Soil Around Us

Today we encountered colder temperatures and more rainy weather, but Tollgate campers proved to be hardy!

Campers arrived this morning and found a beautiful display of rocks and minerals spread out on their group’s tables. We learned a lot about the rocks around us by closely observing their properties. Sorting the samples based on these properties was more challenging than we expected. Some groups decided to sort by color. Others grouped their rocks by size. One group noticed that some of our samples allow light to pass through them while others do not. Everyone had very good reasons to explain why they sorted their rocks and minerals a certain way. Ask your camper to describe their favorite rock.

Did you know that soil has parents? Parent material that is. Campers learned that soil is an important natural resource on our farm…and we never call it dirt! We looked at how water, wind, chemicals, and the activity of people and animals wear away at rock to make soil. Sometimes we speed up the process in a rock tumbler. It mimics the activity of rocks bashing against one another in a river, but on a much faster timeline. Using homemade play dough, we subjected igneous and sedimentary “rocks’ to extreme “pressure” and “heat” to form our very own metamorphic rocks. We even watched as crystals grew right before our very eyes, mimicking molten – melted – rock rising up through the earth’s crust and them cooling until it reaches a solid state, often resulting in crystals.

Some groups collected samples of soil that will demonstrate the percentage of sand, silt, clay, and organic material in our garden. We call this experiment a Soil Shake. We filled a quart jar until it was half full with soil, added water to the top and gave it a good shake to separate all the particles. After everything has a chance to settle, we will be able to determine if our garden has an ideal soil mixture for growing our veggies.

Our hike was focused on the issue of erosion. We search the farm for signs of soil being carried away and then made seed balls to help combat the problem. At lunch the Red Peppers demonstrated how erosion affects our water system. They explained that the three bottles represented different surfaces you might find at Tollgate. The first one was bare ground. The second one was covered in non-living organic material. The third one was planted with grass. The same amount of water was poured into each bottle. The water ran down the surface and emptied into a collection bucket. It was quickly apparent to everyone watching that the grass effectively kept the soil in place. The first two collection containers were full of sediment while the grass was significantly cleaner. Ask your camper how the grass held the soil in its place.

Some of the pepper groups worked on catapults that will launch our seed balls. They had a lot of fun making modifications to the basic design and testing them to see just how far they could launch cotton balls.

Morning animal chores brought new experiences and learning. Campers learned that there is value in our animal manure. This black gold breaks down (with a little help from decomposers) and makes amazing fertilizer for our fields and gardens. Ask your camper about the animal species they were responsible for today.

The Green Peppers hustled to pick up the worms that found their way into our walking path! They released the worms in our garden, safe and sound to do good work for our soil and plants.

The Green Peppers continued their boat building mission today, putting yesterdays plan into action. They tested their boats on Tollgate’s very own white rapids.

Garden kitchen was once again delicious and healthy! We made “Sand, Silt, and Clay Parfaits” to go with our soil theme and an herbed ricotta dip for spring veggies. Below you will find the recipes for both and our famous Tollgate Play Dough.

Sand, Silt, Clay Parfait

Mix together:

  • 2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 ounce unsalted butter (melted)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes. Add:

  • 6 1/2 ounces of chopped, assorted, dried fruit

Layer in clear cup with plain yogurt and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Ricotta Cheese


  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt

Combine the milk and cream in a heavy bottomed sauce pan set over medium high heat. Gently cook, stirring occasionally until the milk becomes frothy and an instant read thermometer reaches 185 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove saucepan from the heat. Stir in vinegar and salt. Stir for 30 seconds. The milk should immediately begin to separate into curds and whey. Add the salt and continue stirring for 30 seconds longer.

Cover and leave to sit for 2 hours. Using a slotted spoon, gently transfer the curds from the pan to a large colander lined with a cheese cloth to finish draining.

Herbed Ricotta Cheese Dip


  • 1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tablespoon chives, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. The flavor will enhance if left to chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Use as a dip for your favorite spring veggies. We used:

  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • radishes
  • sugar snap peas

Famous Tollgate Play Dough

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups boiling water

In a large bowl mix all dry ingredients. In a separate bowl combine all wet ingredients, including choice of food coloring. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. When the dough has cooled enough to handle, turn out onto a floured surface and kneed until smooth. Store in an air tight container.



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