Monday, May 23, 2011

JMG Meeting

This Saturday we had our second JMG (Junior Master Gardener) meeting at our house.  We were so excited that our Master Gardener Advisors were able to come too:  Bill & Marie!

JMG garden work

This month we learned about soil, composting and water flow/effects.  We were able to do lots of activities this week as a group, fewer than last week were required but so many went hand in hand that I did more than we even needed to.

We took a soil sample in a jar, filled it 1/2 way, then filled the rest of the way with water.  Then we shook it all up and let it sit. 

jmg and more may 2011 018

As it separates it tells us what our soil is made up of – the percentages.  So we were able to see most of our soil is sand, and then some silt & clay and we even separated out the mulch/compost materials.

Then we headed back to the compost and talked about how we constructed it, we also talked about what we put in it and what we do not.  Then we talked about how we have to turn it, water it and keep an eye on it.

cool finds

Then we let the kids dig into the compost to see if they could find bugs that help the composting process.  We did offer gloves for the kids (since it is composed of trash virtually) and the kids LOVED it!  They found lots of bugs, mostly maggots, but there were some beetles, ants, and a few other bugs we did not really know.

compost maggots


exploring the compost

kids digging in the compost

After that we talked about water and how water erosion is something we have to watch out for and try and prevent. We also talked about how much water our world was made of and some ways we can be good stewards of that water and conserve when we can.

Our master gardener, Bill, took us over to one of our squash plants (pumpkin I think) to show us the difference in the male flower and the female flower. I never knew the difference, even though I knew there were both kinds. The male is just a straight stem with a flower and the female has the fruit at the base of “her” flower’s stem. Pretty cool! So when male flowers show up, they grow first, you know that the females are not far behind!!

Nest month we are going to talk about ecology and horticulture in the garden! Looking forward to that!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

JMG this week

We are loving our Junior Master Garden Class!!  It is so fun to go out in our yard and explore and learn!

This week we are talking about plant parts – which my kids really knew already, but that is okay!  We still talked about the different parts : stem, roots, leaves, flowers, fruit, and buds.  Then we studies the different kinds of roots : taproot or fibrous.

We still had some daylilies hanging around on the ground so we looked at taproot with them and then we pulled some weeds & grass as saw the fibrous roots there.  Then the kids sketched each type of root and listed some plants they thought were under each.  Pretty cool.

Next we are going to do a Variable Menu Project.  We are going to plant beans in 3 different pots, the same size and all, same location, same water, but we are going to use 3 different kinds of “soil”.  We are going to use potting soil that I purchased, soil from our ground (sandy), and then I think some woodchips.  So the kids can make hypotheses about which they think will do better, then in a few days we will start studying the differences.  Should be interesting!

Meanwhile, my oldest is doing a mini-study of Guinea Fowl since we like them but do not know much about them.  He should get it on his blog this week, if he does I will post a link here!  Fun learning around here!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

JMG–Plant Growth and Development

Lesson #1 & #2

# 1 - Importance and Uses of Plants

We are learning how plants are used in our every day life this week.  We have talked about what our world would look like without plants :

  • we could not breath
  • animals would die
  • no clothes
  • bugs would die

For our project we are going to make a plant sandwich by pressing a flower or plant leaf in between some paper and put it in a thick book to press it out.

#2 – Plant Classification

Our next task is to talk about how we can group different plants to help us identify them and learn more about them.

We talked about

Monocot – parallel veins

Dicot – netted veins

iphone malakoff piucs 032

and we collected different leaves from around our house as examples to make rubbings from them.

iphone malakoff piucs 030

We also talked about different kinds of leaf edges – another way to identify a group of trees – and study similarities.

Entire – smooth edge 

Serrate – obviously a serrated edge

denticulate – a very tight jagged edge

lobed – big loopy lobes

We were able to find each leaf edge type – but only dicot leaves here around our house.

iphone malakoff piucs 034

I think the kids learned some, but certainly got excited about learning more nature stuff, they had fun making rubbings and identifying their leaves.  I know we are going to love this program!!

JMG : Junior Master Gardener


I am so excited that we are starting up a JMG group in our County through 4H!  The extension agent suspected that we would have about 10 kids come, would you believe that right now we have 16+ already signed up and we are expecting more?!  I am so excited!  (I know, I said that already)

We are going to have the meetings at our house once a month.  There is a Leader Handbook and student handbooks that go along with the program.  The kids have between 4-7 tasks to do at home, and there are a number that they can choose from for each task.  Then when we all get together we get to do another batch of tasks to reinforce the concepts and learn as a group. 

So, we are about to embark on our first month of tasks, all three boys will be participating and hopefully get certified!  Not sure what the certification will do for them, but it sure cannot hurt!

So, stay tuned to see what we are learning as we get certified!  We are going to learn lots plants, soil, careers, and much more!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bird Counting

The past weekend was The Great Backyard Bird Count – and it was fun for us to count some birds here at our home.

PJ lookin for birds


AG bird watching

We counted about 3 times total, I think.  We logged in a hawk each time, I think – several cardinals, and lots of sparrows.  We also have a Great Blue Heron that comes almost daily to our pond, or the one across the fence.  We also have a steady number of Turkey Vulters.

bird watching

We did venture out on Monday to the East Texas Arboretum to count birds with friends. 

bird watching with friends

We hiked about a mile and a half, found the bird lookout, but we did not actually see any birds.  It was a little sad, but we had so much fun playing, hiking and being with friends, we did not seem to mind the lack of birds.

lookin' at tree blossoms

I think next week we will pick a bird we see often and do a deeper study of that bird.  Maybe some art to come to!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Bird Watching

We have enjoyed watching the birds, more lately I think.  We are getting geared up for a real honest-to-goodness bird study.  I think we may do this all month, well what is left of it. 

bird button

Starting on the 18th we are going to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).  It will go on from the 18th to the 22nd.  You spend a minimum of 15 minutes counting birds – anywhere!  Could be the park, a pond, or your back yard.  Then you record which kinds of birds you see in that period of time.

So, in preparation, we are :  (1) getting out all of our bird books, (2) trying to identify those we have photographed here,  (3) planning where we want to count besides our backyard, and  (4) print out a list of birds we could see in our region (from the website).


I think we are going to walk down our road one day – there is a small pond just off the road and every time we walk by, many wood ducks fly out.  So we will go and count those wood ducks one day – should be fun!


Then, I think I want to try to spend one period over at Cedar Creek Lake since there are tons of Loons over there – and count those one day.

It is going to be lots of fun!  Lots of counting and lots of looking up birds we do not know!

So, check out the website and join us in counting some birds and benefiting the National Audubon Society, for one.  There are lots of great things to see on their websites that are very kid friendly too!

Lastly, did I mention PRIZES??  There are those as well – they award prizes once you submit your results – binoculars, bird books, bird feeders, etc!  Well worth the time you spend counting I think  - plus it gets kids excited!!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snow and the Birds

We woke to snow this morning – what fun! 

Not a whole lot of nature study going on with these freezing temps & the ice we have been dealing with all last week.  But, today I was able to get some great bird pictures that I think we will use to start a bird study of sorts.

Here are a few of the pics I got:


bird 2


bird 3


bird 4

The cardinals in the tree – were not too happy with me out there – they waited until I left to eat.  Too bad.


bird 5

Hanging out in the rose bush – waiting their turn


bird landing

Caught this one coming in for a landing – check out his feet!

birds in the snow

PJ says that this one is about to jump and that is why his legs are extended in this picture – he is probably right – who knows?

birds waiting to eat

cardinal 1

cardinal in the tree

And to finish with my favorite one:

flying birds 1

It will be fun figuring out a couple – I think the boys know them all, but we can look into some fun details about each of them!  Fun future studies for our gang!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pine Trees

Pine tree

Finally getting back into our nature study!  We were so excited to have a plan and get moving along!

So after looking at the Winter Study ideas on THIS blog – we decided to take on Challenge #5 : Pine Trees

Outdoor Hour Challenge
Winter Series #5

Pine Trees in Winter

Inside Preparation Work:
This week read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 670-675 to learn more about pine trees. Even if you don’t think you have any pines in your area, it is still interesting to read the information for future reference. Make sure to note the ideas suggested for studying pines in the lesson at the end of the section.
Outdoor Hour Time:
Spend 15 minutes outdoors this week with your children in your own yard or on your own street. This week you will have two suggested activities.

We chose this one primarily because we have lots of our own pine trees.  I hope to go back and do a few of the other challenges because we really are enjoying this one!

pine cones on tree

What we learned :

What a conifer is : a cone bearing tree.  We talked about how the lead branch of the tree (the one that grows the tallest and is the “leader” ) had a beetle that likes to eat the top, bore into the branch, and then eventually kill the branch.  ~Interesting!  Another interesting part is that another branch then will take over the leadership role and lead the tree.

{We learned all this from our Handbook of Nature Study by Anne Comstock}

We also learned that the Pine Trees on the West coast grow about 100 ft taller (200-300 ft) then those on the East Coast (100-200 ft).  This was interesting too, since we were able to talk about the trees we saw in person last year in Maine and Oregon!

pinecones a

I hope to sketch some pine cones later this week – maybe a couple different kinds.

Yesterday we did enjoy watercolor painting pine trees though :

So, I am looking forward to working through many challenges each season as we are more deliberate about getting out and studying the nature right here in our yard!!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Look Back : Maine

It has been a while since I have posted anything here, so while sorting some pictures for J’s blog I found some good ones from Maine.  We spent about 2 weeks in Maine in 2010 and took many great pictures of our explorations.  We always get to see, touch and examine many life forms native to that part of the country! 

One of our favorites is when we are in Maine for the Friendship Day celebration.  There is a conservancy organization that comes out with a salt water baby pool full of creatures found by the locals (mostly Lobster –men).

touch tank

We have held (or touched) lobsters, crabs, horse-shoe crabs, flounder, cod, sea cucumber, star fish, and more than I can remember.  Last year, a lobster-man pulled up while we were there with a yellow lobster – they are super rare!  About 1 in 500,000 are yellow.  It was pretty cool to see such a rare one!

The kids favorite part of Maine is playing in lowtide at the house.   This past year, they took buckets down with them, filled them with a little water and then made their own touch tanks!  Theirs did not vary as much as the one in Friendship, but it was fun!  Mostly they collected hermit crabs, who Uncle Brian taught them to find.


boys at low tide with brian

brian and lisa pics from maine 063 

maine 2010 family lobster day 030 maine 2010 family lobster day 027

Maine is our favorite place in the world, aside from home.  We love to see all the fun stuff we find in tide pools, or get to explore along the coast in general!