The Great Impromptu Tomato Escapade
A Sixth Grade Garden Adventure
It was a dark and stormy night … or it might as well have been as far as the experimental tomatoes were concerned in Ms. Julie Ogden’s class garden. Normally tomatoes in New Jersey have a great reputation – huge, red and flavorful. Not this time. The weather at the end of this summer and into the fall was very different this year. Was this part of the great Climate Change everyone is talking about, or simply part of normal seasonal fluctuation? In any event, a very concerned class of students noticed that something very unexpected. NONE of their tomatoes ripened! There wasn’t a red Beefsteak, plum or cherry tomato to be seen. Why had this happened? They had tilled the soil, feed the plants, watered them when needed – and there were bunches of tomatoes growing everywhere – but all were GREEN. None were red and ripened. This was an NGSS Phenomenon worthy of scientific investigation – and that is exactly what her class set out to do.
Julie Ogden reports: Our garden was growing tons of tomatoes; but they stayed green throughout the beautiful fall weather. The students were challenged to research why this was happening. They discovered that the cool end of August and the fall temperatures under 75 degrees, while stopping the tomatoes from ripening, had nevertheless allowed for their growth. Another unusual seasonal event - a frost over the 4 day weekend – offered another opportunity. Once the students understood that a frost would cause the tomatoes to burst, they wanted to find a way to save them. They decided to harvest them and find a way to use them. This crossed over into our Social Studies class as we researched early colonist survival and how so much valuable food would never have been wasted. We harvested a little over 42 pounds of green tomatoes (Beefsteak, cherry, and plum). The students took home many of them and sent back recipes for pickles, salsa, jams, soup, and breads. We couldn't taste everything because of allergies; but many of the dishes looked delicious.
The students researched ways to ripen the tomatoes. They came up with (1) pulling out the whole plant and hanging it upside down. (Hence the dirt and leaves from the garden to my classroom), (2) placing the tomatoes on a sunny window sill, (3) placing them in a brown bag with a banana or apple. The brown bag method did not work very well. Data were collected, but results were mixed. Hanging the whole plant was a close tie to the windowsill method; but the whole plant ripened a little better. Taste testing was then scheduled.
The Taste Test was a surprise. Although the tomatoes from the window sill and whole plant looked good, the kids said they had no flavor. The winner was the tomato in the bag with the apple. Recipes for cooking tomato soup and pickled cherry tomatoes, however, worked very well with green tomatoes. Recipes upon request!
Several Real World scenarios emerged from this study; weather impact, crop abundance, changing the science plan and modifying crop yields. These young farmers created a happy ending in the long run.