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Marin IJ Articles

Sprouting kids fascination with beans

  • Jane Scurich
  • One of my favorite science projects in elementary school was one in which I studied and exhibited the growth of bean seeds. It was fascinating to me to place dried beans on moistened paper towels on the top of our gas stove with just the warmth of the pilot light generating enough heat to encourage the growth process. Water, air and warmth supplied the dried seeds with all they needed to stimulate growth.

    I couldn't wait to check the beans each day to see what progress had been made. Only days into the experiment, the small beans split apart and both a tiny stem and root emerged. Daily, the roots and stem increased in size until the bean itself was shed. Our family kitchen became my laboratory as I started fresh beans each day to have a variety of growth stages to exhibit with my poster board descriptions of the germination process.

    Fast forward numerous decades to our current era of robust technology and instant information. The almost magical transformation of a lowly dried bean into a lush green living plant, producing generous amounts of food for humans and animals, still holds its fascination.

    The term "sustainability" pops up more and more in our daily lives as we awaken to the fragility of our planet and the stress that man has placed on the very tools we need to keep us alive and well on this earth. While the definition of sustainability remains elusive and fluid, and creates much debate among environmentalists, scientists, economists and politicians, the 2005 World Summit referred to the "three pillars" of social, environmental and economic sustainability.

    A tiny bean seed illustrates all three pillars.

    For more than 6,000 years the bean has been cultivated in the Americas as a source of protein for humans and animals. It is highly regarded as a low-cost food and is a major dietary staple in many parts of the world.

    The plants grow easily in most climates, produce food, fix nitrogen in the soil to feed other plants and return to enrich our soil after being composted. Today when we plant that bean seed we can think in terms of the full life cycle, from tiny seed, to germination, to production of food, to composting the plants at the end of their bearing time, to enriching the soil with compost to feed the soil for future crops - the circle of life.

    The Master Gardener's Globalicious exhibit at the 2010 Marin County Fair will offer children and adults the opportunity to explore the bean and learn about its life cycle.

    Bring your children to the entertaining "All About Beans" at 12 noon July 1. They'll leave with their very own "beans in a bag" and a wealth of information about growing and using this healthy, easy to grow, easy to eat, food source. They'll also have an opportunity to see sustainable practices in action.

    Celebrate your Independence Day weekend learning best-garden practices from your local UC Marin Master Gardeners who will at the fair July 1 through 5 to answer questions. Fifteen workshops designed specifically for the Marin County gardener will help you plan a delightful and often delicious addition to your yard or deck.

    Stop by the Master Gardeners exhibit and display gardens located near the barnyard and the pig races to learn more about beans and other plants that thrive in our Mediterranean climate. Marin County is characterized by mild to hot, dry summers and moderate, wet winters.

    While all of us living in Marin share some of these general climate descriptions, we also have a wide variety of microclimates influenced by ocean breezes, fog, wind and elevation.

    Marin's Master Gardeners are well prepared to help you determine plants that will thrive in your area and those that will challenge you and are best grown in other climates. Learning to grow the right plant in the right place will save you time, energy and money and help you to create your own truly sustainable garden.

    For a complete list of Master Gardener workshops, go to marinmaster gardeners.org or www.marinfair.org.

    The University of California Marin Master Gardeners are sponsored by UC Cooperative Extension. For questions about gardening, plant pests or diseases, call 499-4204 from 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays, or bring in samples or pictures to 1682 Novato Blvd., Suite 150B, Novato.