No, not really! But City Science Kids will be on vacation until the New Year. While we work up lots of lovely new episodes to bring you in 2014, we hope you'll enjoy watching our latest episode on composting. And also our all-time runaway hits on pickle-making and mushrooms.
Got a topic you're just dying for us to cover? Write in and let us know—we always love to hear from you!
All living things die and decompose (that is, rot). When they do, the nutrients they contained when they were alive,
still exist—and can be used to feed other living things!
In this episode, our friends at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
in Brooklyn, NY, explain how we can make compost
from all the fruit and vegetable matter that’s left over in our
kitchens—apple cores and banana peels, wilted lettuce leaves and the skins of
onions. This not only breaks down into a nutritious soil we can sprinkle under our
trees and shrubs and flowers and crops; it makes less garbage that we send to
landfills (where things break down veeeerrrry slowly, if at all).
Try an experiment at your house: Keep all your fruit and vegetable scraps in your freezer for a week. How much organic garbage do you end up with when 7 days are over?
That's right, it's Episode #9! City Science Kids Presents: A City Garden Gets Ready for Winter!!
Our friend Denise, who you see in this episode, put together some notes for us, about cover crops
and why they’re important. If you have a garden—no matter where you live, no
matter how big or small your garden is—these will come in handy for getting it
ready for winter.
How to cover crop:
Step 1. Using
a hand rake or rake, rake any soil back onto your raised beds.
Pull out any unwanted weeds.
Step 3. Water your soil.
Sow your cover crop seeds (we use oats and peas) using the “broadcasting”
method (make it snow seeds, close to the earth). If you have a hat and a
large space to seed, put your seeds in your hat.
Water again, making sure soil and seeds do not wash away.
Cover seeds with reemay (agro fabric) and secure in place to prevent little
animals from eating all the yummy seeds before they sprout.
Uncover once your seeds sprout in a couple of weeks. The roots and young
plants are already acting as a winter coat and setting their roots deep into
the soil, so your it doesn’t blow away.
Come spring, till under
your cover crops or green manure so your soil is happy and well fed with
organic plant material. Your soil structure will be greatly improved and
will be more nutritious!
Cover Cropping improves soil by:
•Adding organic matter to soils
•Releasing nutrients like nitrogen (because
plants need healthy food, just like we do)
•Increasing microbial activity (healthy soil is
teaming with life, keep the little beings in your soil happy!)
•Suppressing weed growth or stopping the more
aggressive plants you don’t want growing in your beds by growing more friendly
cover crops like peas and oats.
•Controlling soil erosion. Your cover crops will
act as a winter coat, setting their roots down so your soil doesn’t blow away.
Atom: the smallest particle
of a substance that can exist by itself or be combined with other atoms to form
is a chemical element that forms diamonds (the hardest substance on earth) and
coal and that is found in petroleum and in all living plants and animals.
It plays a crucial role in the health and stability of our planet. All
living organisms contain carbon, and as they decay or change, they will
continue to contain the element. Coal, limestone, and petroleum,
for example, are all fossilized forms of living organisms containing abundant
amounts of carbon. Plants and animal life which died millions of years ago were
slowly compressed into these substances, and their integral carbon was
Element: One of the basic
substances that are made of atoms of only one kind and that cannot be
separated by ordinary chemical means into simpler substances
Microbe: Microbes are extremely
small living things that can only be seen with a microscope. They are the oldest form of life on earth.
microbes, plants couldn't grow and garbage wouldn't decay and there would be
less oxygen to breathe. Without them, our planet as we
know it wouldn’t exist.
Nitrogen : Nitrogen is a chemical that has no color or smell and
that makes up a large part of the atmosphere. It also appears in a number of other compounds, and is a vital component
of life on Earth for many organisms. In addition to inhaling nitrogen with
every breath, most organisms also consume it in their food on a daily
Organic Matter: Any material or debris that is derived from plants.
City Science Kids has hit the big time, with 10,000 views to our episodes and updates. (10,138, to be precise!) To celebrate, we'll be posting a new episode, maybe even as soon as tomorrow. Stay tuned!
Well, the promised “lovely young neighbor” has been replaced
by her dad, Derek. He’s seen in this episode watering the plane tree outside
his building. You may notice that his tree has a very wide bed—that’s the place
that holds the dirt around a tree. This gives its roots lots of room to grow.
In the city, roots grow sideways, parallel to the sidewalk, which is the only
place there’s space. Sometimes, they even run into the roots of other trees
down the block.
Derek’s tree also has a fence around it. Fences keep people
from hanging off the branches of trees, which can damage them or make them
break off. They keep cars from backing into them. And they keep dogs from
peeing on them—watch the episode and find out why this is so bad for trees!
Here are some quick facts about trees and why they are vitally important to us:
* One 40-year-old tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon
dioxide a year
* One large tree can make enough oxygen for 2 people to
* A young, healthy tree has the same cooling power as 10 air
conditioners working 20 hours a day!
To learn more about how you can help the trees on your block,
visit the NYC park’s department website. The information you’ll find there is
great even if you live in another city—or not even a city at all!
...there's a new episode on the way! We're just waiting to film one of our lovely young neighbors. Doing what you might ask? You'll have to wait and see. But hint, hint, it has something to do with this:
Photo courtesy of the New York City Park's Department
It may seem as if we're off to a sluggish start this fall. But we've been hard at work on some brand new episodes! And now, without further ado, here are some clues to what's coming up in a couple of weeks:
We're back from our travels and so are lots of our friends. So many of you found amazing science as you roamed! Including:
Photo by Amy Sirot
Alex and Ben, who went to Vancouver, BC with their parents earlier in August and found this Pacific Banana Slug. Banana Slugs can grow up to 10 inches long! And believe it or not, they are mollusks. That means they are related to such sea creatures as oysters and clams. And it also means that they like it wet; when temperatures get hot, they hibernate. Some people think Banana Slugs are gross. But like everything that lives, they play an important role in life on Earth. They help decompose dead plant matter, and they also disperse seeds from the plants they eat.
Photo by Laura Sainz
In July, Lea and her mom found lots of beautiful mushrooms on a hike they took along the Long Pond Trail of the Willowemoc Wild Forest in Upstate New York. Including the one in the picture above. This is a bracket fungus—meaning, it grows like a shelf on dead or dying trees, helping to decompose them. This one might be a Chicken of the Woods, or Sulfur Shelf, which is very common in the Northeast of the US. But as with all mushrooms, it is impossible to identify it just from a photograph. Even experts use many methods for identification, including its color, where the mushroom is growing, and the color of its spores.
Photo by Monica Gutierrez-Kirwan
Cian and his mom found this enormous (and sadly, dying) dragonfly in Brooklyn. It is probably a kind of Darner—among the largest dragonflies around, with wingspans measuring almost 5 inches! These enormous insects were all over the city this summer, startling pedestrians as they zipped and zoomed over sidewalks and through traffic and often becoming trapped inside stores and apartments. Darners can fly extremely high in the air. They are also considered predatory; they eat termites and ants.
Finally, Ada and I saw hundreds of these butterflies at her grandfather's house in Putnam County, NY. Oddly, they are both Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, even though their colors are reversed. You can find them all over the Northeastern US from Spring to Fall. They lay 3 separate broods in this time. Like bees, they are pollinators. Here they are drinking nectar from a butterfly bush, and pollinating it at the same time. My favorite fun fact about butterflies is that their coloring actually comes from thousands of tiny scales that line the surface of their wings!
Did you find any cool science on your adventures this summer? Write in and let me know!
The balls in the picture
are not roasted potatoes. They are not seeds pods. They are not puffball
mushrooms. They are called oak galls. When you find them on the ground, as I
did as I walked around Walden Pond, they are hollow and fragile. Each one has a tiny hole in it. Out of each tiny hole, a newborn wasp has
Oak galls are strange little houses for gall wasp larvae. They work like this: A gall wasp lays her eggs on an oak tree. When she does this, she releases a chemical that causes a reaction in the
tree. It forces the tree to grow this weird cocoon-like "apple"
around each larva, to protect it. While there's a larva inside it, the
apple is dense and spongy. Once the wasp hatches, it drops from the tree and starts to hollow out.
Have you encountered any weirdo science this summer?
We visited a famous pond called Walden Pond in Concord, MA yesterday. An American writer and naturalist named Henry David Thoreau once lived in the woods around the pond, in a tiny house he built himself. As you can imagine, there is lots of science happening here! Including this:
From our past posts and episode about mushrooms, you might think this is some kind of fungus. But it's really a plant called Indian pipe, also known as ghost plant or corpse plant. It's extremely unusual because it has no chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a molecule that makes plants green. It's also what allows them to absorb sunlight, which gets turned into the nutrients that plants "eat" (photosynthesis). As you can see, Indian pipe is white; that's because has no chlorophyll. So, it has to "eat" another way. And actually like some mushrooms, it "eats" nutrients from decaying plants. Or it attaches itself to a fungus, like a this knocked-over and somewhat nibbled Russula, which we also found on our walk:
This mushroom has a special relationship with trees like birches and pines (see all the pine needles under it?)—it "eats" nutrients the tree provides. But in return, the mushroom's mycelia extend the tree's roots, which makes them able to get water and food they wouldn't otherwise be able to reach. The mushroom and the tree have a symbiotic relationship—they help each other. When the Indian pipe attaches to the mushroom, it is actually eating from both the mushroom and the tree. It gives nothing back to either one of them. It is a parasite.
What wacky things have you found growing this summer? Write in to the comments section and let us know!
In summer, when we're lucky enough to quit the city and head to the beach, we spend a lot of time hunting for treasures in the sand. On city beaches, we find mostly mussel and clam shells, some snails, jelly fish, and lots and lots of seaweed. A little farther afield we find these—we collected these yesterday:
These weird, stiff black puffs are actually skate pods. They're the (hopefully) hatched (and not eaten) eggs of sea creatures called skates, which are related to sharks and rays. The mother skate lays embryos on the sea floor; these cases develop around them to protect them until they mature. One pod = one baby skate.
Have you found any unusual creatures on the beach this summer?
Ada and her dad spotted these excellent puffballs last week. Puffballs are fungi that look just as their name suggests—like puffy balls, growing, usually without a stem, on dirt or grass or even wood. Some puffballs are small; some grow to giant size, almost 20 inches across. They belong to several families of mushrooms and fungi, not just one. Their spores live inside their globulous bodies, which break open when they mature, releasing the spores into the air. Have you found any interesting mushrooms this summer?
Since posting our "Mushrooms in the City" episode back in June, the weather in New York has turned hot and muggy and occasionally, wet. It's gross for most humans. But for mushrooms, it's heaven! Now more than ever you are sure to find fungi all around you when you put your "mushroom eyes" on. Like these, which Ada discovered a couple of weeks ago, about 50 miles north of the city:
They're bird's nest fungi. And one of the things that's so cool about them is that they really do look like teeny, tiny bird's nests! When they first spring out of the ground, they're covered and closed up. (They remind me of bowls full of custard, or some unusual kind of acorn.) As they mature (get older), they open up to reveal their "eggs." These eggs are really packets of spores. And they're waiting for raindrops to hit them and catapult them into the air (according to our favorite mushroom book). They can be propelled as far as 1 yard (that's 3 feet). Then they lie on the ground, waiting to disintegrate, which is when their spores are dispersed, or spread.
Have you seen any mushrooms on your travels this summer? Write in and let us know about them!
It doesn’t take much to launch a balloon. Just a powerful
fan made from an airplane propeller to blow cold air into the balloon, called
an envelope. And propane gas to heat
the air up to 225°F, so the envelope becomes buoyant and lifts. So why don’t more people use hot air balloons to
get around? Because you can’t fly them in bad weather. And you can’t steer
Buoyancy is an upward force that moves against the pull of gravity. In a hot air balloon it works like this: When the balloon is filled with cold air, the air inside the balloon has the same density as the air outside the balloon, so it won't lift. But when the air inside the balloon is heated, its particles begin to move faster than the cold air particles, and fewer of them are needed to fill the balloon. So now the air particles inside the balloon have less density than the air particles outside the balloon, and the balloon will lift off the ground and into the sky.
The balloon in this video cast will fly around upstate New
York at a rate of about 25 miles per hour. But where it will end up, nobody
knows. It all depends on how the winds are moving. Lance and the Liberty
Balloon chase crew will navigate unfamiliar roads to follow it. And they’ll be
on the ground—hopefully in a nice, flat, tree-free field—to help when the
balloon is ready to land.
For more information on hot air balloons, check out these
Special thanks to Lance of Liberty Balloon for taking the time to talk to us, and to Carlos Canadilla for the extra footage! Can't see this—or any of our videos—on a site that's supported by YouTube? Find our channel on SchoolTube!
If you've logged on to the new City Science Kids channel on SchoolTube, you are perhaps wondering what the funny eyeball bender in the banner is. Well, it's this:
It's the Solar System rendered by my daughter—some three or four years ago, now—in citrus. Unfortunately, the tech guys at SchoolTube couldn't quite get the dimensions right for the banner. But we'll keep working on it!
City Science Kids will be taking a little break from video-making for summer. But be sure to check in with us once in a while! Because we'll be posting photos of the science we run into while we're having our school-break adventures. Like this one:
This is a special red-eyed cicada—the kind that hatches only once every 17 years! In Brooklyn, we waited and waited for the ground to get warm enough (about 64 degrees) for them to emerge onto our streets. We read reports of them swarming in droves all over Staten Island. And we even heard about a woman who had to travel to her mother's house in the South to help her clean up after the enormous cicada eruption in her town. But we never did see them in Brooklyn.
However, last weekend, when we got to the city of Poughkeepsie, about and hour and a half north of Brooklyn, what should we find? This beautiful and weird specimen. It flew onto the porch of our house and sat around for a few minutes. Only the one cicada, and it didn't make a sound.
Happy trails to all of you science lovers this summer! Make sure to write in and tell us about any cool things you see out there on your travels!
Mushrooms and fungi aren’t plants. They belong to the
Kingdom Fungi. Plants have their own kingdom (Kingdom Plantae). And so do
animals (Kingdom Animalia). And so do three different kinds of tiny life forms:
Bacteria, Protozoa, and Chromista. Kingdoms are a way that scientists organize
the different kinds of things that are alive on the Earth. Think about all your
toys. How would you organize them into categories? One way might be: Board
Games, Puzzles, Things You Can Stack, Things With Wheels, Dolls, and so on.
These categories are like Kingdoms.
Fungi are so important to life on Earth. As we learn in this video, they break down (decompose) dead things like plant matter and
wood. But there are also fungi that specialize in eating a dead tree’s twigs,
others that specialize in eating its leaves, and others that specialize in its
seeds, bark, and dense heartwood. Fungi also eat hooves and feathers and skin
and other parts of once-living animals. They turn nature’s garbage into nutrients
that can be used by other things in order to thrive.
Some kinds of fungi aren’t decomposers at all; they are plant
partners. They attach themselves to the roots of certain trees, to help them
reach water and nutrients in the soil. In return, they feed on sugars produced
in the tree’s roots. The fungi and the trees have a symbiotic relationship—they
help each other.
The main part of a fungus lives under the dirt, or inside a
tree, or in a pile of leaves. It’s called the mycelium, and it's made up of tiny hairs called hyphae. Mushrooms
are the part of a fungus that reproduces. They contain spores, which are like
seeds. When the fungus is ready to expand, it sends up mushrooms to the surface
of the dirt or the tree. The mushrooms release their spores then die, but the
mycelium lives on and continue to grow.
There are many more fascinating things to learn about
mushrooms. Here are a couple of websites to get you started, with lots of
pictures to look at:
If there’s a mycological society in your area, ask your
parents to take you on a mushroom walk, with experts! Here is the website for the
New York Mycological Society.
Most importantly, NEVER EAT a mushroom that you find. Some
of them are deadly poison and even the experts can have a hard time telling the
difference between those that are safe and those that are not. Look only, and
take pictures, and if your parents say it’s OK, pick a few to make spore
Don’t forget to write in to this website to tell us about
any mushrooms you find! And send us your pictures!!