Hooray for Forest Day! We made so many interesting discoveries in the forest today. It’s amazing what you can find when you slow down and carefully observe the world around you.
We signed in today by writing the first letter of our name on tree cookies. Farm Sprouts voted for pollinators today, either butterflies or honeybees. We’ll choose a book about butterflies when we next see each other to support this week’s popular vote. Last week they voted for horses, but they were beyond the view of our binoculars, in a far-off pasture or the barn, therefore we hope to catch a chance to visit with them another time. Farm Sprouts decorated binoculars to prepare for the hike when they arrived, visited with the chicks, and explored the circumference and rings of our larger tree cookies using tape measures and magnifying glasses.
We gathered to make predictions of what we might see in the forest, which included raccoons, foxes, bees, and a moose! All ideas were accepted and noted to explore first-hand for ourselves which living creatures call a Michigan forest home. We greatly enjoyed reading the story Tree by Britta Teckentrup. Many of the animals we mentioned appeared in the story and we identified others we hadn’t thought of as well to add to the list of creatures we might see during our hike.
For snack this week, we prepared popcorn. We thought about how popcorn kernels are actually the seeds of the corn plant. It is amazing to watch the steam form and the kernels pop into that white, fluffy snack we all enjoy. This popcorn was grown and harvested at Tollgate Farm during the last growing season. Many thanks to Tollgate’s Community Supported Agriculture (C.S.A.) Program for providing us with this tasty, local treat!
With our wagons loaded and our snack packed, we headed out for our great adventure “¡al bosque!” (to the forest!) On the way, we observed our black angus cows and their two calves. We saw mallard ducks as well as our holstein steers. We noticed the manure in the field and discussed what would happen to it over time. We watched the C.S.A. crew adding compost to the garden. All wonderful teachable moments to connect to our inquiry exploration into how a garden grows and our recent interest in compost and worms.
In the depths of the forest, under the bright, green canopy, we felt our senses sharpen. We spent a moment visiting a birch tree, feeling the smooth bark and marveling at the twisty vines that trailing down from the far-reaching branches. We instantly spotted two white-tailed deer leaping through the forest. We quieted to observe. Our explorations took us down the the ground level, where we made many exciting discoveries, including spiders, slugs, roly polies, centipedes, a nest of bumblebees, interesting plants, a snake slithering along a log, and a blue-spotted salamander! Our forest at Tollgate Farm is not only special due to the sugar maple trees we all love, but also because of its vernal pools. Many species rely on these unique habitats for reproduction and survival, such as fairy shrimp, wood frogs, and the blue-spotted salamander!
We headed to the bridge for a snack and a story. We talked some more about our special forest and what trees provide for us, from paper to shade to maple syrup! During late-winter/early-spring, Tollgate’s forest is alive with volunteers, staff, and visitors enjoying the maple sugaring season. We found bright, green samaras, the seed of the sugar maple tree, littering the ground, noticed the five points of the leaves, and gazed up to the canopy. We tasted Tollgate maple syrup with our Tollgate popcorn, savoring all the farm provides for us as we are able to connect our food to its source… standing tall all around us! As we munched, we read An Earthworm’s Life by John Himmelman. It was especially interesting to think about how earthworms hatch from egg sacs, which we identified in our bin, much as a chicken hatches from an egg, and how the small, black, round balls in our vermicomposting bin are actually worm poop! How does worm poop, animal manure, and compost help a garden grow? We’ll continue to explore the nutrient trail at the farm and the connections among our living creatures, from big to small, during our final weeks.
“If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.” – Alan Watts