Zoocation – Garden Magic
Zoocation - A Garden Without Seeds???
During spring and summer around the world, the earth feels completely alive. Flowers begin to bloom, trees and bushes sprout new leaves, and farm fields and orchards begin to burst with all of our favorite fruits and vegetables. While plenty of plants around the world grow just fine without our help, some can use help from our animal friends. Nearly any animal who eats plants can be a seed disperser. Herbivores (plant-eaters) and omnivores (everything-eaters) eat a wide array of plants and plant parts. Just as flowers are a plant’s way of attracting insects for pollination, fruits are a plant’s way of attracting seed dispersers, animals who eat the fruit, seeds and all, and later deposit those seeds somewhere else, conveniently wrapped in fertilizer! You probably don’t grow your food that way, but today we’re going to and get fruits and veggies to sprout without a seed!
Zoocation – Garden Magic
What you need: Fruit and vegetable scraps as suggested below, some and reusable containers (yogurt tubs, glass food jars, etc.). You may also need small kitchen tools or supplies depending on fruit or veggie choices (toothpicks, vegetable knife).
Time: Around 10 minutes
Age Range: 2 to 8 years
Usually, when we think of plants growing, we think of them coming from seeds. But what if you don’t need seeds to grow plants? You can grow some types of fruits and vegetables right from the plants themselves! Here are a few options:
Lettuce: The next time you buy lettuce, choose a whole head rather than bagged or boxed leaves. Any variety can work, but loose-leaf varieties like romaine usually work best. Start by cutting off all the leaves, leaving about two inches at the base. While you get the lettuce ready, let your gardening partner choose a jar or bowl and place the lettuce in, stem end down. Now, help them fill the container with enough water to come about halfway up the lettuce end. Place it in a sunny window, and change the water every other day. It shouldn’t take long. You should start seeing tiny sprouts within a day or two! In 10 to 12 days, you’ll have small lettuce leaves to eat.
Potato vines: Any type of potato will work, even sweet potatoes! You can use a fresh potato, but if you have one that’s gotten a little old and started to sprout on its own, that’s even better. That way, you’ll know ahead of time it will actually sprout, and won’t have to wait for something to happen. (Important note: Some potatoes have sprout retardant chemicals sprayed on them for storage. If you want to start with a fresh potato, choose organic ones to avoid disappointment). Have your helper choose a jar, glass, or other clear container large enough to fit the potato easily into the opening. You can help with the next part by pushing four toothpicks partway into the sides of the potato to hold it up high in the container. Now, place the potato in, resting the toothpicks on the side of the container supporting it. Next, add enough water to cover a few of the “eyes” on the bottom of the potato (or the sprouts, if you’re using a pre-sprouted potato). Then, place the glass in a window, keep the water level up, and watch your potato vines take off!
Tomato: We know, tomatoes have seeds, but we are going to actually use a piece of the tomato for this one. You’ll need a container (maybe a used yogurt container or egg carton) and some soil from the beginning. Have your youngster fill the container with some, almost up to the top. Next, cut a tomato into slices that are about a quarter inch thick (grownups, you’ll need to assist of course). Heirloom varieties usually sprout more easily, but you can give any tomato variety a try. Now, place a tomato slice (or more, if it’s a large container) on top of the soil, and cover it with a little more soil. Water regularly to keep the soil damp, and in 7 to 14 days, you’ll have a lot of tiny tomato sprouts. If you want, transplant a few of the strongest ones into their own pots and keep them growing!
For older children: Turn plant growing into a science experiment by trying different conditions and making observations. Maybe place one potato jar each in a north-, south-, east-, and west-facing window, and see which one does best. You can also try different varieties of lettuce. Do some of them sprout while others don’t? Garden magicians can make drawings of their plants’ progress, take measurements, and keep track of them in a science journal. Real scientists might do all those things!