Share it! Science : April 2015

Glimpse of the Garden: Week 5, Perennials Popping Up

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It has been fun to clear out the garden beds and see the green shoots beginning to pop up!

Lily shoots ©SBF
     When we bought our house we were very lucky to inherit some great flower beds with the property. The first growing season was an exercise in patience. Although I love plants, I didn't know where to begin. I didn't want to dig anything up until I knew what it was, and often that meant waiting for it to bloom. 
     I purchased The Perennial Care Manual: A Plant-by-Plant Guide: What to Do & When to Do It by Nancy J. Ondra to help me navigate my new plants. I found it indispensable during those first growing seasons. From placing new plants to troubleshooting there are lots of easy to understand tips and tricks, illustrated with wonderful photographs. Additionally the book highlights 125 common perennials, including: seasonal care, propagation and troubleshooting. It is extremely helpful, and if you have perennials and aren't quite sure of how to maintain them, I'd highly recommend this book. With its help I will be tackling the long overdue task of thinning and dividing some overgrown lilies, irises and astilbe this weekend.
     Once divided I will be giving some of the leftover plants away and donating others to my school's annual plant sale. In the next few weeks plant sales will be popping up all over the place. You might want to see if your local library, school or community center is having one soon as a fundraiser. These plants are often heartier and healthier than those you'll find at a big box store.
     My strawberries are starting to grow! I need to get these beauties into the ground. Add fixing the new strawberry bed to the weekend list!
The first strawberry! ©SBF
What gardening tasks are you tackling this week? Comment below!


Cookies: A Delicious Way to Develop Science Skills

When it comes to learning, it is always more fun, and often more effective, when a treat to eat is involved. I have been following Bethany Brookshire's series Cookie Science on the Eureka! Lab blog. Brookshire has been posting step-by-step updates of her process of science investigation surrounding the perfect gluten free chocolate chip cookie recipe. What is great about these posts is that they are taking a fun subject- baking cookies- and really outlining the important steps in designing and carrying out an experiment. Each post is geared toward students. Any testable question for a science fair or even professional research goes through the process that has been taking shape on Eureka! Lab.
The series begins with developing a testable hypothesis: "Substituting gluten-free flour alone will not make a cookie that is comparable to my original recipe". This is followed by directions for the use of a lab notebook. Other topics covered throughout the series are: ethics and protocol review boards, how to run a "blind" trial and using the Likert scalecontrolling variables, etc.
Throughout each post Brookshire does an excellent job of explaining the reasoning and her thought process for each method she is using. An upper middle school or high school student could easily use this series to plan their own scientific experiment, or it could be used in its original form as a way to teach a group of students the steps of creating and carrying out a scientific investigation.
This is just one example of using a cookie as a means to learn science. So much science can be learned in the kitchen. Baking is one way to teach and learn about chemical reactions. Check out Stephanie Warren's TED-Ed video lesson about chemical reactions in cookies.

In "The Case of the Cookie Mystery" a 5th grade level STEM investigation, students consider physical and chemical reactions as they have to determine the properties of all of the ingredients in a cookie recipe.

For a younger audience making observations of sweet treats as they are being made can lead to scientific questions. How do the ingredients feel or smell as you are mixing them together? When does the dough change from dry to moist? How does the cookie look when it is only halfway baked? How does it look when it is finished?
For some great baking investigations geared for preschool and elementary visit "Bake a Chemistry Cake" at, or "Pancake Science"at PBS Parents

Here are some other great activities and lesson plans that teach science principles using cookies!

Check out this great infographic from Shari's Berries that explains the science of baking:

The Science of Baking
Provided by

Who says learning can't be delicious? Do you have some great ideas for using cookies to teach and learn? Leave a comment or e-mail me at

Read more:

Check out some other great kitchen fun links: 

Glimpse of the Garden: Week 4, A Splash of Yellow

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     Despite snow flurries the past couple of days the plants are still doing their best to persist! I was actually happy that I hadn't gotten all my flower beds raked out yet because the leaves and litter have allowed a little protection from some unseasonably cold temperatures.

Jonquils ©SBF
These little jonquils that I transplanted from a pot gifted to us last spring are just about the only color we have in the front yard. They are like a little ray of sunshine!

Despite the gray weather- they are still sunny! ©SBF
     We've been learning about seeds and how plants grow from preschool through elementary in the past couple of weeks at school. The kids are innately interested in nature, and being able to have them grow a plant from a seed is a wonderful way for them to experience it hands-on and take some ownership in caring for a living thing. I try to incorporate children's literature in these lessons. Here are some books that we use that will get your child or students excited about seeds and plants:

     The plant "nursery" on our window seat is coming right along. We've got a nice mix of flowers, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants sprouting.

Sungold tomatoes and dwarf dahlias. ©SBF
     I was a little worried because (as often is the case) I started my seeds a little late, but in light of the cold temperatures it might be for the best! What do you have growing? Comment below!

Make the Earth Beautiful with Homemade Seed Paper

Happy Earth Day! Although I do truly believe that we should be practicing Earth friendly behavior each and every day, it is nice to do something special once a year to celebrate our home planet.

This DIY recycled seed paper project combines two Earth friendly ideas: recycling and growing plants! With this tutorial you will make recycled paper infused with flower seeds. This seed paper can be "planted" right in the garden and will sprout. The paper can be also cut into fun shapes and given as gifts.

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Make the Earth Beautiful like Miss Rumphius!

Many of you are probably familiar with the classic picture book Miss Rumphius by Babara Cooney. For those of you who are not, it tells the sweet tale of an adventurous woman who had three missions in life: to go to faraway places, grow old by the sea and, most importantly, make the world more beautiful.
Miss Rumphius accomplishes all that she sets out to do and her greatest mission is beautifying the world by spreading lupine seeds. If only each of us did one small thing to make the Earth more beautiful, can you imagine what the planet would be like?

This story is a great launching point for all sorts of Earth Day projects including making your own seed paper. This paper, with seeds woven into it, can be planted in pots or gardens and makes a lovely gift. (Mother's Day is just around the corner folks!)

Make Recycled Seed Paper

If you have made recycled paper with your children or students you will find that the process is practically identical. First you'll need to shred some paper. Kids love doing this by hand or you can use paper from an electric shredder. This is a great way to recycle that junk mail!

Shred some paper
Once the paper is shredded, soak it in water for a while, an hour will do, but if you have the luxury of leaving it overnight it will become quite soft. Students can then tear and mush the paper into smaller pieces.
Soak the paper
Put some of the saturated paper in the blender with water to cover. Doing a cup at a time on the "chop" setting does a nice job of making the slurry, or "paper milkshake" that you'll need.

Make the paper slurry
Time to mix in the seeds. I have chosen to use marigold seeds because they are nice and flat and I have a lot of them that I saved from flowers last summer.
Marigold seeds
You can use just about any type of small flat seed in your paper. Mixing and matching can be a nice surprise once the paper is planted. Mix the seeds into the slurry, making sure you can see them throughout the mush. Now to make the paper!

Mix in the seeds
You can go about the next step in one of several ways depending on the space you are working in. The paper slurry needs to be spread out flat on a screen. You can use an old window screen, or you can make your own screens by stapling screening onto picture frames like we did. Paper making kits like this one, that include similar screens are also available for purchase.

We chose to fill the screens outside as it was nice and sunny. We scooped the slurry onto the screen and flatten it as we went. This allowed the excess water to run off quite easily without making a mess inside. The indoor alternative is to squeeze the water out of the slurry with your hands over a sink or container and then pat it down flat on the screening. As long as you have basins or a sink and some newspaper it really is not a huge mess indoors either. The paper needs to be pushed down flat and thin in the screen. 

Cover with a thin layer of the recycled paper mixture

The seeds are mixed throughout
A chipmunk came to check out our paper while it was on the deck and left some muddy tracks!
Once the paper is in the screen you'll have to wait a day or two for it to dry thoroughly. Once it is dry you can pull it off the screen and cut into whatever shape you'd like.
The finished product
Add a cute tag and you've got a lovely Earth Day, Mother's Day, or Spring gift. The papers can be planted in the ground, planters or pots. Place them just under the soil, keep moist and you are one step closer to making the world a more beautiful place!!

A nice gift!
How are you celebrating Earth Day? Share in the comments or e-mail us at

If you enjoyed this activity, then your kids will love getting a box each month from Green Kid Crafts. Check them out by clicking the image below.


Grow a Themed Flower Garden with your Children


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Planting a garden with children can be a rewarding experience for both kids and adults. With a little imagination you can create a themed children's garden that your kids or students will enjoy planting and observing. Read on for ideas on how to create a Rainbow Garden or a garden for your favorite pollinators- hummingbirds, butterflies or bees, inspired by children's picture books.  
My inspiration for this post comes from 2 picture books by Lois Ehlert, "Planting a Rainbow" and "Waiting for Wings". These are both books I enjoy reading to my students in the springtime and are the perfect launching point for themed flower gardens. 
A Rainbow Garden:
Ehlert's beautiful and bright collage style illustrations and simple text make "Planting a Rainbow" appealing to even the youngest of audiences. It begins: "Every year Mom and I plant a rainbow." Wouldn't it be fun to plant a rainbow with your children? It turns out, it is not that difficult. There are many possibilities, whether it is starting from seeds, bulbs, or seedlings. You can create your own rainbow combination, or follow the ROY G. BIV color scheme.
Planting from bulbs: If you follow the rainbow garden in the story, Ehlert describes red and orange tulips, orange tiger lilies, yellow daffodils, blue hyacinth, purple crocus, and purple bearded iris. These are all plants grown from bulbs. Bulbs are often planted in the fall to bloom in the spring, however, they can also be planted after the last frost in the spring for summer blooms. (Click on flower images for more information)


Planting from seeds: In the story, red zinnias, orange daisies and marigolds, pink phlox, blue morning glories, blue cornflower, and purple asters are chosen for seeds. It would be fun to visit your local garden supply store and have your children help you choose the seeds that will make a rainbow. Marigolds and nasturtiums are great red, yellow and orange choices for small hands. They are easy to plant and are not too picky about where they grow. You can also easily collect and save their seeds to plant again the next year. 
Morning Glory ©Sarah Benton Feitlinger
Planting from seedlings: The story continues on to describe the rainbow seedlings the mother and child buy: red poppies and roses, blue delphinium, purple violets and pansies, green ferns, and pink carnations. My recommendations for purchasing seedlings for children would be purple pansies and violas, pink impatiens and petunias in a variety of colors. These are fairly hearty and will bloom for quite some time, two factors to keep in mind when choosing plants for young gardeners.


Rainbow vegetables too? If you'd like to include some edibles in your colorful garden you might consider including some rainbow vegetables in the mix. Chard is a healthy green that can grow with brilliant stem colors. You might try: Bright Lights, Neon Glow or Garden Rainbow. Another fascinating rainbow plant to try growing are heirloom carrots. They come in many more options than the orange we are accustomed to! Try Circus tricolor, or Purple Sun.

Planting perennials: If you have space and the desire to grow your flowers for more than one season, you might consider some perennials other than the bulbs mentioned above. There are many options for color here as well. See this infographic for some ideas. 

Networx - The Garden, A Living Coloring Book

Pollinator Gardens:
The second Lois Ehlert book that might inspire your theme garden is "Waiting for Wings". This story focuses on the life cycle of a butterfly with simple text and brilliant illustrations. The bright flowering plants in this story are nice for butterflies, but there are many other important pollinators you might wish to lure to your garden as well- like hummingbirds and bees.

Pollinators are very important because without them we would not have the fruits, nuts, berries and vegetables we enjoy! Planting flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds and bees not only adds interest and opportunities for science exploration in the flower garden, but also can improve the production of your vegetable garden. You may wish to investigate pollinator gardens through the following links:

Butterfly Garden:
In "Waiting for Wings" you'll see butterflies on big, bright flowers like hollyhocks, purple coneflower, zinnias, black-eyed susans and gaillardia. 
(click on flower images for more information)

These are all lovely choices for your flower garden. You might have even chosen some of them for your rainbow garden! Butterflies also enjoy lilacs and milkweed. A personal favorite of mine, that will also lure hummingbirds, is bee balm. I call it the "firework flower" as this perennial's red blooms look like they are bursting open like a firework.
Bee Balm, or Monarda ©Sarah Benton Feitlinger

Pollinators love sunflowers! Sunflowers are an excellent choice to plant with children. Many varieties have large seeds that are easy for small hands to handle, and they are not difficult to grow.
A sunflower with a butterfly and a bee guest. ©Ross Feitlinger
There are so many options for a butterfly garden. Rather than pick your own mix of blooms you might want to choose a mix of seeds specifically aimed at attracting butterflies like the Seeds for a Butterfly Garden pack from Renee's Garden. This includes heirloom zinnias, white cosmos and red sunflowers.

For more links to butterfly gardening check out the following:

Hummingbird Garden:
Hummingbirds are beautiful little wonders. They are a fascinating addition to a garden. These tiny birds love red tubular flowers with lots of nectar. Good choices are bee balm (pictured above), honeysuckles, salvias, wild bergamot (bee balm), lupines and one of my favorites, nasturtiums. 

Nasturtiums ©Sarah Benton Feitlinger
Nasturtiums are a great pick for children. Not only are the seeds large and easy to plant, but they do not require much care or even very good soil. In fact, they flower better in low nutrient soil! Additionally, the leaves and the flowers of the nasturtium are edible. They have a little bite like a radish. Kids love taste testing things in the garden (with supervision of course!).
Adding a hummingbird feeder to the garden will increase your odds of having a humming little visitor. Follow this link to Ranger Rick magazine for a plan to make a hummingbird feeder out of recycled items. The National Wildlife Federation includes a recipe to make nectar for your hummingbird feeder here

Female ruby-throated hummingbird. ©Feitlinger
Renee's Garden offers a pack of seeds that attract hummingbirds that includes Scarlet Runner bean, Summer Charm nasturtium and Scarlet Flame zinnia. 

Check out this link from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden for ideas on how to design your hummingbird garden.

Attracting Bees to the Garden:
Although many of us associate bees with painful stings, they are a very important part of the garden ecosystem. When left alone, they cause us no harm. There are many different types of bees and if you create a flower garden described above you will begin to attract these important insects as well. If you are a vegetable gardener or have fruit trees you will see a more productive harvest if you invite bees to your property. For extensive information on bees and bee types, visit this article from Mother Earth News about different types of bees and how to attract them to your garden.
Bees on Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea) ©SBF
Bee pollinating a squash blossom. ©SBF

This is not a sponsored post, however, Renee's Garden Seeds has generously provided the prizes for the sunflower seed giveaway. 9 winners will receive 2 packets of sunflower seeds. Varieties include: Sun Samba, Moonshadow, Music Box, Van Gogh, Cinnamon Sun, Bright Bandolier, Lemon Queen, Snack Seed, The Birds and the Bees, Valentine, Heirloom Titan, Royal Flush, Chocolate Cherry and Sunzilla. We will randomly pick 2 seed packets and ship them to you if you are a winner. The giveaway will run from April 16th, 2015 - April 22nd, 2015 11:59PM, EST. Good luck!

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