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Date: May 14, 2008
From Seed - to Corn - to Popcorn: Gardening with your Children This SummerHofstra University, Hempstead, NY … Want to go “green” with your children? Simply gardening at your home is a great way to cultivate your children’s appreciation for the environment.
Dr. Irene Plonczak, an assistant professor at Hofstra University’s Department of Curriculum and Teaching, has many tips for parents who would like to start a gardening project with their children.
Last year Dr. Plonczak started a teaching vegetable garden for her Hofstra students. This garden is part of an environmental education project aimed at providing future teachers with the experience and understanding of teaching methods that will both inform their students about the environment and inspire them to nurture and preserve it.
The following are Dr. Plonczak’s tips for planting, growing and ultimately making popcorn with children. This American tradition goes back 4,000 years, if not more.
Planting the seeds
1. Buy a packet of corn seeds in the local nursery - or sometimes they even sell them in the supermarket.
2. Take a clear plastic cup and put one or two sheets of crumpled absorbent paper towel into the cup.
3. Take a couple of seeds and put them in the cup (if you put them between the plastic and the paper you will be able to see the seeds sprout)
4. Keep the paper towel moist, because the seeds only need moisture and normal room temperature to sprout.
5. Keep moist and observe for a couple of days, in 2 or 3 days your should be able to see how the seeds have started to bloat, and after 4 or 5 days you will start to see the roots and the stem starting to appear.
6. Once the stem is a couple of inches tall, you can transplant the small corn plants to large flower pots, or you can dig-up a small garden in your back yard.
Growing the corn
If you want to dig up a small garden to grow corn and other vegetables, you have to consider the following:
1. Choose a sunny spot (ideally facing South), with no shade from trees or other big shrubs.
2. Make sure you have a water outlet so you can put a hose.
3. Start digging a patch of soil and make a clear delimitation so you, the children, or maybe even the dogs don’t step on the new plants.
4. Plant your corn seedlings, and revise the seed package for indications on separation between plants, when to plant, and how often you have to water.
5. Besides planting your corn seedlings, you can plant other vegetables and fruits like:
* Beans, etc.
If you don’t have a back yard or sunny spot, you can make or buy your own “Earth Box,” which is a large container you can put on a balcony, or even on a rooftop! For more information about the Earth Boxes, and to read about a very interesting urban gardening program called “The Growing Connection,” sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, go to http://www.thegrowingconnection.org/
Popping the corn
Towards the end of the summer it’s time to harvest, and to eat popcorn! Once the corn plant has come to maturity, and the corn is ripe, you are ready to pop the seeds. By now you have gone through the whole life cycle of the plant: from seed, to plant, to fruit (with seed.) Other than learning about the nutritious value of the corn and other vegetable you will eat, you have learned about their life cycles, about how plants develop and grow.
By having your own garden you have also engaged in environmentally responsible behavior. You have cultivated respect and understanding for the environment. As Sobel* points out: “Rather than taking eight-year-olds to the Global Warming slide show, it might be more useful, in the long run, to take them fishing or blueberry picking”, or in our case “vegetable gardening”.
Dr. Plonczak is available to discuss Hofstra's teaching vegetable garden for aspiring teachers. For media information call (516) 463-6819.
*Sobel, D. (2007). Climate Change Meets Ecophobia. Connect. Nov/Dec: 14-21.