“Roots Garden”

“Roots Garden”

Children’s literature is full of references to roots; “The Carrot Seed,” and “The Gigantic Turnip,” to mention a few. In this garden, your students will harvest, study and eat their own giant (and delicious) roots. They will also write and perform their own root tales. They will learn about the global significance of root crops. What roots are planted around the world? How are they prepared? We will fry some of the roots we harvest into chips – potato and turnip chips. Delicious! Students will participate in phototropism experiments, learn how to plant a carrot without using a seed, play a “potato probability” game, and weigh a whole lot of potatoes . In addition, we will talk about why patience is required to farm root crops and the excitement of waiting to see a root – it is mysterious for food to grow unseen! What is a root cellar? What are different ways to store garden produce? We’ll find out through interviews and research.

Spring Lessons

Introduction to Spring Planting:

Have you ever planted something in the gardens at Atkinson? What did you plant? We are going to plant a garden soon. We will plant seeds. We will also plant starts. What is a start? Why might we plant a start instead of a seed? What do you think will be the needs of these seeds/starts over the summer (sun, water, weeding)? What do you think will be the needs of these seeds over the summer (sun, water, weeding)? How will this happen (discuss irrigation system, volunteers)? What are some of the problems that our plants might encounter (pests, drought) over the summer?

Introduction to the Legacy Idea and the Theme:

The garden we are going to plant will have a theme. In the fall, you will have moved on to another class, so you won’t harvest these plants. This garden will provide a gift to your teacher’s incoming fall class. It will be a surprise for them. Likely, someone will plant a surprise garden for your class to harvest in the fall, too. The garden we plant will have the theme of … what will it be? Dramatically open the mystery envelope, pull out the slip of paper and read the theme out loud (or have a student or the teacher read it.) The theme of our garden is “The Roots Garden.”

Discussion of the Roots Theme:

What are some roots we eat? What do you think we might plant for this garden? In this garden we will plant carrots, turnips and potatoes. Are all potatoes the same? Are all carrots the same? Let’s look at our seeds and potato starts. Discuss and compare. Roots are mysterious things. Generally, we can’t see them grow. Why not? What do roots do for a plant? Why are they important? Are they all edible?


Before planting, be sure that your garden b ox has a grid in place. Half the class should go out to the garden and plant half the seeds and starts. They should record on a map of the garden where they have planted the various seeds and starts. Talk about the grid in your box how it is useful. Take some time to look at grids in other boxes. Are they all the same? Have each child make a map of your box to take home, while the parent volunteer or teacher makes a large map to include in the letter/packet to next year’s class. While half the class is in the garden, the other half of the class should listen to the story “The Carrot Seed.” Discuss the story. Why did it take so long for the carrot to come up? Carrots really are very slow to germinate. Gardeners sometimes have to be very patient. Can you think of other things require patience? Have you ever believed something would happen and people doubted you? Examine some carrots (with tops) and identify the parts. Cut the carrots into disks and look carefully at the disks. What do you notice? What is a taproot? It’s worth checking out “taproot” and “carrot” on Wikipedia. Have the students taste the carrots and describe the flavor. The two class halves should switch roles and repeat the activities.

Once all the students have been to the garden, they should write a letter about the garden/theme to the incoming class.

Here’s a sample letter:

Dear (next year’s class),

We have a surprise for you. We have planted a garden for you to harvest. It’s a Roots Garden. Do you like to eat roots? Can you figure out what is under the soil? Here’s a map of where we planted the vegetables. Happy Harvesting!

(Last Year’s Class)

Materials for Spring Lesson

  • Seeds and starts (starts stored separately) to plant:
    • Carrots: Red samurai, Dragon (or purple haze), Thumbelina (or Paris market), White satin, Yellowstone, and Bolero (or Mokum). Possibly Baby Babette and King Midas
    • Turnips: Golden ball
    • Potatoes: Cranberry red, All Blue, and Yellow Finn – to be planted in the the potato bins, not in the class garden bed
  • Blank maps of garden marked with grid
  • Copy of story “The Carrot Seed” by Ruth Krauss
  • Recipe for carrot salad and potato and turnip chips
  • Sample letter and materials for letter writing (wax, envelopes, etc.)

Fall Lessons

Begin the year’s garden lesson by asking the class if they planted a garden last spring. What did they plant? What have they eaten from the garden in the past? This fall, we are going to harvest a garden that another class planted for us last spring. If there are letters available from the previous year’s class, now is the time to read them. What kind of garden has been planted for you? Visit the garden. Make your garden visits in small groups. Don’t pick anything yet, but do ask the students to point out and discuss what is growing. If you have a garden map left from the class who planted the garden, use it to identify the plants. The map might be necessary to figure out what is growing in your box, because your garden is full of roots. Walk around the gardens and look around at the other garden boxes. What other plants are growing in the garden? What plants do you recognize? What is new to you? Be sure not to harvest from any boxes (yet.)

What is a root? What does a root do for a plant? Read a non-fiction book about roots (several recommended below.) Bring in a variety of roots for discussion. How do people use roots? Where in the world do they grow? Consider having the kids do a research project and make a poster about different roots.

These are some great links about roots:

We are going to harvest our roots today. We will wash our vegetables then we can cook with them, or store them for later. Roots store very well. If we set our potatoes on this desk along with a head of lettuce, how would the lettuce and a potato look a week from now? Why do roots store well? Roots will also last nicely in the ground, longer than vegetables that grow above the ground. How is “storability” of vegetables useful to people? Recipes are below. Have a carrot tasting on the day you harvest the carrots. Potatoes and turnips can be stored for later, but don’t wait too long.

What’s a root cellar? Interview some older relatives. Did any of them have root cellars when they were growing up? How do you think life was different before refrigeration? Here‘s a link with information about root cellars.

Read “Frog and Toad Together” and “The Carrot Seed.” Why does it take patience to grow plants? Why does it take more patience to grow root crops? How is growing roots different than growing other plant parts, such as flowers or fruits? We can’t see roots growing, so it seems to take longer for them to mature. We are going to see how long it takes for a carrot seed to grow. We are also going to grow a potato and do an experiment to study how the potato responds to light. We will also try to grow a carrot without planting a seed.

How long does it take for a carrot seed to germinate?

Germinate some carrot seeds by placing them in a wet paper towel, inside a plastic sandwich bag. Put the bag on a sunny window sill and the seeds should germinate quickly.

Examine the germinated seeds with a loupe.

In a separate experience, cut carrots (with greens) so that about one inch of carrot remains attached to the carrot top.

Place the carrot (root) in a bowl which has about a half inch of water in it. Place the carrots tops where they can get some sunlight and watch them grow.

Please note that seldom does a classroom seed become a fully grown edible vegetable without being in a planter or a garden.

Here‘s a nice phototropism experiment.

Read The Enormous Turnip, The Giant Carrot, A Little Story About a Big Turnip and Tops and Bottoms – all stories about roots. Compare and contrast these books. How are the tales the same? How are they different? Which book do you prefer? Why? We are going to write and perform our own root tales. Optional: film the students performing the tales, or have them perform their plays for the kindergartners.

Potato Probability

Using a bag of potatoes of varying colors (you should be able to find red, white and yellow easily, maybe purple as well) students can learn about probability.

The definition of “probability” is the chance of something happening.

Students may be more familiar with words such as “certain,” “impossible,” and “possible.” Ask questions and have students determine whether or not they think these things might occur using “certain, impossible, and possible.”

Introduce three more phrases used in probability to help make the chance of something happening more clear—“more likely, equally likely, and less likely.” Students may come up with their own examples for these three phrases.

“Outcomes” are the different possibilities that may occur for a situation. Students need to determine the outcomes for each activity.

Choose Your Marbles (game directions) – use 4 different kinds of potatoes instead of marbles.

Weighing Spuds

Using a scale and a pile of potatoes of varying sizes. Ask the students to put the potatoes in a row from lightest to heaviest. Weigh (and record) the potatoes to confirm the estimates. Have the students predict how much the potatoes weigh all together. Look up how many potatoes Americans consume each year. How many potatoes do people in other countries eat annually?

Recipes and Harvesting


Pull up carrots together, and reflect on different sizes, shapes and colors. Clean well, but don’t peel, reflect on different tastes and densities. The purple ones have orange centers. Have a carrot tasting.

Potato and Turnip chips:

Turn your deep fryer on high. Fill it up about halfway. Add 1 cup of canola oil.

Thin slice your potatoes and turnips. (With mandoline, by parent!) When your mixture starts to boil, add the sliced potatoes.

Stir them about every 3 minutes to stop burning.

Take out when just about cooked and let the oil come back to very hot again. Add the chips to finish off and crisp up. This last step is essential for crunchy chips.

When they are cooked (depending on how you like them), carefully take them out and put the chips on a plate with a paper towel.

Add some flavor! You can experiment with different spices and salts to make them even better.

Fall shopping list:

  • Salt
  • Huge jug of vegetable oil for deep fryer
  • mandoline

Also have:

  • Knives and cutting boards
  • Deep fryer

Books for Fall:

The Enormous Turnip by Alexei Tolstoy
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
The Giant Carrot by Jan Peck
A Little Story About a Big Turnip by Tatiana Zunshine
Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel
What Do Roots Do? by Kathleen V. Kudlinski
Buried Treasure: Roots & Tubers by Meredith Sayles Hughes