Category Archives: Outside Project

Learn about the natural world doing an investigation or activity

OS6 Burying Seeds

Directions on seed packets usually tell how much dirt to put over the seeds. Some gardeners say to only plant a seed as deep as it is tall. Is this important? Let’s find out.


Question: Does it matter how deep a seed is buried?

materials needed


10 pumpkin seeds

5-16 oz. planting cups

potting soil

metric ruler

plastic wrap



Step 1: Open your science journal. Write the date and Investigation 6. Copy Table 1 into your journal.

Step 2: Number the cups 1 to 5. Mark each cup with a little line at 4cm, 6.5cm, 9cm, 11.5cm and 14cm from the bottom.

Step 3: Put 4cm potting soil in each cup. Be sure this is pushed down firmly and still 4cm deep. If you hold the cup up with a light behind it, you can see the dirt is level with your first mark.

Step 4: Lay two seeds on the dirt in Cup 1

Step 5: Put 2.5cm potting soil in each cup to the 6.5cm mark, pushing it down firmly

planting pumpkin seeds

Each cup must be labeled. Each layer of soil is added and one cup is planted until all are done.

Step 6: Lay two seeds on the dirt in Cup 2

Step 7: Put 2.5cm potting soil in each cup to the 9cm mark, pushing it down firmly

Step 8: Lay 2 seeds on the dirt in Cup 3

Step 9: Put 2.5cm potting soil in each cup to the 11.5cm mark, pushing it down firmly

Step 10: Lay 2 seeds on the dirt in Cup 4

Step 11: Put 2.5cm potting soil in each cup to the 14cm mark, pushing it down firmly

Step 12: Lay two seeds on the dirt in Cup 5

Step 13: Add water to all the cups so the soil is damp but not soggy. Cover the tops with plastic wrap. Set the cups in a warm place.

pumpkin sprout

A hook and cotyledons is pushing up out of the soil of the cup.

Step 14: Check the cups every day for pumpkin sprouts. Take the plastic wrap off when the sprouts appear.

Step 15: Count seven days after the first seeds germinate or when the seeds planted the deepest appear, carefully dump each cup out and look at the seeds.




seeds on top of soil

The radicle must push down into the soil to start the pumpkin root. Exposed on the surface it can dry out before it gets into the moist soil.

Describe the sprouts when you take them out of the cups:


seedlings in cups

The seeds are trying to grow in the various cups labeled 1 to 5.


What is the best depth to plant the pumpkin seeds? Why do you pick this depth?


Can seeds be buried too deep to grow? Why do you think this?

pumpkin seedlings

Taken out of the cups the seedlings are arranged from top of the soil on the left to the deepest on the right.


Does the size of the seeds matter? Why do you think so?


OS5 What Seeds Need to Grow

Different kinds of seeds end up on or in the ground in different ways. Pumpkin seeds are inside a pumpkin. Lots of animals eat pumpkins and the seeds. The seeds may just fall on the ground and be forgotten by the animal. Or the pumpkin may not get eaten but just rot and the seeds fall to the ground. However a seed gets to the ground, once there it wants to grow. How does a seed know it’s time to grow? Let’s find out about some things that might affect when and how a seed grows.


Question: Do light, water and temperature matter to a pumpkin seed and sprout?


3-Styrofoam cups filled with dry potting soil (Let the soil sit out in a tray to dry, stirring it every day until it is very dry.)

3-Styrofoam cups filled with potting soil

24-Pumpkin seeds


Plastic wrap


Metric ruler

A dark closet or box, a refrigerator [ask first], a warm, light counter


project set up

Each cup must be labeled so it is put in the right place. When the cups are compared later, the labels tell which cup is which.


Step 1: Open your Science Journal, write “Investigation 5” and the date. Draw Tables 1 and 2 in your journal.

Step 2: Label the cups DW, DY, LW, LY, CW, CY [D dark, L light, C cold; Y dry, W wet].

Step 3: Add water to all the cups with a W label so the dirt is damp but not muddy.

Step 4: Push two seeds 2cm deep in each cup, cover them and firm the dirt. Remember the best way from Investigation 4.

Step 5: Lay two seeds on top of the dirt in each cup.

Step 6: Cover the cups with plastic wrap.

Step 7: Put the two cups with a D label in a warm, dark closet or under a box.

Step 8: Put the two cups with an L label in a warm light place.

Step 9: Put the two cups with a C label in the refrigerator.

Step 10: Check the seeds everyday until the first seeds start to germinate. Take the plastic wrap off.

Step 11: Check and measure the sprouts everyday for seven days. Measure only the length of the stem. Try to do the ones in the closet quickly and use a flashlight with the door closed so they stay in the dark as much as possible. If the cups are under a box, wait until the room is dark and use a flashlight. Don’t shine the flashlight on the sprouts.

Note: Some of the seeds may not sprout. Start counting the seven days when the first seeds germinate.


Write down how long each sprout is in the table and what it looks like in your notes.


pumpkin sprouts

Only a couple of cups had pumpkin seeds germinate. Can you tell which one was in the light? Why are the tips of the cotyledons dark green when the rest is yellow green?


Are the seeds pushed into the dirt in the light or in the dark? Why do you think so?

Is this the same as putting the seeds in a dark closet? Why do you think so?

Why are some seeds pushed into the dirt and others left on top?

Does it matter if the seeds are in the light or dark to germinate? Why do you think so?

Does it matter if the sprouts are in the light or dark to grow? Why do you think so?

Does it matter if the seeds are wet or dry to germinate? Why do you think so?

Does it matter if the seeds are wet or dry to grow? Why do you think so?

Do you think how wet a seed is would matter? Can you think of a way to test your opinion? When you have, try it and find out if it matters how wet a seed is.

Does it matter if the seeds are warm or cold to germinate? Why do you think so?

Does it matter if the seeds are warm or cold to grow? Why do you think so?

Do you think these results would be true for all seeds? Why do you think so?

Which two cups do you think these are? Why do you think so?

Why do you think the tips of some cotyledons in the cup on the right are green when the rest is yellow?

[The dark green seedlings were in the light. The yellow green seedlings were under a box. The tips of the cotyledons poked out under the edge of the box.]

OS4 Which Way Should a Seed Point

In nature a seed might fall on the ground or get buried in mud or by an animal. When a gardener plants a seed, that person can point the seed any direction. Let’s find out if there is a best way to plant a pumpkin seed.


Question: Does it matter which end of a seed points down?

supplies for the Investigation


6 Pumpkin seeds

Small clear glass or jar with straight sides

Paper towel





Step 1: Open your Science Journal, write “Investigation 4” and the date.

Step 2: Cut a strip of cardboard 1.5cm shorter than the glass or the jar shoulder and 2.5cm longer than the circumference of the glass or jar.

Step 3: Roll up the cardboard strip and slip it into the glass or jar to make sure it fits. When you let it go, the cardboard should unroll against the glass. You may have to push it out a little. Take the cardboard out again.

Step 4: Fold the paper towel so it fits around the outside of the cardboard ring.

Step 5: Roll the cardboard and paper towel up and put them into the glass or jar so the paper towel touches the glass. It must be very tight. You may need to fasten the cardboard ring with a paperclip to keep it tight.

pumpkin seeds in jar

The cardboard holds the pumpkin seeds firmly against the glass. The paper towels will pull water up to the seeds. Each seed points a different direction.

Step 6: Carefully slide the pumpkin seeds about half way down between the paper towel and glass so two point in each different direction, up, down and sideways. This can take patience and maybe a thin knife to push the seeds around. The seeds must be at least 3cm from the top and 3cm from the bottom.

Step 7: Pour 2cm water into the glass and set it aside. The water will soak up into the paper towel. Make sure about 1.5 – 2cm of water is left in the jar. You may have to add some water to do this. Cover the glass with plastic wrap or put the lid loosely on the jar and set it aside.

Step 8: Check the seeds everyday until they germinate and start to grow. Draw them in your Journal.

Step 9: After the radicle comes out, watch for the cotyledons. Draw them in your Journal.



Seed 1: Which direction does it point?

How many days until it germinates?

What does the root do?

What does the cotyledon do?


Seed 2: Which direction does it point?

How many days until it germinates?

What does the root do?

What does the cotyledon do?


up and down pointing seeds germinate

Radicles start growing down as soon as a pumpkin seed germinates.

Seed 3: Which direction does it point?

How many days until it germinates?

What does the root do?

What does the cotyledon do?


Seed 4: Which direction does it point?


How many days until it germinates?

What does the root do?

What does the cotyledon do?


Seed 5: Which direction does it point?

How many days until it germinates?

What does the root do?

What does the cotyledon do?


Seed 6: Which direction does it point?

How many days until it germinates?

What does the root do?

What does the cotyledon do?



What happens to the radicle [baby root] when it starts to grow?


Why is it important for the radicle to do this?


What do you think causes the radicle to do this?


germinating pumpkin seed

A pumpkin sprout comes out of the little flat space at one end of a seed.

What happens to the sprout when it starts to grow?


Why is it important for the sprout to do this?


What do you think causes the sprout to do this?


up and down seed radicles

A radicle must grow around to go down when a pumpkin seed points up. A radicle grows straight down when the seed point down.

Which is the best way to plant a pumpkin seed?


The Pumpkin Project

OSP1Pt2 Let’s Grow a Pumpkin

Project 1

Part 2

Let’s Grow a Pumpkin!

You know where your pumpkin plants will grow. You know what kind of pumpkin you will grow. You have purchased your seeds. Now let’s plant your pumpkin seeds.

When Do I Plant My Pumpkin Seeds?

Pumpkin plants will die if frost gets on them. So you must wait until after the last frost date for where you live. You can look this up.

If you can protect the plants from frost, you can plant earlier. There are lots of ways to help with a mild frost. Make a plastic tent over the plants. When the plants are very small, you can scatter some straw over them for the night.

Pumpkin plants like the weather warm but not really hot. They will not make pumpkins above 90°. So you must plant them early enough to start making pumpkins before your summer gets too hot. It takes sugar pie and Halloween sized pumpkins about six weeks to start making pumpkins.

Giant pumpkins take a lot longer so many people who grow giant pumpkins start their plants indoors. If you want to do this, think back to your Investigations to know the best way to start your seeds. Use 16oz cups or bigger. Don’t start your seeds more than four weeks before you can transplant them outside. Usually they are transplanted when the first or second true leaves appear. They must be transplanted before the fourth true leaves or the vines won’t grow as well. If you have enough room, you can test this.

You can start the other pumpkins indoors too but you don’t need to.

How Do I Plant My Pumpkin Seeds?

How you plant your pumpkin seeds depends on the kind and where you will plant them. Let’s begin with starting giant pumpkins indoors.

Giant pumpkins do take extra care. A good place to get instructions is at or in the books by Doug Langston.

Starting Your Pumpkin Seeds Indoors

Step 1: It’s important to give pumpkin roots lots of room so use big Styrofoam cups 16oz or bigger. Only one seed will go in each cup so have enough cups for the number of plants you want plus a couple.

Step 2: It’s important to not make the dirt too wet in the cup so you need to make a hole in the bottom for extra water to drip out of. These cups have a little button on the bottom. You can cut this button out and have a good hole.

Step 3: Put a small rock over the hole inside the cup so the dirt won’t fall out. Then fill the cup with potting soil. Firm it down and add water so it is moist but not soggy.

Step 4: Make a hole 2.5cm deep in the soil and put in a seed. Cover the seed up. Set the cup aside in a warm place until it germinates. You can put plastic wrap over the top to keep the soil moist or check it every day and add water when needed.

Step 5: Light is very important for a sprout. If you use a grow light, it must be only 2.5cm over the sprout. If the days are warm, you can set the cup and sprout outside for the day. It can be in light shade outside. Even the shade is brighter than a grow light. The sun may be too bright for an indoor sprout. Be sure to bring it in at night.

Step 6: Transplant your sprout into your garden spot when it has two true leaves. Be sure you transplant it before it has four true leaves as it will have run out of room in the cup by then. If the sprout gets crowded in the cup, the plant will never grow as fast or as big as it should in your garden.

How To Transplant Your Pumpkin Sprout

Step 1: Prepare your planting hills the same way as in the directions for Planting Outside.

Step 2: Water your cup so the dirt is very wet. This makes it easier to get the sprout out of the cup.

Step 3: Make a hole in the top of the hill big enough for the cup to fit in. The sprout should not be planted deeper than it is in the cup.

Step 4: Slide the sprout and dirt out of the cup. Put it into the hole. Fill the hole with dirt and firm it against your sprout.

Step 5: Sprinkle water on the hill so the dirt settles around your sprout.

Growing Your Pumpkin In a Pot

Perhaps you don’t have a garden or other place outside. You can still grow a pumpkin. It must be a miniature pumpkin but there are several to choose from.

Step 1: Choose your pot. Even a miniature pumpkin plant needs room so the pot must be 16 inches or more across the top. Be sure it has a pan under it. You can use a big bag of garden soil in a box. Be sure you line the box with plastic then put the bag of soil in it.

Step 2: Decide where you will put your pot. Your pumpkin plant needs plenty of light so a south facing window or outside is the best. Once all the dirt and your pumpkin plant are in the pot, you won’t want to move it.

Step 3: Position your pot. Place rocks over the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Put three or four inches of gravel on these rocks. This helps water get into and out of your pot.

Step 4: Fill your pot with potting or garden soil. Add water to settle the dirt but don’t make it soggy.

Step 5: Make a small mound in the middle of the pot. Plant three or four seeds in the mound. Water them.

Starting Your Pumpkin Seeds Outdoors

Only giant pumpkin seeds really need to be started indoors. Even they can be planted outdoors. All other kinds of pumpkins can be started outside when spring arrives with warm weather.

Planting Your Pumpkins Outside

Step 1: Dig a hole one shovel length deep (only the metal part, not the handle), two shovel widths wide, and one meter long where you want your pumpkin vines to grow. Put a shovel full or two or three of compost in the hole. Put the dirt back on top of the compost to form a hill. Use the shovel to tamp the dirt down firmly. You need one hill to grow two miniature or sugar pie pumpkins, two hills two meters apart to grow two Halloween pumpkins and two hills three meters apart to grow two giant pumpkins.

Step 2: Make a moat or trench at least ten cm deep around the base of the hill to hold water.

Step 3: If you did not spread manure in the fall, spread composted manure over the garden area. I like it three or four inches deep. Use the tiller or a shovel to mix the manure into the dirt.

Step 4: Push 4 to 6 pumpkin seeds into each hill. Cover the seeds. Water the hill gently so you don’t wash the seeds out but get the dirt wet so the seeds are wet.

Step 5: Watch for your seeds to sprout.

Keeping Records

Write down when you plant your seeds. Write down when your sprouts appear. Every day write down what is happening to your pumpkin plants. How do your plants change as they grow? When do their first true leaves appear? When do your vines appear?


How do the cotyledons change as the pumpkin vines begin to grow? Compare this to what you saw in your Investigations. If this is different, why do you think it is?


The sun is very far away. Compare how sprouts grow in the sun to how they grew in Investigation 7. Is the sun brighter than a grow light?


What happens when the pumpkin roots find the manure? How can you tell? Why do you think this happens?


OS3 How a Pumpkin Seed Germinates

A seed is much smaller and looks a lot different than the plant it came from. The parts of a seed must change for the seed to become a plant. Let’s take a look at some of those changes.


Question: How does a seed change as it germinates [sprouts]?

materials for OS3


2 Pumpkin seeds

Custard cup or other small shallow cup

Paper towel

Plastic wrap

Metric ruler



Step 1: Open your Science Journal, write “Investigation 3” and the date. Draw Table 1 in your journal.

Step 2: Label the outside of the custard cup ‘1’ and ‘2’ on opposite sides.

Step 2: Put a double layer piece of paper towel in the bottom of the custard cup.

Step 3: Add enough water to make the towel wet but not soggy.

Step 4: Measure the length, width and fatness of the 2 seeds in millimeters. You can use the same method you used in Investigations 1 and 2. Write the measurements in for Day 0.

setting the project up

After measuring the length, width and fatness of the pumpkin seeds, put them on the moist paper towel in the custard cup.

Step 5: Put Seed 1 on the side labeled 1 and Seed 2 on the side labeled 2 on the wet paper towel.

Step 6: Cover the top of the custard cup with plastic wrap. You may need to use a rubber band to keep the plastic wrap on.

Step 7: Measure the 2 seeds every day until they start to grow. Be sure the paper towel stays moist.



Table 1:

 table for measurements


Draw the germinating seed:



 final results

These pumpkin seeds germinated quickly in warm weather. The length, width and fatness all changed.

Step 1: Get a piece of graph paper. Label the x-axis (horizontal) 0 to 7 for the days.

Step 2: Label the y-axis (vertical) 0 on up for the millimeters

Step 3: Use different colors for each seed and mark the measurements for each seed for each day. This means each seed has three marks, for height, for width and for fatness.

Step 4: Connect each line of dots for each seed’s measurements



Why does the seed swell up?


Does the seed keep swelling the entire time? Why do you think it does this?


Do the height, width and fatness all change? Why do you think this is true?


Where does the radicle [baby root] come out? Why would it come out here? (Think back to Investigation 2.)


How is the seed edge different where the radicle comes out?


Why do you think the root comes out first?

OS2 Germinating Seeds

Investigation 2

What’s In a Pumpkin Seed?


Although many creatures eat seeds, the number one reason a plant makes seeds is to grow new plants. Each of the three main parts of a seed has a purpose. Let’s look at these parts and see how each accomplishes its purpose.

Note: Part of this investigation is difficult to do. You may want an adult to use the paring knife to avoid cutting yourself.


Question: What are the three parts of a seed?

materials for finding the parts of a seed


3 Pumpkin seeds

Metric ruler

Cup of warm water

Custard cup

Paring knife

Magnifying glass


Step 1: Open your Science Journal, write “Investigation 2” and the date. Draw Table 1 in your journal.

measuring dry seeds

Measuring the dry seeds is important so we will know if soaking makes a difference.

Step 2: Measure the length, width and fatness of Seeds 1, 2,and 3 in millimeters. You can use the same method you used in Investigation 1. Record the measurements in Table 1.

soaking seeds

Soaking the pumpkin seeds makes them softer and easier to take apart.

Step 3: Mark 1, 2 and 3 at different spots on the custard cup. Pour water in it and put the 3 pumpkin seeds in the water by their numbers to soak until the seed feels like it has air under the surface and bends a little [about an hour].

Step 4: Take Seed 1 out of the water and dry it. Mark its length, width and fatness below the first marks.

measuring soaked seeds

After the seeds soak, measuring them again shows if they have changed.

Step 5: Take the seed coat off. You may have to cut the tip off with the paring knife. Try to tear the coating. Describe how it feels on the outside and the inside.

Step 6: Look at the inside of the seed. Is it one piece or two? How does it feel? What color is it? The two pieces are called cotyledons or seed leaves.

Step 7: Use the paring knife to cut the blunt end off the cotyledons. Use the paring knife to carefully pry them apart. What do the insides of the cotyledons look like? What do you see at the sharp end of the cotyledons?

Step 8: It’s very hard to do these steps well so repeat them with the other two seeds.


Measure the beginning and ending length, width and fatness of each seed. Write the measurements in the table.


Table 1:

 table to record measurements

Draw and describe the three parts of the seed: the seed coat, the cotyledons and the plant embryo.

dissected pumpkin seed

Like all seeds, a pumpkin seed has three main parts. Can you spot them?



Subtract the ending measurement from the beginning measurement for the length, width and fatness of each seed.


Did the length, width or fatness of the seeds change? Why do you think this is the case? Why is it important to know if these change?


Do you think three seeds is a big enough sample? Why?


Why did we soak the pumpkin seeds before trying to cut them open? [Try cutting a dry one open.]


labeled seed parts

These are the three parts of a pumpkin seed. The cotyledons contain endosperm a form of starch found in all seeds although all don’t have cotyledons.

What do you think each part of the seed does?


When you buy roasted pumpkin seeds, sometimes the seed coats are removed. Why?


OS1 Seed Sizes


Investigation 1

How Big Is a Pumpkin Seed?

 It’s easy to say all seeds for one kind of plant are the same. They do grow into the same kind of plant. They do look a lot alike. Let’s look at some pumpkin seeds. Are they really all the same?


Question: Are all pumpkin seeds the same size?

supplies for OS 1

Materials [What you need]:

10 Pumpkin seeds

Custard cup

Metric ruler [Scientists use the metric system.]

Piece of paper and a pencil

Science Journal


Procedure [How to do this investigation]:

Step 1: Open your Science Journal, write “Investigation 1” and the date. Then copy Table 1 into your Journal.

Step 2: Write down the kind of pumpkin seeds you are using.

Step 3: Dump ten pumpkin seeds out on a piece of paper.

Step 4: Pick out a pumpkin seed and draw it in your science journal. Describe the pumpkin seed. Is it shiny? Is it smooth? What color is it? Is the edge smooth? Is the edge the same all the way around? What does it smell like?

Step 5: Label a place ‘1’ on the paper. Put a pumpkin seed under this and draw a short line above and below the seed and on each side at the widest place. Put the pumpkin seed in the custard cup.

how to measure seeds

Take one seed and put measuring marks on the paper. Be sure to put the seed in the custard cup when you are finished so each seed is done only once.

Step 6: Repeat Steps 4 and 5 with another pumpkin seed but label this one ‘2’.

Step 7: Keep repeating Step 6 until you have done all 10 pumpkin seeds labeled 1 to 10.

marks to measure seeds

Each pumpkin seed has a mark above it, below it and on each side.

Step 8: Starting with the pumpkin seed 1 marks use the metric ruler to measure how many millimeters long the seed is. Write it down under the marks and label it ‘L’. Then measure how wide pumpkin seed 1 is, write it underneath and label it ‘W’.

Step 9: Do the same for pumpkin seeds 2 to 10.

Step 10: Write the ‘L’ measurements in Table 1 in your Science Journal for each seed.

Step 11: Write the ‘W’ measurements in Table 1 in your Science Journal for each seed.

record of seed sizes

All the measurements are in millimeters. Write each one down for each seed.

Observations [What you see]:

Kind of Pumpkin Seeds:

Draw and describe a pumpkin seed:


Table 1
Seed Length Width


 Analysis [Finding the size of an average seed]:

Step 1: Add up all the lengths and write it in the Table.

Step 2: Add up all the widths and write it in the Table.

finding the average seed size

Find the average size of a pumpkin seed by adding up the column of measurements then dividing by 10, the number of seeds.

Step 3: Divide the total lengths by 10 [the number of seeds]. This is the average length. Write it in the Table.

Step 4: Divide the total widths by 10 and write the average width in the Table.

Important Note about dividing: You only measured the seeds to a whole millimeter so the average length and width can only be a whole millimeter. If your quotient (answer) has a decimal, you should round it to the nearest whole millimeter. Your answer can not be more accurate than your original measurements which were in whole millimeters.

Looking at the Seed Averages another way using a graph:

Step 1: Get a piece of graph paper. Label the x-axis (the one across the bottom) “Seeds” and number the lines 1 to 10 for the seeds.

Step 2: Label the y-axis (the one that goes up) “Size in mm” and number it from 0 (at the corner) up for millimeters

Step 3: Count up the y-axis to the average height of a pumpkin seed. Draw a line across at that average.

Step 4: Put a dot for the height of 1 above the 1, height of 2 above 2, all the way to 10

Step 5: Repeat Steps 4 and 5 for the width of the seeds (Use another color.)


seed size graph

Some seeds are a little bigger, some a little smaller but all are close to the average on the graph.

 Conclusions [Thinking about the investigation]:

Did all the seeds look a lot like the one you drew and described?


Why would all of this kind of pumpkin seeds look a lot alike?


Were all the seeds the same size?


Look at your graph to see how the dots compare to the line. Were most of the seeds close to the average size?


Why do you think most seeds are close to average size?


Why measure ten seeds to get the average size?


Would measuring more or fewer seeds give a better average? How many is enough?


Take 2 more seeds out of the packet and measure them. Are they close to the average size?


Why would scientists use an average size?


Do you think seeds from another pumpkin of the same kind as these seeds would be about the same size as these? Why?


Do you think seeds from a very big or very small kind of pumpkin would be the same average size? Why? Try measuring seeds from other kinds of pumpkins and find out if your hypothesis [idea] is correct.


Was this an accurate way to measure the length and width of the seeds? Explain why you think so. Can you think of a better way? Try your method and compare your results. Does it change your conclusions about seed size?

The Pumpkin Project

OS1 Starting The Pumpkin Project

Why Investigate Pumpkins?

 Plants aren’t interesting. They’re dull. They don’t move. Once you’ve seen a leaf, a stem, a root and a flower, you’ve seen all there is to a plant.

Say that to the hundreds of people worldwide who grow giant pumpkins and they know you’ve never really taken a look at plants. Botanists (scientists who study plants) have studied plants for hundreds of years and are still finding out new things about them. This is your chance to find out a little bit of what all these people find so exciting.

Why pick pumpkins? There are lots of reasons. One is that the big seeds are easy to work with. Another is that pumpkin seeds are easy to find and grow. Still another is the huge number of different kinds of pumpkins.

And pumpkins are important commercial crops. They are eaten by people all over the world. They are grown on every continent except Antarctica.

mini pumpkin

Tiny pumpkins take only a little space to grow and will even grow in a pot. They make nice Halloween decorations.

Pumpkins are fun to grow. They can be used to make art. There are competitions for the largest pumpkins at county and state fairs. Then there are the competitions to grow giant pumpkins in North America, Europe and Australia. A newer competition for throwing pumpkins is starting around the United States.

When should you start investigating pumpkins? Some of the investigations use pumpkin plants. Since these grow best in warm weather, spring and summer may be the best time. But many of the investigations take a week or two to complete because seeds take time to germinate and grow. The best time to start learning about pumpkins and plants is now. Then you will be ready to grow your best pumpkins ever in Project 1.

Project 1

Part 1

Making Plans

 It should be easy to guess what the first big Project is in a book about pumpkins. Project 1 is growing a pumpkin!

Before you race to the store and buy some pumpkin seeds to grow, let’s make plans.

 What Kind of Pumpkin Should You Grow?

 By this time you have noticed there are lots of kinds of pumpkins. Some are very small. Others are extremely large. They come in different colors. Some have warts. Some have strange things on them.

Before you decide on the kind of pumpkin you must decide where your pumpkin will grow. The space needed is listed as square like 10 feet by 10 feet but it can be longer and narrower as 5 feet by 20 feet, just have that much room. The place must get at least half a day of sunlight.


pie pumpkin

Weighing five to seven pounds pie pumpkins are grown for eating. They are usually sweeter than larger pumpkins.

Small pumpkins need only a little space, even a big pot will do. They can grow on a trellis. If you have only a little place for your pumpkin plant, you should grow a little pumpkin.

Sugar pie pumpkins are a little bigger. These seven to ten pound pumpkins are the best kinds for eating. They need a space about ten feet square. They can grow on a trellis but you will have to support the pumpkins. The pumpkins may not get as big as they normally would because they will not get as much food.

Halloween sizes of pumpkins get ten to twenty-five pounds. These pumpkins can be eaten too. They are not as sweet as pie kinds and are stringier. These plants need a place twenty feet square.

Really big pumpkins need lots of room. Giant pumpkin plants need a place at least forty feet square. These plants need special care every day. They need lots of fertilizer and water. But growing one of these really big pumpkins is exciting.


Halloween pumpkin

Stores have lots of these pumpkins in October. This is a Halloween type pumpkin.

What Kind of Pumpkin Will You Grow?

 Once you know how much room your pumpkin plant will have, you can pick a kind to grow. Mini pumpkins come in orange, white and two colors. Pie pumpkins come in colors too but it is hard to tell when a white pumpkin is really ripe. Bigger pumpkins have even more choices. Pick out your favorite pumpkin of that size. That is the one you will grow.

 Getting Ready

 Serious pumpkin growers start the year before. They add manure to the place their pumpkin plants will grow. They kill off the weeds.

We are starting in the spring so we have to hurry to get ready. You need to till or spade up your pumpkin area. Add compost and mix it into the soil.

If the spot is covered with grass or weeds, you need to get rid of them. It takes more work but is better for your pumpkin plants if you mulch or till or pull those pesky weeds and grass. Herbicides do kill weeds but can kill lots of other things too including your pumpkin plants.


giant pumpkin

This giant pumpkin weighed 878.5 pounds! Giant pumpkins are so heavy they flatten in shape.

When Do We Start?

 Even a little frost will kill a pumpkin plant. Small, sugar pie and Halloween pumpkin kinds can be planted in the garden after spring really arrives. Giant pumpkins can be planted then too but many growers start them in the house before then.

While we wait, we’ll find out more about pumpkins.



Outside 7 Tree Keepsake

School has started in my town. Summer still heats up the days but the days are shorter. It is time for the Outside Project to close for the winter.

There were several other things I wish we had time to do. Perhaps we can do them another summer.

For our last Outside Project we can make a keepsake bookmark to remind you of your tree and spot even while you are busy in school. You will need some clear plastic shelf paper and leaves from your tree.


How Big Is a Bookmark?

material needed for project

Why does this matter? If your tree has very big leaves like a sycamore, one leaf may be too big unless you want a very big bookmark. Even my redbud tree has leaves larger than the bookmark I want to make so I found some little leaves just coming out on another redbud tree. You can cut a leaf in half and use half of it. With a sycamore or maple leaf, you can make a design with the different lobes.

Bookmarks do come in many sizes. Think about how big the books you like to read are. You will want your bookmark to fit into this size of book.


leaves on paper piece

Arrange your leaves the way you want them on the piece of paper.

Cut out a piece of paper the size of the bookmark you want to make.

Now make a rim around the bookmark pattern a quarter inch inside the edge of the paper. This rim is needed to seal the edges of your bookmark and will have no leaf or other bits in it. You can cut this rim off like I did or leave it on and remember to put nothing in it.

Gather some leaves from your tree. If the leaves are small, you may want half a dozen. Young leaves are smaller than older leaves.

Lay your leaves out on the piece of paper. Move them around until you like the design.


marked pattern

Draw around your leaves to make a pattern on the piece of paper.

Use a pencil and make a light outline of where the leaves will go.

You may want to use a piece of colored paper behind your leaves. Cut a piece the size of your bookmark and arrange the leaves on it. Make the leaf outlines on this paper.

Perhaps you want to add sparkles. Have any fancy bits ready for when we make the bookmark.

Cut out two pieces of clear shelf paper making each side half an inch bigger than your bookmark pattern.

Under the backing on the shelf paper is a glued surface. Once something is put on this glue, it can’t be moved. Make sure you know how everything is arranged and mark this on the piece of paper.


plastic over pattern

Take the backing off the piece of shelf paper and lay it glue side up over your pattern.

Remove the backing from one piece of shelf paper.

Lay the shelf paper piece with the glue side up over the piece of paper. If you are using a piece of colored paper in the bookmark, lay it on the glue side of the shelf paper leaving the half inch margin around it.

Place your leaves down where you want them using the outlines as a guide. If you are putting the leaves directly on the glue, press them down firmly. You want the entire leaf on the glue without air pockets.

Add any sparkles or other fancy shapes to your bookmark. If these are larger, press them down firmly like you did your leaf.

Make sure you have everything arranged for your bookmark.


leaves on first piece of plastic

Place the leaves on the plastic over your marked pattern and smooth them down.

Remove the backing from the other piece of shelf paper.

Now comes the hardest part. You will attach the glue side of the second piece over the other piece so the two glue sides glue themselves together.

Start with the upper edge with most of the second piece curled over your hand. Press the two edges together firmly.

Little by little press more of the second piece down onto the first piece. Smooth each new layer down firmly trying to keep all the air bubbles pushed out.

Take your time doing this. Hurrying will make the pieces go together too quickly so you can’t press them firmly without moving things in your bookmark.

When the second piece is completely pressed down onto the bookmark, press it down one more time to make sure all of the two pieces are firmly glued together.


putting second clear piece on bookmark

Carefully smooth the second piece of shelf paper over the first so the two glued sides are together holding your leaves in place.

Trim your bookmark.

Be sure you leave a quarter of an inch of clear edge around your bookmark. This holds the bookmark together. It keeps air from getting inside the bookmark and drying out your leaf. Your keepsake bookmark will last a long time.

When the leaves turn colors in the fall, you can make another bookmark with the prettiest leaves from your tree. Make sure the leaves are not dried out when you make the bookmark or they will break up inside the plastic covers.

I have a bookmark I made with a four leaf clover many, many years ago. It is still nice but the leaf is turning brown.

four leaf clover bookmark

This four leaf clover bookmark is over ten years old and still usable.

Just because summer is over doesn’t mean you have to stop visiting your spot. As fall arrives the plants will turn colors. New creatures will visit. You can hear different birds as migrants fly south.

bookmark in book

Pick out a book to read and put your new bookmark to work.

For me the best part of having my spot is a time to sit quietly enjoying hearing the wind ruffle the trees. It’s a time for me to relax. That is true any time of the year even if I need to wear a heavy coat.

Outside 6 How Tall Is Your Tree?

Missouri Trees, the Missouri Department of Conservation guide to trees, gives height ranges for the different trees. The Department has a list of champion trees with their heights. There must be a way to measure how tall a tree is.

A short tree is easy to measure. Use a tape measure held at the bottom and read the inches at the top of the tree.

A tall tree is not so easy. It might be possible to climb the tree carrying a rope or long measuring tape with you. Those top branches might not be sturdy enough to hold you. Maybe, like me, you are not a very good tree climber.

There must be a better way to measure the height of a tree.

In fact, there are two methods.


Method 1 will not work for my tree so I picked out the tall straight tree by a pasture.

Method 1

The first method only works for a tree out in the open so its shadow is easy to see. If your tree is like that, you will need a rod three or four feet tall, a way to pound the rod into the ground and a measuring tape or stick.

My tree is in the middle of lots of other trees so I couldn’t use this method. Instead I chose a tree by a pasture to show how this method works.

Watch your tree’s shadow. When is it long and easy to see? This is the time you to measure your tree.

rod in pasture

The rod was 41.5 inches with a shadow of 34 inches.

Go out early on a sunny day. Pound the rod into the ground so the sun shines on it to make a shadow. Measure how tall the rod is.

When the right time arrives, quickly measure the length of the rod’s shadow. Then measure the length of your tree’s shadow. Write all your measurements down. Change all of them into inches.

tree shadow

The tree’s shadow reached 799 inches into the pasture.

My measurements were 41.5 inches height of the rod, 34 inches length of its shadow and 799 inches the length of the tree’s shadow.

Calculating the height of your tree:

This calculation is simple algebra. Don’t give up if you don’t know any algebra. This is easy to learn.

First you need to know this axiom: What you do on one side of an equation (a math sentence) must be done on the other side so they stay equal.

Stop and think. Write the equation 3 = 3. I hope you agree that three does equal three.

Now, if you multiply one of those threes by two and want the equation to stay true, you must multiply the other side by two as well. This is written as: 3 x 2 = 3 x 2 or 6 = 6.

Second you will do a simple proportion. You know the height of the rod, the length of the rod’s shadow and the length of your tree’s shadow. You want to know your tree’s height so this is not known. Pick a letter to take its place for now.

The math proportion can be said as:

The height of my rod is to the length of its shadow as the height of the tree is to the length of its shadow.

In numbers these are written as two fractions with an equal sign between them. For the tree I used this would be: 41.5”/34” = x / 799”

Now comes the part the axiom tells us about. Multiply both fractions by the length of the tree’s shadow. For me that is 799”. My equation now looks like: (799”)(41.5”/34”) = (799”)x/799”.

Since a number over itself is another way to write one, the two lengths of the tree shadow become one and the letter is alone.

Do the calculation with the numbers. For the tree I used the answer is 975” or 81 ft tall.

Method 2

This method needs a special tool that is easy to make. You need a protractor, a straw, a piece of string, a paperclip and some tape. A large protractor is easier to read the angles on.

Fold the string over the flat part of the protractor in the middle. Tape the string to the protractor. Tie the paperclip on the other end of the string. Tip the protractor to make sure the string moves easily over the angles on the protractor.

homemade clinometer

You can make a clinometer with a protractor, straw, string and paper clips.

Tape the straw across the flat part of the protractor. Don’t tape over the string, just in front of and behind the string.

This tool is called a clinometer. It’s like the sextant used by surveyors and sailors. It is used to measure angles.

Take your clinometer, a yard stick and your journal out to your spot. A friend is helpful doing the measuring.

Standing a little ways away from your tree, look through the straw to the top of your tree. Put a finger on the string to keep it on the protractor angle when you put the clinometer down. What is the angle?


The clinometer shows an angle of 55 degrees to the top of my tree.

This method works the best if the angle is between 40 and 70. If your angle is less than 40, try to move a little closer to your tree. If your angle is more than 70, try to move farther away.

Once you have your angle, write it down.

You held the clinometer at your eye level. How far is that above the ground? If you have a friend helping you, have your friend stand by your tree and put a hand on the trunk. Use the clinometer to find out when the angle is 90 degrees. Your friend may have to raise or lower the hand to get it right.

Measure how high the hand is. Write this down.

Now measure how far you stood from your tree to get your angle.

The angle to my tree was 55 degrees. The clinometer height was 61 inches. The distance to my tree was 172.5 inches.

my tree

My tree is surrounded by other trees so i must use Method 2.

Calculating the Height of Your Tree

This method uses a little trigonometry. It isn’t hard.

First make sure all your measurements are in inches.

You will need to find the tangent of your angle. Perhaps you have a calculator that will tell you. Otherwise you must look in a trigonometry table. I used a table.

Multiply the tangent of the angle times the distance to your tree. Then add the height to your friend’s hand.

The tangent of 55 degrees is 0.7002. I multiplied 172.5” x 0.7002 to get 120.8 inches. I added the 61 inches for a total of 181.8 inches or 15 ft.

How tall is your tree?

Outside 5 Your Tree

Up to now we’ve looked at and listened to things around your tree. All the tree does is provide a back rest while we sit and look around. What about the tree?

What Does Your Tree Look Like?

As you approach your tree, look at it. Is it straight? Does it bend? Why would a tree bend?

Is the trunk the same from the ground to the top? Does your tree have two trunks?

Does your tree have branches? Do two branches go off at the same time? Do the branches take turns? How do the branches give your tree shape?

Do you think the branches on a curved tree will be different than if that tree was straight? Why?

Do you think the branches on a side of a tree near another tree will be the same as on a tree all by itself? Why?

my tree

My tree grows on the edge of a bluff rock about 15 feet above the creek. It curves away from the edge to keep much of its weight over solid ground. It twists around to keep away from other trees and get more sunlight.

My Tree

My tree is very crooked. The trunk twists and turns. The tree isn’t very tall or very old so it grew up under lots of taller trees. This made the tree twist to find places with the most sunlight.

Besides being crooked, the trunk is much fatter at the bottom than near the top of the tree. It gets thinner faster every time a branch goes off.

front of trunk base

The trunk at the base of my tree swells out. It’s hard to see why from this side.

My tree is growing on top of a small rock bluff with very little dirt under it. The base of my tree is big where it goes over the rock.

one side of trunk base

My tree grows on the edge of a bluff. I grabbed the trunk, held out the camera and took this picture. Look how my tree roots flow down over and around the rocks.

The branches take turns. One goes off one way. A little ways higher another branch goes off the other way. One branch seems to have become the new trunk near the top of the tree. The bigger branches point away from the bend in the trunk.

If my tree’s trunk were straight, I think the branches would be more even. The tree wants as much light as it can find. If the trunk is straight, all the branches would get sunlight.

If a tree is growing near another tree, there is less light on the side pointing to the other tree. The branches would be smaller on that side as there is less light. Branches on the other sides would be bigger.

There is no real shape to my tree. Instead each branch has a cloud of leaves around it. I think this is because the trunk is so crooked.

What Kind of Tree Is Your Tree?

How do you find out?

The place to start is looking at your tree’s leaves and bark. If your tree is very tall, maybe you can find a leaf on the ground.

Looking at Leaves

Leaves can be simple or compound. A simple leaf has a petiole with a leaf blade.

A compound leaf has a long center petiole. There are several little leaves called leaflets attached to the main petiole. In my area black walnut trees and various kinds of locust and hickory trees have compound leaves.

leaves on branch

Leaves line small branches. The leaves are simple as each leaf blade has a petiole and bud to itself. The alternate or take turns on the branches.

Look up at a small branch with leaves on it. This will help you see if your leaf is simple or compound. You can also see if the leaves are on the branch in pairs or take turns.

top side of leaf

My tree has heart shaped leaves with two inch petioles. They are a blue tinted green. Slight grooves show where the leaf veins are. Something has been eating some of this leaf.

Is your tree leaf simple or compound? My tree has simple leaves.

Look at both sides of the leaf. Are they the same?

leaf underside

It’s easy to see the leaf veins on the underside of a leaf. It is lighter green.

There are thick parts running in lines. These are leaf veins. Some carry water to the rest of the leaf. Others carry sugars to the trunk and roots.

What pattern do the veins make?

One vein pattern is a lot like a tree with a main vein going the length of the leaf and lots of branches going off. Another pattern has several big veins going off in different directions from the petiole.

My tree leaf has the veins going in many directions from the petiole.

Looking at Bark

Trees have bark on their trunks. It is old dead cells. As bark these cells help protect the living cells underneath from being injured, drying out or getting too hot or cold.

tree bark

Deep grooves separate the bark plateaus on my tree’s trunk. The bottom of the grooves looks red. The tops look gray and have mosses and lichens growing on them.

Bark has patterns too. Do all tree barks have the same patterns? Look at several different kinds of trees to find out.

top side of bark piece

The top side of the bark piece I pulled off is grayish with green moss and light green lichens growing on it.

If you want, you can put a piece of paper against your tree and rub the flat side of a crayon over the paper. Taping the paper in place helps to keep it from moving. This helps show you the bark pattern.

My tree has bark tongues overlapping. The top of the pieces is reddish gray. Lichens grow on them. The bottom is reddish brown.

underside of bark piece

The underside of the bark piece I pulled off is very different from the top. It’s reddish brown and smooth.

What Kind of Tree?

Now it’s time to look in a tree guide. I looked in Missouri Trees from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Most tree guides have pictures or drawings of tree barks and leaves. Trees have flowers too but July is not a good time to see the flowers.

Compare your tree’s bark and leaves to the pictures until you find a match.

My tree leaf has a heart shape. Two Missouri trees have heart shaped leaves: mulberry and redbud.

My tree’s bark doesn’t match a mulberry. My tree is a redbud.

What kind of tree is yours?

Outside 4 What Grows There?

Insects and other creatures move. That catches the eye. Plants are just there.

If plants didn’t grow in your spot, there would be no reason for the creatures or insects to stop by.

goats on hill

Penny and her two buck kids came by wondering what I was doing.


What plants grow in your spot? Limit this to about three feet out from your tree.

July is not a good time to identify plants as few of them are in bloom. It’s still easy to see how many kinds are around as different kinds of plants look different.

Use a camera or draw the different plants in your journal. Important things to note are:

  • 1) the shapes of leaves [Do the leaves have teeth around them? Are the leaves hairy? Do the leaves have lobes or sections like a maple leaf?];
  • 2) how the leaves are arranged [Are they all from one place near the ground? Are they in pairs or by themselves on a stalk?] and
  • 3) are there any flowers?

The Plants in My Spot

Deptford Pink

Hot pink makes these easy flowers to spot. Their small size makes them easy to miss. This is a Deptford Pink.

I took my camera out and took pictures of the different plants. Some of the plants I recognized. I know I’ve seen others but when they had flowers. Only one plant was blooming, a Deptford Pink. Two had empty seed heads on them so I know one was a horsemint and the other an Ohio Horsemint. A fern grew on the rocks. There were three kinds of grasses and at least fifteen other plants. Since there were so many, I put in this gallery of pictures.


Outside 3 Who Lives There?

Does someone live in your chosen spot? When it comes to people, that is an easy question to answer. People generally have a house or apartment or a tent or trailer, something to live in.

If you are talking about various animals, it may be hard to tell. Some animals dig burrows. But not all holes are burrows. Some are places where tree roots have rotted away. Perhaps the hole is a burrow but no one lives there anymore.

Insects are even harder as many have no real home. Often insects have an area to call home but may stay in a different place every night or day depending on when they are awake.

hill above my spot

The ground was still damp after a rain but the sun was shining on the hill above my spot.

What to Take:

Since many of your spot residents are probably insects, use only a little bug spray to keep them off of you but not chase them away.

Have a notebook to write down and sketch what you find.

I like to use a camera.

What to Do:

Walk quietly to your spot in case any animals are there.

Sit down and get comfortable.

Look and listen to what is happening in and around your spot.

Write down what you see and hear.

What I Saw and Heard

I settled into my spot to see who might come by. It was cool with a gentle breeze as rain fell last night. Sunlight came through the trees on the hill.

My ears told me about some possible residents. The birds were calling. I’m sure some visit my tree but I see no nests.


There are three kinds of cicadas on my Ozark hill although some only appear every few years, 13 and 17 years. This is the 13 year cicada. The one I heard this year is an annual cicada which is bigger and all green but too far up in the trees to get a picture.

The cicadas are buzzing. These insects are far up in the oak trees all around my spot. Baby cicadas live in the ground sucking sap from tree roots. Some may live under my tree but I would not see them.

possible leaf or frog hopper

I’m not certain what this insect is. At first I thought it was a beetle but its wings cross its back making it a true bug probably a leaf hopper or a frog hopper.

A big bullfrog was calling when I first got to my spot. There is a big pond like area in the creek below my spot. The bullfrog sounded like he was nearby but I didn’t see him.

water strider

I could see water striders on the creek below my spot. As I left my spot I walked around to the creek to see them striding across the water. Each foot makes a round depression in the water surface making it look like the strider is skating across the water.

Today I could hear the creek running over the rocky bed. Looking down I saw some small bluegill fish and minnows. Water striders followed the fish on their patrol around the pond area.

small grasshopper

Immature grasshoppers hop but have no wings to fly. They have short antennae.

None of these live in my spot.


Like flies there are lots of kinds of ants. These are bigger black ants searching for food.

Around where I was sitting the plants looked green and moist from the rain. A small grasshopper was sitting on a leaf. Ants ran by looking for anything they would consider food. A small cricket ran over a piece of bark then hid under some old fallen leaves.

small cricket

Crickets and grasshoppers are similar. This is definitely a cricket, an immature field cricket. Its body is flat and oval. It has long antennae. It prefers crawling to leaping and flying.

A fly rested a minute on a leaf. Other insects flew by. Some sounded like flies. One was a beetle, maybe a firefly as it had hard wings sticking out with its body hanging down underneath.

small fly

There are so many kinds of flies. This one is small with lots of hairs or bristles.

The grasshopper moved to another leaf and began eating. It didn’t eat the edge of the leaf but cut a hole in the middle.

grasshopper eating leaf

The little grasshopper decided to ignore me and get a meal. Notice where its hole in the leaf is.

It was lunch time according to my stomach so I left the grasshopper to enjoy its meal while I went to get my own.

Outside 2 Listening


Now that we have our spots picked out, it’s time to learn something about them. This week’s challenge is one that sounds easy. You will be listening.

A little bug repellent doesn’t hurt. I skipped it and had a couple of persistent pests.

Try to stay in your spot for fifteen minutes. A watch or a timer is handy. Do let someone know where you will be if you are off in the woods.

Take your nature journal or a notebook with you.

Go out to your spot. Turn off your phone. No listening to music.

looking out along the creek

Getting ready for this project on listening, I found a flat spot in front of my tree, sat down with my back against the tree and looked along the edge of the cliff over the creek.

Sit down and get comfortable in the shade. I sat on the ground with my back against my tree.

Close your eyes and listen for fifteen minutes. What do you hear?

I heard the wind. It would start behind me making a rushing sound up in the trees. The air around me was still.

The rushing sound rolled through the trees over my head. Wind swirled around me. I enjoyed it as the day was very warm.

grass blowing in wind

The wind gusts started in the tree tops but soon blew the grass over too.

When one wind gust blew by, I could hear another one starting. Each time the rushing sound came up through the trees until it went overhead. Then the breeze would blow over the ground.

A couple of vehicles went by on the road across the pasture. One was a truck because it was so loud. I could hear an empty trailer bouncing behind it. The other one wasn’t as loud and might have been a car.

goats in shade

Across the creek my goats were in the shade keeping cool. When they saw me, they got up to graze. The wind blew ripples into the water in the creek.

The goats were across the creek from my spot. I could hear them snorting now and then. They rustled dry leaves as they walked up the creek then came back.

A bird started singing in a nearby tree. Another answered it from farther away. The one farther away sang off and on the entire time I was listening.

A different bird squawked at me. It was an alarm call. I moved and it flew off.

Then a fly came by. It buzzed by my left ear. It moved to the right ear. I waved a hand at it. It buzzed behind me. I waved a hand at it again and it flew off.

More troublesome was a small native bee often called a sweat bee. These land on you to eat the minerals in your sweat. This one was all black. Its pollen carriers on its back legs were full.

The problem with these sweat bees is that they have a short temper. If they get brushed or feel trapped, they sting. I usually get stung. I blew it off the back of my hand.

For the rest of the fifteen minutes, this bee kept landing on my hand or arm. I would feel it land, open my eyes and blow it off.

I am surprised I didn’t hear more insects. Perhaps this was because I didn’t go out until mid afternoon on a hot summer day. And the wind was blowing in gusts the entire time.

looking at the trees on the hill

Some wind gusts blew with a low roar up through the trees over the hill and never touched the ground.

Between wind gusts everything was quiet. Not even the creek seemed to make any noise. I think I heard some fish on the surface. There was a rippling sound in the water then a plop. Perhaps the fish were catching insects.

This week my mind didn’t wander so much. I didn’t try to go to sleep with my eyes closed in the warm air. But then I did keep opening my eyes to chase that bee.

How did you do? What did you hear?


The Challenge

Summer is vacation time. Summer is time to be outside. This Outside Project is for being outside. It is a challenge for you to set aside other activities and look around you for a time each week.

There is one essential thing needed to do this Outside Project: a spot. This is a place with a tree for shade, room to sit on the ground or a stool. It can be in your backyard, in a park or even a place wherever you are on vacation.

tree over creek

Perched on a big rock overhanging a creek, my spot isn’t very big.

I found my spot on the side of a hill over a creek. It has a tree I can sit under and lean against.

Behind me as i sit there is a drop off to the creek. There is a wide place like a pool there. I can see the stony creek bed.

Ozark creek

Looking down I can see the creek. It’s shallow and shaded by trees on the banks.

Around me are some rock outcrops. There are ferns and other plants growing on and under these rocks.

In front of me I can look up the hill. Trees are scattered on the hillside. The ground is gravelly but lots of plants grow there.

Ozark hillside

Looking up the hill I can see another rock ledge and scattered trees.

What is the challenge? Turning off the cell or smartphone. Not texting. Not talking to a friend you bring with you.

rock and plants

A large rock sticks up a short way in front of my tree. It has lots of fissures where plants grow.

Sit down and look around you. Listen to the sounds around you. Don’t think this is much of a challenge?

Picking out my spot, I tried to sit down and relax for a few minutes. My mind kept thinking of doing things and going somewhere else. Focusing on this lovely spot was a challenge.


Lots of plants grow in front of my tree.

I didn’t do very well.

Are you up to the challenge? Find your spot and sit down for a few minutes.

Next week we will seriously tackle this challenge. You may want a timer.

August Ozark Hills

Snake Skin

August 27, 2013

I rarely go out at night to walk around, especially over the summer. This isn’t because the weather isn’t nice or the calling owls aren’t interesting or the night blooming flowers aren’t lovely.

It’s because of the snakes.

This little piece of the Ozarks had the nickname Copperhead Gulch when we moved here. The copperheads still live here. Even with a flashlight they are hard to see.

Four to six foot black snakes come out after dark. I know they are around because I see them from time to time, usually eating eggs in the hen house. How they have room for eggs considering the mouse population under the barn floor is beyond me. Maybe eggs are dessert.OZH 8 4 1

I do find seeing snakes interesting. Water snakes are at the creek. Ringnecks are under boards or other items left over from various projects when clean up starts. Garter snakes zip away in the garden from time to time.

The road is another place to spot snakes. One day a Midland Brown Snake was crossing as I went out to milk. Another day a Rough Green was sunning at the edge of the road. A Speckled King was peeking out another morning.

So I know many snakes call the place home too.

I found another proof – a snake skin.

Our skin stretches as we grow to accommodate our larger size.

OZH 8 4 2Snakes are covered with scales. Scales do not grow or stretch. When a snake grows too large for the present scale covering, it must discard the old one and replace it with a new larger set of scales.

Since a snake has no hands or arms to remove the old skin, it must find another aid. This black rat snake found a couple of giant ragweeds that had regrown after being chopped.

When I found the skin, half of it was in a little ball with the tail sticking out across the grass. The snake had caught the mouth part on the ragweeds then slithered through as the skin bunched up pulling free of the new scales. Finally some of it stuck and got carried through but it too was left behind.

I carefully pulled the skin bundle loose. The skin is an easy four feet long. It is inside out. It shows the outline of every scale.OZH 8 4 3

The guidebook for Amphibians and Reptiles (by Tom Johnson, Missouri Department of Conservation) says black snakes have double scales below the vent. Looking over the snake skin, I can see this. Forget picking up a wild four foot black snake to look!

Definitely snakes live here too. Over the summer they go roaming at night.

It is now dark when I come in from evening milking. Maybe I will put fresh batteries in my flashlight.


August 20, 2013

Beware all you hay fever sufferers: the ragweed is in bloom.

Two kinds grow along the roads and anyplace else they can around here. Both are now in bloom.

The common ragweed is a lacy looking plant. Its leaves have many deep lobes leaving thin fingers of leaf. The plants get about five feet tall in a good location.

Giant ragweed is different. It has a thick central stalk that can get two inches in diameter. It is tough and strong. The leaves have three lobes of wide leaf sections. The plant can reach eight feet in a good location.OZH 8 3 1

Both plants put up numerous columns lined with pollen bearing pockets. Since ragweed is wind pollinated these are big pockets. The pollen is small and light.

Bump into a ragweed in bloom and clouds of yellow pollen burst out. The yellow cloud hangs in the air waiting. It is waiting for a breeze, even a slight one to come by and waft it over to another ragweed plant.

Unfortunately that cloud hanging there waiting also snares the nose of anyone walking by.

Some plants just beg for war. Ragweed is one.

One line of defense is to pull these ragweed plants up. I do in my garden and around the yard. This only works when the soil is moist and the plants are small.

OZH 8 3 2The second line of defense is to chop the plants down. Ragweed is stubborn. It sends up new stalks from the stub of the old one. These things will bloom when only six inches high!

These are just stop gap measures. Ragweed is prolific. There are so many plants it is impossible to get to all of them. The pollen blows long distances.

Ragweed is winning the war.

Tissue sales will rise. Allergy medicine sales will rise. Sneezing, runny noses, itchy eyes will proliferate from now until frost finally puts an end to the reign of the ragweed.

Jelly Mushrooms

August 13, 2013

After over nine inches of rain in the last week, everything is soggy. The creek flooded in August, something we don’t remember in twenty years here. That makes it a great year for jelly mushrooms.

Until moving to the Ozarks, I was unaware jelly mushrooms existed. A mushroom was a round flat cap smooth on top and gilled underneath sitting on a stalk.OZH 8 2 1

Those caps come in many variations and colors. Some are smooth. Some have patches on skin on them. Some look like frilly shingled layers. Some are so translucent the gills underneath show through the cap.

There are flat caps, cupped caps, thick caps, thin caps. One cap reminds me of a Mexican sombrero.

Jelly mushrooms are totally different.

These odd mushrooms do come in a variety of colors. But the colors are translucent like Jell-O contained in a tough membrane.

Rain brings out the jelly mushrooms. Like Jell-O, these mushrooms are mostly water and dry out quickly.

The common brown one is often called an ear mushroom as it often has an ear shape. It pokes out of old stumps or chunks of wood usually oak.

Another is white. It looks like a shelf mushroom run amok. The curtains vary from almost clear to opaque white.

A chunk of oak log left over by the sawmill has bright yellow jelly drapes sticking out. These are much smaller than the other two. Some bits are round with smooth edges. Other pieces have deep lobes looking like thick fringe sticking up.

OZH 8 2 2Blobs of jelly mushrooms can stick out anywhere on old wood. One pushed out of the end of a fallen branch. Others are on the smooth surfaces of oak lumber. They can be on other woods but oak is the most common here.

Most jelly mushrooms are small, just an inch or two tall. A few form bigger masses.

The brown ear mushroom is supposed to be edible. One use is in Chinese hot and sour soup. It may have medicinal use.

I’m not too sure I want to try ear mushroom yet. It looks so very strange. That translucent brown Jell-O encased in a tough membrane with a white sheen in the sun just doesn’t look appetizing to me.

At least no other mushroom looks even remotely like it. That alone is reason to stop and take a look when it puffs out of a piece of wood after one of the frequent rains this year.


August 6, 2013

Late summer is aster time. Lots of flowers are blooming but members of the aster family put on the most noticeable display.

Sunflowers are asters.

Thistles are asters.OZH 8 1 2

Hold it. Asters look like daisies. Thistles definitely don’t look like daisies.

Not all members of the aster family look like daisies. What all of them have are masses of tube flowers.

Look carefully at a thistle. That pink mop is a mass of tube flowers with long stamens hanging out.

Thistles are a popular hangout for lots of creatures. The blooms are popular with insects. Each tube flower is a tiny well full of nectar.

The native tall thistle gets eaten by goats and probably deer about the time it starts to bloom. More than once I’ve watched for a thistle to bloom only to find the top gone just before the flowers opened.

Thistles are a great place to take butterfly pictures. Pipevine and other swallowtails flutter around them. The butterfly stands on the flowers slurping up nectar. Its bottom wings are still. The top ones flutter as though making more stomach room for more nectar to fit in.

OZH 8 1 s1Skippers are another group of butterflies that like thistles. They get so busy drinking nectar I can sneak up close for photographs.

Along with the nectar lovers, predators move in. Flower spiders blend into the tube flowers with their front legs spread wide to grasp an unlucky fly or bee. Ambush bugs hang onto the sides of the tube flower mass waiting for dinner to arrive.

Once the seeds form, birds like goldfinches move in. Loaded with fat and protein thistle seeds are some of the best bird seeds around. Goldfinches and their babies get fat on them.

There are invasive non native thistles growing in the area. These are nuisances at best and major pasture invaders at worst. Native thistles belong here and are valuable members of the Ozarks.

Now is the time to admire these members of the aster family.