Activities for Module IV Apples, Beets, and Zinnias: Sustainable Horticulture
Activities for Section C: Sustainable Horticulture
- Activity 1: Trial by Water
- Activity 2. Compost Recipes
- Activity 3: Compost Happens
- Activity 4: Economic Threshold Calculation
- Activity 5: Apple IPM Video and Discussion
- Activity 6. Tasting Diversity
Activity 1: Trial by Water
Purpose: Students will learn two simple tests that use water to gauge aspects of soil quality and biological activity.
Advance preparation: Decide where you want to conduct the tests. You want to compare at least two different soil situations. They can be different soil types or soils with different management or both. For example, on the school grounds you could test an athletic field, a flower bed, and, if available, land in crop production or a relatively undisturbed area of woodland.
Next, assemble and prepare materials. For test 1 you will need:
- water infiltration rings,
- short pieces of board (an 8” length of 2×4 is fine),
- plastic wrap,
- measuring cups or graduated cylinders,
- stopwatches or timers.
For test 2 you will need:
- trowels, soil probes, or other tools for obtaining small soil samples,
- clear plastic cups or glass containers,
- distilled water.
Estimated time: 15 to 50 minutes for test 1; 5 to 15 minutes for test 2; 10 to 30 minutes for follow-up discussion
Test 1. Measuring infiltration in different soils
(This test is adapted from Chapters 3 and 2 of the USDA Soil Quality Test Kit Guide)
Divide the students into as many small groups as you have infiltration rings. Each group can measure infiltration on a different soil type or management situation, or all the groups can measure infiltration on several soil types or management situations, depending on the amount of time you have. Examples of different management situations include a tilled crop field, a no-till field, a lawn, and a woodland or other natural area. Try to stay away from paths or other clearly compacted areas.
- Clear away sticks, stones, and other items that will keep the ring from being hammered into the soil from the area where the ring will be placed.
- Place the ring on the ground, beveled side down. Lay the board across the top of the ring. Using the hammer on the board, drive the ring 3 inches into the soil (up to the line marked on the outside of the ring. Gently firm the soil right at the inside edge of the ring.
- Lay a piece of plastic wrap over the ring so it completely covers the soil over the ring and extends up over the edge of the ring on all sides. This step is designed to prevent changing the soil surface when the water is poured on.
- Measure the amount of water you needed to fill the ring to a depth of one inch (for the 6-inch irrigation pipe this will be 444 mL). Pour the measured water into the ring.
- Remove the plastic by gently pulling it out, leaving the water in the ring, and begin timing as soon as the wrap is removed.
- Record the amount of time it takes for the water to infiltrate the soil (when there is no standing water but the surface is still glistening). Depending on soil type, management, and conditions, this may take just a few minutes or over an hour. If there is not enough time to wait for all the water to infiltrate, have students estimate how much water is left on the surface after 15 minutes.
- If time allows, repeat steps 3 to 6 in order to measure infiltration when the soil is already moist. If soil moisture is at or near field capacity the repeat test is not needed.
Test 2. Measuring aggregation
- Take a small soil sample from the top 6 inches of the soil.
- Ask the students to examine the soil and predict whether they think it will be stable in water.
- Gently put a small amount of soil into a clear plastic cup.
- Gently pour in enough distilled water to generously cover the soil sample.
- Swirl the water in the cup for several seconds.
- Observe the water. Ask students to note whether the water is clear, slightly turbid (cloudy), or very turbid.
- Repeat steps 1 to 6 with different soils or similar soils under different management.
There are several ways to organize this test. You can have the whole class of students move around and perform the test on different samples in the field. Or you can ask each of the small groups doing an infiltration test to also do this test, keep the cup with the soil and water in it, and report back to the full class. Or, if time is short, you can have different soil samples ready in the classroom and demonstrate the test there. However, it is preferable to let the students collect the samples themselves and be able to interpret the results in the context of their own observations.
Activity 2: Compost Recipes
Purpose: Students will learn how the availability of different feedstocks changes compost recipes. Students will need to apply basic math skills to develop the recipes. They can use iteration or simple algebra.
Advance preparation: Print out Compost Recipes worksheet, Compost Recipes worksheet Key, the “What You Can Compost” table from the EPA website “Composting At Home,” and pages 3 to 5 of “The Art and Science of Composting” and make copies. You can also print out “Getting the Right Mix”, – particularly if your students will have access to the internet.
Estimated time: 15 to 20 minutes
- Introduce the concept of developing compost recipes for different feedstocks. You can explain this, or you can ask the students to read the excerpt from “The Art and Science of Composting” or “Getting the Right Mix” that explains the concept.
- Ask students to develop compost recipes for the examples on the worksheet. They can work individually or in small groups. Explain to students that the recipes will be approximate. Why? First, because both moisture content and C:N (carbon to nitrogen) ratios will vary within the materials used. Second, because composting organisms can tolerate a range of moisture and C:N ratios.
- (Optional) Ask students to discuss their recipes with the class.
Activity 3: Compost Happens
Purpose: Students will gain hands-on experience with composting. Students will learn about organic waste streams at the school.
- Read the instructions in one or more of the websites listed below.
- Decide what type of composting you will do with the class. Vermi-composting is popular for classroom use because it can be done inside and at any time of year. However, vermi-composting is biologically a very different process than the bacteria-driven thermophilic composting, which is the more standard method of farm-scale composting. Cornell University offers instructions for a variety of indoor and outdoor composting systems suitable for schools including Composting in Schools.
- Collect needed materials (will vary depending on system(s) selected).
Estimated time: 2 hours to establish the compost system and at least 6 weeks of operation (10 to 20 minutes maintenance & observation per week).
A number of websites provide instructions for vermi-composting and bottle biology decomposition systems:
The Worm Guide (California Integrated Waste Management Board) is a clear, comprehensive guide written for teachers. It contains instructions for setting up and maintaining vermi-composting, suggested activities, case studies, and an excellent resources list.
Composting in Schools is a website by Cornell University with instructions and lesson plans for a variety of composting systems.
Bottle Biology is a website by the University of Wisconsin with detailed, clear instructions on how to build self-contained units for biology experiments out of empty soda bottles. The Decomposition Column can be used for composting experiments.
Composting with Redworms (Washington State University) offers instructions on how to set up a worm bin.
Worm Digest is a website devoted to worms. It contains a number of articles on vermicomposting, including “Young Person’s Guide to Vermicomposting.”
Activity 4: Economic Threshold Calculation
Purpose: Students will learn about economic thresholds in IPM.
Estimated time: 15 minutes to one hour, depending on how much prior understanding of IPM students have.
- Introduce the activity by showing students the relevant sections of the IPM Powerpoint presentation. If students do not have any background on IPM, it will take around 15 minutes to go through slides 1 to 17 or 19. If the class is already familiar with basic IPM concepts you can just show slides 15 to 17 or introduce the activity using your own words without the Powerpoint slides.
- Have students complete the worksheet individually or in groups.
- Discuss answer with the class.
Activity 5: Apple IPM Video and Discussion
Purpose: Students will learn about how IPM is used in some Wisconsin apple orchards.
Advance preparation: Get video and equipment needed to show it.
Estimated time: 20 minutes
Show the apple video (11 minutes).
Ask the students to listen for specific pollution reduction techniques discussed in the video.
Ask the class to discuss the pollution reduction techniques covered in the video:
- Scouting for pests
- Use of economic thresholds to make sure use of pesticides is economically beneficial
- Monitoring temperature, humidity, and rainfall to figure out when to scout and when to apply pesticides if necessary
What are traps used for? Usually they are used as a tool to help with scouting. In a few cases they can be used to physically control insect numbers by catching them.
Ask the class to discuss the benefits of IPM in apple production
- Good for the environment and wildlife
- Better for the health of farmers and farmworkers
- Better for the health of consumers
- Can save money for the farmer
Have your students trap and identify insect pests themselves, if you have access to apple or plum trees. This activity will only work during September and October or April and May.
Purpose: Students will get a hands-on understanding of the challenges of monitoring for pest populations and will practice insect identification
Advance Preparation: Determine which pest, if any, to monitor for, given the time of year and weather (see Apple Pest Trapping Guidelines and check with your local horticulture extension agent). Purchase appropriate traps. Print out insect identification information from the Field Guide for Identification of Pest Insects, Diseases, and Beneficial Organisms in Minnesota Apple Orchards.
Estimated Time: highly variable, depending on location where traps will be set. 30 minutes to 1 hour to assemble and set trap(s); 10 to 30 minutes to count and identify insects in trap, depending on how much is caught.
Activity 6: Tasting Diversity
Purpose: Part 1: Students will consider genetic diversity of a crop and advantages and disadvantages for the farmer of growing diverse varieties. Part 2: Students will explore the link between cultural diversity and species and genetic diversity in agro-ecosystems. Each of these parts can be done as a stand-alone activity.
Advance preparation: Part 1: Choose a fruit or vegetable to sample and buy enough of each variety for the class to taste. Get preparation and serving materials needed for the item to be sampled (a knife and cutting board, paper plates or napkins, etc.). Wash food items, unless you can make the washing part of the class. Print out and copy Tasting Diversity Worksheet.
Part 2: Bring in copies of seed catalogs or print out vegetable lists from a CSA to serve as prompts for the students. Check the Smithsonian Seeds of Change website for advance preparation needed for those activities.
Estimated time: Part 1: 20 minutes; Part 2: 10 to 30 minutes
- Have students taste all the varieties and take notes on their worksheets.
- As a class discuss some or all of the following questions:
- Are there any varieties they have not tasted before?
- Are there any varieties they have not heard of before?
- If yes, why? (For example, the variety is not available in regular supermarkets.)
- Why would someone want to buy a different variety than the one most commonly available? (flavor, appearance, other reasons?)
- Why would a farmer want to grow many or unusual varieties?
- Why would a farmer not want to grow some of these varieties? (lower or less consistent yields, more difficult to grow, more difficult to harvest and handle, shorter shelf life, less resistant to some diseases, not handled by conventional food system, etc.)
Different cultures with different culinary traditions prefer different species and different varieties of the same species. Throughout US history, immigrants have brought new crops and varieties to grow. For example, in recent years Asian vegetables such as bok choi, Napa cabbage, mizuna, Osaka mustard, cilantro, daikon radish and bitter melon have become more common in Midwestern produce markets and farms. And the popularity of Mexican cooking has inspired an increase in pepper varieties grown in the Midwest (check a seed catalog to view pepper varieties Seed Savers Exchange, Jung Quality Seeds, or Seeds of Change. How many pepper varieties does the Wisconsin seed company Jung’s offer today? How many do you think Jung’s offered 20 years ago? Have students ask a grandparent how the produce selection in the supermarket has changed )
- Ask your students to think of links between cultural diversity and plant diversity in agro-ecosystems. If they have trouble coming up with examples, you can prompt them by one of the following:
- Asking if they associate certain vegetables or varieties with “ethnic” cooking, such as Mexican (chili peppers), Italian (fennel, Roma tomatoes) Chinese (bean sprouts, bok choi, snow peas) etc. Figure out which of the plants are grown locally (e.g., chilis are grown commercially in Wisconsin and Iowa, but avocados are not).
- Handing out copies of seed catalogs and asking students to identify items associated with specific cultures. Some seed catalogs contain information on where certain varieties come from or what types of cooking they are used in.
- Displaying a list of items grown at a CSA (see Harmony Valley Farm’s Vegetable Program) and asking if they know what culture’s cooking those items are used in.
- Explore the links between cultural diversity and agroecosystem diversity further with the “Menu 1492” and “Cultural Borrowings” activities suggested at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History Seeds of Change website.
- Ask students if their family prefers a specific variety of a crop for certain recipes. Examples: rice varieties for Asian recipes, corn varieties for tortillas, pepper varieties for salsa.Hands-on version: experiment with a salsa recipe by using different pepper varieties.
- Extra credit: If your town has a farmers’ market with vendors from diverse cultures, suggest that students visit the market and look at the offerings at different stalls. They can also
- Purchase examples of unusual items and bring them back to show the class
- Interview vendors about why they decided to grow and sell certain items, if language is not a barrier
- Take photographs of the offerings at different stalls to share with the class. Important: get permission from the vendor and from any people who are in the photos. Do not take any photos without getting permission first.