seed onto the dot. Label and let dry. When dry, roll or fold, and put into a Ziplock until needed.
In the spring, when you can work the soil, lay the seed tape strips in your garden, cover lightly with soil, press down and keep watered until germination. These tapes work well with carrots and radishes. The advantage is that the plants will be properly spaced in the garden.
5. Plant Propagation (1)
Many plants are easy to multiply and this is a great way to share garden plants and house plants with friends.
One of the easiest ways to grow many plants is to root them in water. This works well for plants in the mint family, such as coleus, basil and mints. Chocolate mint is one of my favorites! Tradescantia, Spider Plants and ivies work well too. Simply cut a stem at about 6 inches. Remove any of the lower leaves, as these will rot in water and generate bacteria. Roots will grow where the leaf nodes were. Roots grown in water are different from those grown in soil. Some plants can remain in water, or can be potted in soil when the roots are small, under one inch.
6. Plant Propagation (2)
All year. Pelargonium cuttings. We all call them geraniums. They are the potted plants that many of us grow in containers or hanging baskets outdoors in the summer. They can be brought indoors in the fall and grown on a windowsill, but they become ‘leggy” during the long, dark Winter months. Best cuttings can be made in the fall, when you have strong stems and vigorous growth from the Summer “vacation” outdoors, although you will need to provide additional light for optimum growth. Simply cut back the stems on your “mother plant” to about 12 inches. You will need a tip cutting that is about 4 inches long. Remove any flowers and dead leaves from your cutting. You will need to remove some of the larger, lower leaves. Roots will grow from the leaf nodes.
Pot up the cutting in a 4-inch pot, water from the bottom up (by placing pot in a tray of water). These plants can grow on a sunny windowsill in winter, but will be happiest under lights until March, when in Anchorage we have over 10 hours of daylight. Adding a heat mat will ensure good rooting. These are available commercially.
7. Propagation (3)
Plant the Pits! I like to call this Grocery Store Gardening (or even Garbage Can Gardening). You can try growing anything that has a seed, pit, stone, etc. that you may have eaten or prepared in your kitchen. There is a great book called Don’t Throw It, Grow It! by Millicent Ellis Selsam. An earlier book is The After Dinner Gardening Book by Richard W. Langer.
I’ve had good luck with dates and citrus. Try sprouting several avocado pits in a long-fibered sphagnum moss bag. Just moisten the moss, wring it out and place several pits in a quart Ziplock. Keep in a warm, dark place. When the shoots and roots pop out (after 1–3 weeks), pot up 3 pits in a container, leaving 1/3 of the pit above the soil level. Easiest of all: cut the top off a carrot at about 1 inch. Place in a dish of stones or marbles so there is a constant supply of moisture. The top will grow to give you a show when you really need to see some green in the winter months! Tuna fish cans work well. Add a small toy dinosaur for fun. He will look right at home!
8. Seed Trap
Fall. Fill any old seed flat or produce container (no lid needed) with any soil you have handy. Leave outside all Winter. In the Spring, make sure the container gets watered. You will probably see baby birch and spruce trees growing, as well as fireweed and other wind-born seeds. See what the Universe gives you!
9. Spore Prints
Fall. August and September are good months for mushrooms. You can make spore prints by cutting the top (cap) off a mushroom. Place onto a piece of paper, gill side down, and cover with a bowl overnight so the falling spores are not disturbed. The next day remove the cap and you should see some spores on the paper. Spore prints are used to help identify mushrooms. Spores may be white, black, brown, pink, etc. so it may take some experimentation to know which spore color will show up best on different color paper.
10. Build an Inuksuk
An inuksuk is a stone landmark or cairn built by humans, used by people of the Arctic region of North America. These structures are found from Alaska to Greenland.
Read The Inuksuk Book by Mary Wallace and Michael Ulmer’s The Gift of the Inuksuk. There is a giant stone figure at the Alaska Wild Berry Products store in Anchorage. Kids can make a small version using any available stones. Beach rocks that have been smoothed by wave action make nice cairns.