Lettuce, Tomatoes, and Worms @ Stanley Garden Club

Last week at Stanley Garden Club students exercised their patience as we checked for signs of new growth in our planted beds. After not discovering any green sprouts sticking out of the soil, we talked about why the seeds might be taking a little longer to germinate than expected. Students raised their hands to suggest that maybe the cold weather and lack of much sunlight might be slowing down the young plants’ growth.

Cotelydons vs. true leaves

These are really great ideas, because it is true that young seedlings need both warmth and sunlight to grow bigger. However, the seeds really only require warmth and water in order to germinate (to become sprouts); they only begin to need sunlight when they have true leaves that photosynthesize carbon dioxide into sugar (plant food) using the sun’s energy. Their very-first set of leaves, called cotyledons, don’t conduct photosynthesis, as the leaves themselves provide all the food and nutrition needed during the plant’s infancy (the beginning or early period of existence). We decided that the biggest factor in slowing down our radishes, carrots, and peas was probably the cold temperatures we’ve been experiencing, which, as the kids suggested, is in part due to the spring’s limited hours of strong sunlight. Never the less, we planted another bed with more radishes since these spring days will become longer and warmer as we approach summer.

After checking on the outdoor beds, students helped us plant a variety of lettuce seeds indoors. Each student got to plant their own six-pack of leafy greens- and no, we don’t mean the kind of six pack found on a gym buff! These six-packs were seedling trays with six cells each, and after carefully counting out twelve seeds, each Garden Club student planted two seeds in each cell. Crop varieties (the particular types of vegetables or fruits grown) included arugula, rouge d’hiver (pronounced “rooj-dee-vair”), bronze arrowhead, and red sails lettuces. Lucky for us, some students even stayed late to help label our new trays.

Unripe husk cherries @ Waltham Fields Community Farm (2010)

This past Tuesday, we continued the indoor planting with husk cherries and sun gold cherry tomatoes. We reviewed what we knew about husk cherries (also called ground cherries and relatives of tomatoes) and looked at pictures of the wrinkly, lantern-shaped outer shell called the husk, and the smooth, golden ripe cherry. Just one look at the pictures and the students began reminiscing about the husk cherries they had harvested last year, recalling the sweet and tangy, almost pineapple-y taste.

After seeding our trays, we had a special surprise for the kids. They raised eyebrows and couldn’t resist guessing as Rebekah handed out magnifying glasses and petri dishes. What was in that surprise bin she had brought? Compost? Special snacks? Why are the petri dishes wet? Eventually one student guessed correctly: worms! The worm bin, which students at McDevitt had started just two months ago, is now a thriving ecosystem (a habitat filled with different interacting organisms).

The Stanley kids dug their hands fearlessly- well, we did have a few squeals!- into the bin, exploring the ecosystem created by our vermicomposting activity. They discovered all sorts of things: roly-poly bugs, spiders, decomposing plants, slugs, flies, castings, worm eggs, and of course, the red wigglers themselves!

Click to see a close-up of this decomposing leaf's vein structure; you can even see worm eggs on it!

Students held the worms and studied them in dishes with their magnifying glasses, being careful to keep them moist. We watched as the worms crowd together into a big ball, which lead to a discussion about worms and light. Why are they behaving this way? To avoid the bright light, student discovered; they associate the cafeteria’s fluorescent lights with the sun, which can dry them out, which means they can’t breathe since oxygen can only dissolve through their skin if it’s moist. We also observed the other life we found in the worm bin, such as the roly-polies (also known as pill bugs). These guys were especially fun to watch as they curl up in tight balls when they feel threatened. Their scientific name is actually Armadillidiidae, because they share this habit with the much larger armadillo!

Once the worms, slugs, and roly-polies were all cleaned up and put safely back in their ecosystem, we had a little extra time to quickly check up on our outdoor beds. We were nervous because of the continued cold weather, but at last we saw signs of radish and snap pea germination! A little patience really pays off in the garden.

Cece and Rebekah

Image of cotyledons and true leaves from veggiegardener.com. All other images by Rebekah Carter (2011).

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About healthywaltham

Healthy Waltham is a civic group committed to improving the quality of life for people who live, work, and learn in Waltham. Based on the Healthy Communities movement spreading across Massachusetts, Healthy Waltham embraces the principles of community involvement, shared community values, a vision for the future, and community based solutions. Healthy Waltham's Garden Blog intends to inform students, parents, and city residents about our activities in the public schools, community centers, and around town. Questions and comments should be sent to blog@healthy-waltham.org.
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