Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Garden Project, or We Actually Grew Some Totmatoes!

Since moving to Africa a little over two years ago, we've mostly just focused in on trying to get acquainted with our surroundings in our nature study time…and we still do a lot of that.   But given that we are now pretty familiar with the things we are likely to see in our neighborhood, the fact that I have come to realize that nature study really IS science – textbook not needed, and that the kids are all getting a little bit older I felt like it was time to bring a little more 'focus' into our nature study time.  We started with plants, and decided to do a little gardening project, using the Handbook of Nature Study as our inspiration.  The section on "How to Begin Plant Study" (p. 453-459 in the edition I have) has some wonderful ideas.  One thing that I particularly noted was this: "The object of planting any seed should be to rear a plant which shall fulfill its whole duty and produce other seed."   I decided that rather than germinating bean seeds in baggies, as many elementary science texts suggest, we should actually try our hand at gardening and see if we couldn't watch a plant go through its entire life cycle.  I'm no gardener, so it was with a bit of fear and trepidation that we began…but I figured even if we failed, it was worth a shot.  (There's something to be learned from failure too, right?!)
Observing the seeds before planting.
Planting seedlings in various types of soil.
Seedlings ready for observation

We began with some squash and tomato seeds that we harvested from some local market produce (there are heaps of instructions online about how to do this).   We planted them in small cups to begin with so we could observe the seedling growth more carefully in the early stages.   We took advantage of this seedling time as well to conduct a few of the 'experiments' in the Handbook – planting in various materials (garden soil, sand, sawdust), watering too much or too little, watching how the leaves turned towards the sunny window, planting the seeds near the sides of a clear cup so we could observe the roots growing down into the soil.   All of these things helped us draw conclusions for ourselves about the needs of plants.
The seed case was still stuck on to the first little leaves that pushed out.  I don't think I'd ever observed that before.
Seedling in wood shavings

Close up of the roots
The pumpkin seeds never sprouted, sadly, but we got several good strong tomato seedlings which we later transplanted into a sunny spot in our yard.  It was great fun to watch them grow bigger and bigger, eventually flower, and the first tiny green tomatoes appear.
Our little tomato patch

First tomato flowers

First couple tomatoes!

I was a little bit worried that bugs or tomato blight might strike…but they never did.  We harvested our first ripe red tomato last week.  (Sweet Elizabeth made the point of picking and bringing it to me when it had just BARELY turned the first little bit of pink…but it ripened up nicely in the window.)  What fun to observe and eat our very own homegrown tomato, and see the full life cycle of a plant come to pass! 
Our first ripe tomato alongside a green one that got knocked down before ripening.
Ready to eat!
We recorded all of our observations along the way in a special 'garden journal', separate from our regular nature journals.

James' (6.5) entry.  I ask him to write what he saw, where he saw it, and the date on his nature journal entries.  Love how very literally he takes me sometimes....

Mama's Garden Journal

Michelle's (9) Garden Journal

 This was a really simple project…even for a black-thumb like me!...and well worth the effort in terms of the value of what we learned and observed *for ourselves*, which of course is one of the most valuable parts of nature study-as-science.  I was also encouraged to have success in gardening…perhaps if we are ever settled enough in the States where we don't have access to cheap local produce, we will give a real garden a go.

Sharing this peek into our garden journals with this month's Keeping Company link-up.  Click Here for more Keeping Inspiration


  1. Really enjoyed reading about your process! What a fantastically successful project :-)

  2. I enjoyed reading your post! I am just getting started with doing nature studies, so this is very helpful. We are planning on planting some cantaloupe seeds this week (I, too, am new at gardening), and I had not even thought about journaling through the process. I like your Mom Nature Journal, too. Blessings!

  3. I too have a black thumb, so I find this very inspiring! We do a cherry tomato plant each year and even though we never get a great harvest, the kids love it all the same. But we have never tried harvesting our own seeds, which I think they would provide so much more satisfying. Putting it on my to-do list!

  4. I love your enthusiasm, my tomato seeds often have the seed cases stuck to them after they sprout as well. Well done, your journal notes look so inviting.