“Seeds We Eat”

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“Seeds We Eat”

The amazing seed — it’s edible, and delectable! In this garden, students will study, harvest, compare and dissect corn seeds sunflower seeds and many varieties of beans. How are these seeds the same? How are they different? What patterns and shapes can we discover in an ear of corn, the head of a sunflower, or the spiral of a bean plant? This unit is chock full of literature, poems, songs and art. Seeds will be the basis for surveys, sorting, classifying and counting. We will also make popcorn — lots of popcorn! — using both air poppers and a wire basket over a mobile fire pit. Other cooking experiences will include roasting sunflower seeds and heirloom bean chili.

Spring Lessons

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?

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 “Seeds We Eat.”

What are some seeds we eat? What do you think we might plant for this garden? In this garden we will plant sunflowers, beans and corn. Let’s look at our seeds. You will find a recipe or recipes in the box, and a list of plants and seed packets — along with any special instructions for planting them, and a blank garden map. Talk about the recipes. Bring in the starts that have been waiting in the hall or back of the classroom. Examine the seeds and starts — discuss and compare. How are they alike? How are they different? How many different kinds of beans are there in the world?

Before planting, be sure that your garden box 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 Huckabuck Family and How They Raised Popcorn in Nebraska and Quit and Came Back” by Carl Sandburg. Look at a map of the US and find the states and cities that are mentioned in the story. Discuss the story. Did this story take place recently? How can you tell? Do you think it is true or not? Make and taste some popcorn in an air popper. 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 (Kindergartners),

We have a surprise for you. We have planted a garden for you to harvest. All the plants growing in this garden have seeds that are for eating. How many different kinds of seeds can you find? Here’s a map of where we planted the vegetables. Do you like popcorn? Happy Harvesting!

(The Kindergartners From Last Year)

Materials for spring lesson

  • A mystery envelope that contains a paper on which is written “Seeds We Eat”
  • Blank maps of garden marked with grid
  • The Huckabuck Family and How They Raised Popcorn in Nebraska and Quit and Came Back by Carl Sandburg
  • A US map to trace the travels of the Huckabuck family
  • Recipe for popcorn, toasted sunflower seeds, heirloom chili
  • An air-popper, popcorn, bowl, paper cups, salt
  • Sample letter and materials for letter writing (wax, envelopes, etc.)
  • Seeds and starts (starts stored separately) to plant:
    • Sunseed sunflower (or Snack Mix)
    • Assortment of different heirloom beans (recommended from Red Truck Farm)
    • Calico popcorn (great variety of kernel colors) 4 to 6 plants planted in a square 12 inches apart for wind pollination.


The Popcorn Book by Tomie Depaola
Popcorn! by Elaine Landau
The Huckabuck Family and How They Raised Popcorn in Nebraska and Quit and Came Back by Carl Sandburg
Camille and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt
A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston
Seeds by Ken Robbins
Life Cycle of A Bean by Angela Royston
The Gas We Pass by Shinta Cho

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? If the class is a kindergarten, begin the discussion by asking about gardening in a more general way, not specific to the Atkinson gardens. Ask the kindergartens if they have even planted anything in a garden. Have they ever harvested anything from a garden? 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. Bring a clipboard and paper out to the garden and with the help of the students, list the plants that you see there. 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.)

Return to the Edible Seeds garden. Look carefully at the corn (shuck one), the sunflowers, and the beans (open a pod.) What patterns do you notice? Look for spirals and rows.

Bring out paper and drawing implements of your choice (crayons, paint, markers or colored pencils.) Ask the students to sit quietly by their garden box and draw 1) a picture that depicts the entire box (all the plants) and 2) choose one plant to draw in more detail and 3) one enlarged detail of that plant, such as a leaf or the head of a sunflower. Use a different piece of paper for each of these drawings. If possible, use high quality paper, cut in half/thirds/quarters, as necessary to make the activity affordable.

What is a seed? Read a book about seeds. There are several books recommended here on this site, but there are many others. Ask the students to bring to class several seeds from home. Make a class seed collection. Discuss the various seeds and find ways of categorizing them by attributes into groups. How many of the seeds are edible? What does edible mean? Physically sort the edible seeds into a group then glue them to a poster. Label the seeds. Make a second poster to non-edible seeds.

Bean Lessons

Bring in an assortment of beans. Sort them, compare them. Make bean mosaics. See the Jelly Belly Factory mosaics for inspiration. Here’s an easy mosaic to do in the classroom. http://www.teachartathome.com/beanmosaic.htm

Why do beans make people gassy? Read The Gas We Pass. Discuss. Sing the bean song.

Bean Songs

Bean Song I

Beans, beans, the miracle fruit.
The more you eat, the more you toot.
The more you toot, the better you feel.
So let’s have beans with every meal!

Bean Song II

My dog Lima likes to roam
One day Lima left his home
He came back all nice and clean
Where oh where had Lima been
Lima been
Lima been
Where oh where has Lima bean

Repeat subbing different bean names for the dog.

Make bean bags. Use fabric scraps. Here’s a link to give some direction. http://familycrafts.about.com/od/easysewin1/ss/beanbags.htm

  • A parent could bring in a sewing machine, hot glue guns, fabric glue, or the kids could stitch. After the kids make the bean bags, use them to create some math games. The bags could be tossed into baskets that have number values to create equations. Or tossed onto a very large laminated hundreds chart.

Here’s a bean math game:

  • Gather up a large number of beans to work with. Any type of bean will do.
  • Decide what number you are going to work on with your class. It can be any number.
  • As a whole class, count out the number of beans you plan to use. Then, take that number of beans and hide them in your hands, behind your back.
  • Divide the beans between your hands while still keeping them behind your back. As an example, if the children have counted out nine beans, put five beans in one hand and four in the other, or any other combination that adds up to nine.
  • Take your hands out from behind your back, and show the children how many beans are in one hand only. The children then figure out how many beans are in your other hand to total the sum that you started with.
  • Keep playing with the same number of beans by using different combinations to get the same number. There are many combinations to get to the same sum.

Popcorn lessons

  • Listen to the song “Popcorn” by Hot Butter. Discuss. Why do you think this song is called “Popcorn?” Consider having the kids choreograph a dance to go with the song that depicts the making of popcorn.
  • Read the popcorn books suggested on this website.
  • String a popcorn garlands for birds. If you leave popcorn out for a few days, it will get stale and hold together better when strung. String popcorn with thread and needle. You can also add berries, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, between the popcorn. Hang the popcorn garlands on tree branches outside for the birds.
  • Make popcorn over a stove, with an air-popper, and over a mobile firepit. Discuss how the methods make the popcorn vary in taste, convenience, health.
  • Take a cup of popcorn and weigh it on a scale. Record the weight. Pop the popcorn. Weigh a cup of popped kernels. How much does it weigh? Is there a difference?

Sunflower lessons

The Sunflowers
by Mary Oliver

Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines

creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky

sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy

but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young –
the important weather,

the wandering crows.
Don’t be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,

which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds –
each one a new life!

hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come

and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.

Harvesting Instructions and Recipes

Sunflower Harvest Instructions:

You can begin to harvest sunflower seeds as soon as the center flowers turn brown or the backs of the heads turn yellow, to prevent birds from stealing them. Cut them, leaving a piece of stem to hang them in a well ventilated place to finish drying. Cover them with netting, paper sacks with holes or cheesecloth to catch falling seeds as they dry. They can be allowed to dry on the stalk, but you’ll have to cover them this way to keep the birds from eating them all before you can harvest them for yourself!

Roasting Instructions:

When the seeds can be rubbed easily from the head, it’s dry and the seeds are ready to be roasted for eating. First, remove them from the heads and pick out any pieces of stem or other debris.

Mix a quarter of a cup or so of plain salt to a quart of water, and soak the seeds in this overnight.

Next day: Spread them on cookie sheets and roast in a very slow oven (150 to 200 degrees) until completely dry. Stir them once or twice during the drying time; this will take three or four hours. Put them in Ziploc bags with air removed for kids to take home.

Popcorn harvest instructions:

Allow the kernels to dry in the field as long as possible. When harvested, the kernels should be hard and the husks completely dry. Definitely remove them before first frost. After harvest, remove the husks and place the ears in mesh bags and hang in a warm, dry, well-ventilated location. The ideal moisture content for popcorn is between 13 and 14%. Once or twice a week, shell a few kernels and try popping them. When the test kernels are popping well and tasting good, shell and store the rest of the kernels. If the popcorn is “chewy” or the popped kernels are jagged, it is too wet and needs to continue drying. Drying time is about 1 -1 ½ months. After curing take kernels off corn. Simply grasp the ear firmly in both hands and twist until the kernels drop out. Once started, the kernels drop off with very little pressure. You will get scratched, wearing gloves is recommended. Pop homegrown popcorn just as you would store-bought.

Bean harvest instructions:

Dry beans are harvested when they rattle in the pod. Pull up the plant by hand and hang from the roots. Traditionally, bean plants are lashed to a 5- to 7-foot high pole. You can harvest up to 5 acres of beans by hand but more than that will need specialized harvesting equipment for your tractor.

Dry beans require threshing – getting the beans out of the pods. For small amounts, you can do this by hand by squeezing the pods open. A traditional method is to hold the plant by the roots and bang it against the inside of a barrel. For more than about a half-acre of beans, you might want to invest in threshing equipment.

After threshing, beans must be cleaned and sorted. For small amounts, do this by hand, using a screen and a hair dryer to blow off debris (or an air compressor if you have it). Split beans can be fed to farm animals. For large bean harvests, you can buy a seed cleaner.

If beans are soft (bite one and see), continue drying them until they feel firm to the bite before moving them to storage.

Freezing beans before storage kills any potential insects such as the pesky bean weevil.

Storage and Preservation:

Store dry beans in a dry, cool, airtight container away from sunlight. Beans are best used in the season after they have been harvested, but they will last for several seasons if needed.

Heirloom bean chili:
(double altered from Tim Stark)

Smoky-Sweet-Citrus-Spicy-Cool Appaloosa Beans for a Hot Day
8 ounces dry Heirloom beans (or substitute a dry black bean)
6 cups water
A whole lot of garlic – say, 7 or 8 cloves, peeled and minced
1 medium white onion, peeled and diced
1 jalapeno pepper (seeded wear gloves)
3 dried chipotle
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 14 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes,
diced?1 teaspoon anise seeds, toasted (see below)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, plus ½ teaspoon dried (or 1 teaspoon dried if fresh is unavailable)
1 sprig of fresh rosemary (if available – if not, skip instead of using dried)
2 bay leaves
1 ½ teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 dash of liquid smoke
Cucumber slices to cool heat

Adult to do ahead of time:
Soak dry beans before cooking, place them in a pot and cover them with water and let them sit overnight. On a stove top, heat a small non-stick skillet. Place the anise seeds in the skillet and cook, stirring or shaking occasionally, until they are toasted. They will turn a shade darker and will begin to crackle when toasted. Remove from heat.

In class with kids:
Place soaked beans in crock pot, along with garlic, onion, jalapeno, bell pepper, chipotle, and fire roasted tomatoes. Add water. Add anise seed, coriander, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, cocoa powder, sugar and liquid smoke to crock pot. Stir ingredients well, then turn crock pot on high. Let heat up, about 20 minutes, then turn heat to medium. Allow to cook till beans are soft and water is absorbed, about six hours. About halfway through, stir well then replace lid tightly.

Before serving, stir stew again. Remove bay leaves and rosemary sprig. Garnish with cucumber slices.

Fall shopping guide:

  • Mesh bags and butter for popcorn
  • Salt for sunflowers

Chili shopping:

  • More beans if you didn’t harvest 8 oz.
  • Garlic head
  • One onion
  • One jalapeno
  • Dried chipotle
  • One bell pepper (red or yellow is better)
  • One can fire roasted tomatoes (Muir glen makes it)
  • Anise seed
  • Coriander
  • (Thyme and rosemary should be in school herb bed)
  • Bay leaves
  • Unsweetened Cocoa
  • Sugar
  • Liquid smoke
  • Cucumbers

Also need:

  • Popcorn popper
  • Large cookie sheets for roasting (should have in school kitchen)

For Chili:

  • Stockpot
  • Measuring utensils
  • Knives and cutting boards
  • Crockpot
  • Spoons and paper cups for eating with