“Decomposition” — an icky poem by Jordan, for IckyFest 2014

In the cold winter time, plant cells freeze and thaw;
This process is just part of nature’s law.
The cell walls burst and get all squishy…
That’s why this old pumpkin here is so mushy!

(Eventually, this pumpkin in our garden will “decompose,” or turn back into soil, just like all dead plants… the process is called “decomposition!”)
 
IckyFest 2014 – January 11 & 12! All special programs are FREE with admission! Come play with us!
 
- The Science Team

Shades of Autumn

Jordan here, your intrepid science educator. Today's blog post is full of photos. I just couldn't resist! Click on any image to see it full-size.

Autumn is alive in Brooklyn! The picture above shows you some stunning colors in Brower Park, which is on the same block as everybody's favorite children's museum :) .

You can see shades of autumn's beauty not only throughout the city parks and streets but also at… that's right… the Brooklyn Children's Museum! As usual, our garden is open, so be sure to come outside when you visit. Beyond the door in this picture, you can see an adorable red-headed boy looking up at our stunning, red-leaved Japanese Maple. Doesn't it just make you want to hug a tree? You can click here to check out another BCM blog post about our Japanese Maple, and here to learn even more autumn science from Greta, our magnificent science manager.

Our Garden, featuring the red-leaved Japanese Maple

 

While it's getting too cold to play with watering cans, the garden still has much to offer. Our touch-and-smell garden still has lots to touch and smell. Birds, squirrels, and other critters are busy preparing for winter. Plus, many plants show their seeds this time of year. Check out the picture below! 

 

 

"Samara" is the scientific term for a seed with "wings." Maple trees (all species) grow two-samara pairs, which people sometimes call "helicopter seeds." The samaras on this Japanese Maple are tiny (you can see them on the palm of my hand), but the samaras on a Norway Maple can be as long as your finger!

Speaking of seeds, can you see any on the branches of the tree to the left? (Remember, you can click the picture for a close-up.)

No? How about a closer look? 

Those are little Callery pears growing on a Callery pear tree. Callery pear is a common street tree, so look for it when you walk around the city! The fruits are a good food source for wild animals, but we wouldn't recommend trying them yourself. Here's what the little pears look like close up: 

 

 

Parents, teachers: Even though it's getting cold, it's still important for children to spend time outdoors. Now is a great time to learn about trees, colors, and seasons. Here's a fun idea: instead of leaf rubbings, try leaf POUNDING. (You'll make artwork with the real leaf pigments!) It's also a great time to learn about about different types of seeds, fruits, and seasonal vegetables (squash, sweet potato, etc.). Try collecting leaves and making a leaf collage! Take a walk and count how many different colors you can see! Go to a farmers' market and taste some new foods, or some old favorites! Our dear Brower Park Farmers Market will be closing soon, so stop by on Friday, November 8th or 15th between 1pm-7pm. It's located behind BCM, at the corner of Prospect Place and Brooklyn Ave. (The market was open since spring, every Friday from 1pm-7pm. For a great autumn story, try Little Yellow Leaf, by Carin Berger.

So many autumnal wonders! Let's remember to get outdoors this autumn, and do our best to prevent "Nature Deficit Disorder."

Happy Autumn,

Jordan

Tea Ceremony in the Greenhouse

Our cultural explorations continued last week with a Japanese Green Tea tasting in the greenhouse. Tea is an important part of Japanese culture and society. The tea ceremony began in the 12th century as one of several Zen Buddhist paths to enlightenment. Even today, the tea ceremony is widely held throughout Japan in homes and Zen Temples.  

The ceremony itself, called chanoyu, uses a powdered form of green tea called matcha. Since matcha is caffeinated, it’s followed by a full three-course meal, called cha kaiseki, which emphasizes eating seasonal foods.

Most of our young visitors didn’t care for the grassy taste of matcha, but they were very adventurous and up for giving it a taste. The kids really appreciated the ceremonial rituals of the program – we had them sit down, choose their tea, and stir it up in an authentic porcelain tea cup.

If you haven't been to the Japanese Hill-and-Pond garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, go check it out! The viewing pavillion that overlooks the garden models the pavillions that Japanese aristocrats would host tea ceremonies in. Traditionally, Japanese gardens wouldn't have any foot paths running through them. Rather, the entire garden would be designed to create an impressive framed view from a window in the pavillion.  Of course, you can stroll through BBG's hill-and-pond garden, so go smell the cherry trees! 

Southern Sweet Tea in the Garden

Whether traveling abroad or just exploring Brooklyn, my favorite way to learn about different places and people is through their food! Every weekend this month, we’ve been hosting tea parties in the garden that give a glimpse into other cultures.

We started by traveling down south for some southern sweet tea, perfect for a scorching day in the garden. Visitors were able to pick a few sprigs of mint or lemon balm from our plants and add them to their sweet tea concoctions.

To make real sweet tea, you saturate your tea with so much sugar that it won't dissolve into the liquid anymore…and then you add a little more. It's called supersaturation. We didn't go that far, but our tea was still perfectly sweet. Did you know that sugar acts as a preservative in a similar way as salt? 

Most southerners, and all kids, love sugar, but the real appeal of this frosty summer beverage is the ice! According to this article from Slate, “tea was mostly a drink for the upper class, and early on, it was the rich who had access to the ice that came down on ships or in wagons.” So feel fancy and brew yourself a cup.

Stay tuned to hear about our next Garden party, the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Celebrate Bees and Chickens!

BCM’s Celebrate Earth Festival begins next week on Monday, March 25th! We have a week packed full of amazing events celebrating our green museum, our community, our city and our planet! Here are a couple more of the wild programs we have planned.

Meet a BeekeeperThursday, March 21, 2013 – 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Beekeeping in New York City has only been legal for three years, but since 2010, the number of hives and urban beekeepers has exploded. Many urban bee keepers have hives right on their rooftops for hyper-local honey making!

Some even worry that there is not enough forage to sustain the number of hives. Now isn’t that a sad something? There may not be enough flowers in the city to feed our growing honeybee population!

This Thursday, visit the museum’s greenhouse to meet a real urban beekeeper, Emily Vaughn. Emily’s an urban farmer and freelance horticulturist. She teaches beekeeping workshops at 3rd Ward, one of the many places that hosts workshops and info sessions on this new urban farming phenomenon. Try on Emily’s beekeeping veil, test out her bee-calming smoker, do the bee waggle dance, and touch real honeycomb. Emily will answer all your buzzing questions so stop by for a sweet time!

 

Chickens in the Garden Friday, March 22, 2013 - 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Last year, we had a blast meeting the chickens of BKFarmyards. They arrived via bicycle, enjoyed the garden’s greens, and one hen even laid an egg!

This year for Celebrate Earth, we’re very excited to meet the chickens of the Hattie Carthan Community Farmer’s Market, a garden and market just ten minutes away from the museum. The market’s founder, Yonette Flemming or “Farmer Yon”, will answer all your clucking questions as she shows off her Rhode Island Reds. Get a preview of her story on the Hattie Carthan website. It turns out her mother and grandmother also raised Rhode Island Reds! I loved this sweet excerpt of her story:

“Livestock breeding and farming has been practiced by the women in my family for years. According to my grandmother's accounts, (a woman who raised hundreds of chickens at a time for consumption in her village of Berbice) when the women in our family got married, they were given five live eggs (as part of a sort of dowry arrangement) which were hatched (of course roosters were allowed on those farms) and they learnt how to raise those chicks, those chicks went on to lay eggs and have other chicks and that was the foundation of their livestock farm.”

Check out Hattie Carthan's events page for a list of awesome ongoing community events!

School Gardening Workshop

There is definitely no shortage of resources for starting your own school garden in NYC! We've covered how you can DIY with GrowNYC's Grow to Learn program, start a school garden on a fence with the Wooly School garden program, or even pursue becoming an Edible Schoolyard NYC  garden site.

But if you really want to talk to the experts and get comfortable with the basics, NYBG is hosting another School Gardening workshop on election day- November 8th. Register soon before spaces fill up!

School Gardening Workshop at New York Botanical Garden

8:30 am – noon; Cost: $35

Come learn about the benefits of having a garden on your school site. Join NYBG staff and other gardening organizations to learn about logistics, resources, and curriculum connections for creating, maintaining, and  integrating gardens into your students’ learning. This half-day workshop is the perfect primer for helping you begin planning or even rekindling a garden on your school site.

For more information, contact Judith Hutton, at 718.817.8140 or jhutton@nybg.org. To register, contact Registration at 718.817.8181 or school_programs@nybg.org.

If you can't make the election day workshop, NYBG also offers more extended Professional Developments around school gardening:

 

School Gardening 101: Creating a Garden February 18-23, 2013

School Gardening 201: Curriculum Connections July 22-27, 2013

Farm to Table Card Game

Where does our food come from? How many places does the slice of cheese on our burger see before it ends up on our plate?

At Brooklyn Children's Museum, we teach a program for school groups called, "It's Easy Being Green." We cover topics like proper recycling, energy efficiency, and sustainable food choices. The food activity splits kids into groups; each group is responsible for piecing together the life cycle of one ingredient on a burger. They're given cards that each represent one phase in, for instance, the journey of a slice of cheese. 

Now, here's the challenge: After students have pieced together the journey of their cheese (there are twenty cards or steps for the cheese alone!) they have to figure out how to remove pieces of the production-distribution-consumption-waste system to make the whole thing more sustainable. How can we get this slice of cheese to travel less? This activity can lead to great discussions on Farmer's Markets, local food, and composting.

Want to try this activity with your class? Email GoGreen[at]Brooklynkids.org for a PDF version of the full set of Hamburger life cycle cards!

 

Gardening Adventures

 

This spring at Brooklyn Children’s Museum, we’ve guided our 2nd and 3rd grade after school kids in their first gardening adventures. Each student got a 2 x 2' plot to call their own. They removed the weeds, turned the soil, seeded, watered, and after about a week, sprouts began to grow!

Some students seeded with extra enthusiasm and ended up with beautiful, super crowded plots. We told our lil gardeners to choose their most thriving plants and give them room to grow. They plucked out all the sprouts closely surrounding their star specimens. They could either replant the spouts in an empty space or enjoy them as a tasty treat!

After about six weeks of watering and waiting, the kids’ gardens did look quite lush…a little too lush. We discovered common ragweed and crabgrass encroaching on a good chunk of their plots! Did you know that there are an estimated 100,000 dormant seeds in every square meter of arable ground?These native, annual weeds spread thousands and thousands of seeds in their spring-to-winter growing season in hopes that a relatively few will take root.* The kids enjoyed pulling out these pesky plants and reseeding their plots with cinnamon and lime basil seeds.

What challenges will these new gardeners face next? Tune in to follow their progress!

The "Eastern Forests" Peterson Field Guide by John Kricher and Gordon Morrison offers awesome, concise but thorough paragraphs on common New York plants, animals, and all things ecology. We're bound to be citing Kricher's tidbits again and again.

Farm to Table Card Game

 

Last month, we got kids thinking about where their trash ends up with Trash Talk and Loop Scoops. But let's start at the beginning. Where does our food come from? How many places does the slice of cheese on our burger see before it ends up on our plate?

At Brooklyn Children's Museum, we teach a program for school groups called, "It's Easy Being Green." We cover topics like proper recycling, energy efficiency, and sustainable food choices. The food activity splits kids into groups; each group is responsible for piecing together the life cycle of one ingredient on a burger. They're given cards that each represent one phase in, for instance, the journey of a slice of cheese. Take a look:

The journey starts here at "Sunset Farm". But why are we starting on a corn field if we're trying to get to a slice of cheese? 

To feed the cows! Unfortunately, most cows in the US are fed corn rather than the tasty grass that their stomachs were built to digest. The cow's milk then has to be transported to the cheese factory. That's two big truck rides so far for one slice of cheese!

The cheese then gets stored in a large warehouse with other grocery goods. 

A truck picks up the cheese from the warehouse and takes it to the grocery store where it's stocked on shelves and finally awaits your purchase.

Your cheeseburger can now be assembled and enjoyed! And now what? What about the packaging your cheese slice came wrapped up in? What about all your other food scraps? Where do they end up? 

Most of the time, they end up in a landfill.

Now, here's the challenge: After students have pieced together the journey of their cheese (there are twenty cards or steps for the cheese alone!) they have to figure out how to remove pieces of the production-distribution-consumption-waste system to make the whole thing more sustainable. How can we get this slice of cheese to travel less? This activity can lead to great discussions on Farmer's Markets, local food, and composting.

Want to try this activity with your class? Email GoGreen[at]Brooklynkids.org for a PDF version of the full set of Hamburger life cycle cards!

Plants on your Plate

 

In our last post, we started thinking about where our food comes from. Here are a few food ingredients whose plant source might surprise you!

Vanilla comes from the seeds of a vanilla orchid.

Cinnamon comes from the bark of a tree native to Southeast Asia.

Black pepper comes from the seeds of a woody vine in the rainforest.

Ask your students to write down their favorite meal. Then see how many ingredients they can name. Which ingredients come from plants?  See if they can take it one step further and name the plant sources of all those ingredients. This could be an excellent research project. Have students report back on their most surprising findings. (The fungi and minerals in our food might throw them for a loop!) Students could even compose a collage of all the plants in their favorite meal.  An example of tracing an ingredient to its plant source might go something like this:  Burger to Beef Patty to Cow to Corn Plant.

This food investigation could go in many directions and offer some unique teaching moments.  How do they know what the cow in their beef patty ate? Students might get stuck on the multisyllabic chemical ingredients in some of their favorite processed foods. Do chemical foods offer the same nutrients and plant foods? What exactly are “artificial flavors”?

We'd love to hear where this food activity takes your class!