Coconut Collards for All!

In March’s Ecology Club meeting, the fourth and fifth graders accomplished much in only one hour. First they harvested three planters of collard greens that were going to seed, and cleared all the decaying plant parts to the compost pile. Then they washed up and divided their harvest into bags they delivered to more than a dozen teachers of their choosing. Meanwhile, some cooked up a batch of greens for tasting, while others made hand-written copies of the recipe to attach to the teachers’ collard greens bundles.

Whistling While We Work

The students paired off to efficiently harvest more than a dozen collard green plants Ms. Little’s 2nd/3rd grade Ecology group had planted in Chesnut Garden. One partner snipped away, while the other made trips to the compost pile with decaying leaves. The students were so content performing this task that they started up a cheery work song — the theme song to the “Little Einsteins” children’s show. No one felt too old or too cool to join in. They were like happy worker bees. And they were very pleased with the outcome of their efforts – they filled up one tall yard waste paper bag!

While we worked, Mrs. Renals quizzed the students on their gardening knowledge, and they were quick to help each other deduce:

  • Smaller collard green leaves taste more tender and sweeter than bigger/older leaves.
  • We remove all decaying material from our garden because it attracts decomposers who might eat our new plantings.
  • Collard green flowers look and taste like broccoli because the plants are related, as they are to all cruciferous vegetables, including brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and bok choi.
  • Dark leafy greens are a rich source of calcium, in place of dairy.
  • Perennial edibles that don’t have to be reseeded every year in Georgia include: herbs like rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, mint; fruit trees, berry brambles, grape vines and asparagus.

Coconut Greens Gift Bags – Chesnut Changer Approved!

The students were proud of their bounty, and so, as soon as all hands were scrubbed, Ms. Sule organized the distribution of greens. Ms. Renals’ favorite part was the students’ excitement at choosing the recipients: “Can we give a bag of greens to Ms. Q?!” They loved making personal deliveries, and in one case, Mya Burrowes left a note in her teacher’s mailbox, telling her where to find her stashed bag of greens in the teachers’ lounge. They were like garden elves, and they loved the giving. They made more than a dozen bundles, attaching a “Coconut Collard Greens” recipe to each one.

Meanwhile, Sofia Renals and Madison Hummel worked together to cook up a small batch of Coconut Collards for tasting. Students and teachers alike came back for more, and the kids were impressed at how delicious something so healthy could be.

At-Home Action Icon canstockphoto2179142At-Home Action: Make Coconut Greens

  • One bunch greens (like collards, kale, swiss chard, cabbage, bok choi)
  • One tablespoon coconut oil
  • Salt

Chop greens into 2″ squares. Heat coconut oil in skillet on medium heat. Toss greens in skillet for 5 to 10 minutes. Salt to taste and enjoy!

Making a Home for Mason Bees at Chesnut

IMG_0524When the fourth and fifth graders voted on second semester Chesnut Changer activities, they agreed they wanted to do more to take care of animals in our environment. Some suggested building birdhouses or bat houses. Then we remembered that insects are part of the animal kingdom, and we might do something that was beneficial to both the bugs and our garden.

So in our February meeting, we read this article together to learn how honeybee populations are suffering, making it difficult for these pollinators to handle all our nation’s crops. We watched excerpts from this “Growing a Greener World” episode about mason bees to discover how this native bee is a hard-working, gentle pollinator that rarely stings.

Then we got to work using recycled materials (paper grocery bags, toilet paper rolls, reused flower pot) to create a place for mason bees to nest. We also filled two reused canisters brought from home to send more mason bee nests out into the world. The students finished by drafting a letter to the Facilities Action Team Chair to ask for help with the Chesnut Garden installation:ScanAt-Home Action Icon canstockphoto2179142AT-HOME ACTION:  Raise Mason Bees to Grow Our Bee Population

By making your own mason bee nests, and participating in the Crown Bees company’s “Bee BuyBack” program, your family can help increase our country’s pollinator population. For more information, go to the “When to Do What” tab on the Crown Bees website.

Earth Day Is in the Air(waves) at Chesnut

“Hello, my name is Spectro the Spark! I’m going to tell you how you can save me, and electricity!”

Thus began yesterday’s Earth Day PSA (public service announcement) from fourth and fifth grade Chesnut Changers, Adams Hollis and Akeem Smith.

Adams Hollis reminding his friends to save electricity

Adams Hollis reminding his friends to save electricity

Their group was one of four that formed at a recent 4th/5th Grade Ecology Club meeting, to create announcements about environmentally-friendly actions their peers could take.

After examining their own earth-friendly practices, the students chose three main subjects to promote:  conserving electricity, biking and growing your own food. This week, in support of Earth Day (April 22), several students performed their advertisements over the morning announcements. Special thanks to Ecology Club Teacher Sponsor Ms. Griffin for helping these students step into the spotlight.

“Save the Spark” by Akeem Smith, Adams Hollis and Audrey Mothershed

Akeem Smith takes the mike

Akeem Smith takes the mic

Hello, my name is Spectro the Spark! I’m going to tell you how you can save me and electricity!  First, you can turn off appliances when you’re not using them, such as a tablet or TV. Second, you can replace your light bulbs with the energy efficient ones or use solar panels. Third and finally, you can turn off the lights when you are not using them. These were a few ideas of how you can save me and electricity.




Bike Riding PSAs by Madison Wright, Courtney Butler, Sarah Lewallyn and Ryleigh Hixon

Audrey and Madison promote biking

Audrey and Madison promote biking

photo 1#1:  Riding a bike isn’t just for playing. You can also go places. Instead of driving you can ride a bike and get stronger. And when you ride a bike you can exercise more.

#2:  Student A: (SIGH) I wish I had a fun and healthy way to get to school. Student B:  Well, biking is one way! Biking helps the environment and it’s fun. Maybe you’d like to bike with a buddy. This is a healthy way to help the environment and have fun with your friend. Biking to school can help everyone and yourself have a healthy lifestyle. Student A: Thanks, I’ll try it tomorrow!

Sarah, Ryleigh and Courtney do a skit to encourage biking with a buddy to school

Sarah, Ryleigh and Courtney do a skit to encourage biking with a buddy to school

photo 1 copy

At-Home Action Icon canstockphoto2179142AT-HOME ACTION:  Go through the Chesnut Changers Sustainability Checklist as a family, and take your own Sustainability Pledge.

Chesnut Changer’s Report: Menna Michael, 4th Grader

Chesnut Changer's Report

On  Jan. 16, 2014, Ecology Club learned how to upcycle. Upcycling is when you take something you don’t need and make it useful.

We took an empty milk carton and made wallets. tetra paksFirst we cut the top and bottom and cleaned it out with a disinfectant wipe. Then we folded it into 3 creases. We pulled it back up and cut the sides to the first crease. We put duct tape on the sides and corners. Finally, we folded it in and on the creases, then put Velcro on it and you are done.

At-Home Action Icon canstockphoto2179142AT-HOME ACTION:  Upcycle any composite material container into a wallet or coin purse. To try this at home, use any composite material and follow these instructions.

Audrey, Adams, Ryleigh and Jaxon show their finished products

Audrey, Adams, Ryleigh and Jaxon show their finished products

Chesnut Changer Family Saves Honeybees

Thank you Chesnut parent Laurey Bryant (mom of Chesnut Changer Sydney Lachin) for sharing this story of a local bee rescue that took place at their house. As bee populations have dwindled worldwide, It’s inspiring that this family kept their cool and found a way to help these bees survive:

Last, spring, when the family discovered a beehive in between the walls of their garage, they realized the bees had gotten in by way of an A/C wall unit.

Bees in Wall

The hive filled a 2 ½ x 5 ft area!

As mom Laurey Bryant told it,

“After many phone calls and price quotes of over $600 we found a beekeeper that offered to come remove the bees at no charge. She called in a more experienced beekeeper to assist her. They were very enthusiastic and taught us a lot. Richard borrowed a Bee Suit and cut the sheet rock. He  was involved in the process. Sydney and I stayed in the house until they were through vacuuming. As you can imagine bees were everywhere! The two beekeepers were here for over 4 hours.”Bees- day after“The beekeeper said the hive was several years old! I have included a picture of the honeycomb that shows the cells containing different colors. Those colors represent different pollen sources. They put pieces of the hives in the ‘frames’ [as pictured below]. They will use them for the bees when they get home.”Bees Different types of pollenBee Hives in frames“The beekeeper was able to taste the honey and identify the primary flavor. In residential areas it is usually always a mix. She could taste Tulip Poplar in our honey. They gave us a five gallon bucket of the honeycomb and said it will produce about 2 gallons of honey. After checking carefully for bees and larvae, we took bites of the honeycomb and sucked the honey out. It was delicious!”Bee Honey Comb“It was an interesting and educational experience. The beekeepers said if you ever see honeybees swarming, contact the local beekeepers association and they will come and gather them.”

From the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association website:

honeybeesswarm“With recent losses of bee populations worldwide, seeing a few bees around the garden is something to celebrate. But what do you do when a few thousand bees show up? Most swarms are the size of a football, more or less. Longer days bring a surge of blooming trees and flowers which create a short window of time for healthy honey bee colonies to split and create new colonies. This split happens when honey bees swarm: roughly 10-15 thousand bees and their queen will leave an existing colony and land upon a tree branch or side of building. Once there, this mass of bees can resemble a very large pine cone or football shaped mass. Swarming is the natural process that honey bee hives go through to create new colonies and spread their genetics to new locations. Honey bee swarms are vulnerable outside the hive to weather, animals and more importantly people. They need to find a new home quickly. In a rural setting this is usually a hollow tree but in the city with loss of habitat this can take the form of a wall or attic of a house where they become a problem for homeowners. If you encounter a swarm it is important to remain calm and to call a beekeeper quickly before the bees leave to a new home or take up residence in an undesirable location. It is important to not kill or disturb the honey bees by spraying pesticides or even water on them.”

At-Home Action Icon canstockphoto2179142AT-HOME ACTION:  Who can you call? Marcy Cornell Welsh helped with this bee rescue. Her contact info:  Marcy Cornell Welsh, Honey Judge, Certified Bee Keeper, 678-642-4274, mcornell@gmail, (she makes and sells soaps too).

April Cole Slaw from Chesnut Garden

laura ms huitt class If cole slaw is a favorite side at your summertime barbeques, why not make your own with fresh, simple ingredients? Ms. Huitt’s Kindergarteners did after harvesting cabbages with the help of Chesnut Garden parent Laura McEwen back in April. They went into the cafeteria to wash, chop and prepare the recipe below. After tasting the slaw, Ms. Huitt and her students described it as:

  • “tangy”
  • “slippery”
  • “best ever”
  • “I loved it”
  • “I didn’t like it”
  • “I couldn’t taste the sugar”
  • “lemony”
  • “delicious”

all doneCole slaw was an April favorite, where it popped up at the lunch break during our second Farm to School health lesson, “Eat Real First, Second Read Labels.” Principal Williams joined the Wellness Team as we passed around homemade lunch items, and her favorite was Wellness parent Jo Chin’s purple cabbage cole slaw. Both recipes follow below.


At-Home Action Icon canstockphoto2179142At-Home Action: Make your own cole slaw!

Four-Vinegar Cole Slaw (Ms. Huitt’s class’ recipe)
– 16 ounces of finely chopped cabbage or a package of cole slaw mix
– 1/3 cup canola oil
– 2 tbsp white vinegar
– 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
– 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
– 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
–  1 tbsp sugar
– A few shakes of celery seed
– A few drops of lemon juice
– A little ground sea salt and black pepper

Mix all in a bowl and let sit for a little while to marinate before serving.

ChopChop Magazine’s Purple Cabbage Slaw (Jo Chin’s recipe)

purple cole slaw copy

–  head red cabbage (or 1 bag coleslaw mix)
– 2  carrots, scrubbed or peeled and grated
– 8  scallions, finely sliced
– 1⁄4 cup canola oil
– 1⁄4 cup rice vinegar
– 1⁄2 tsp salt
– 1 tsp black pepper


  1. Put everything in the bowl and toss well. Taste it and add more of anything you think it needs.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

Fancy That:

– Add 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil and 2 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
– Add 1 cup shredded, cooked chicken to make it a meal
– Add red pepper flakes (if you like spicy)

There’s Fungus Among Us

At March’s Ecology Club meeting, Chesnut Changers welcomed two very cool guest speakers and their spawn:  Howard Berk and Todd Pittard of funguys logo

They taught us that mushrooms need only shade, moisture and wood to grow (they live off the sugars in the wood), and let the kids handle dried shiitake mushrooms. Each Chesnut Changer had the chance to inoculate logs that Berk and Pittard had pre-drilled for shiitake spawn inserts. These were placed in a shady spot in Chesnut Garden, where we’ll keep them moist for about 9 months before they will produce a first harvest (they are expected to produce for three years).

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Berk and Pittard also talked to us about eating only those mushrooms that our parents put on the plate, because mushrooms you find growing in the wild are very often poisonous. The kids enjoyed seeing 2funguys’ slideshow of mushroom varieties, and were bummed to discover that the very cool glow-in-the-dark Jack-o-Lantern mushrooms are poisonous (“Awwwwww!”).

Chesnut Changers thank Mr. Berk and Mr. Pittard for sharing their mushroom enthusiasm with Chesnut students, and answering all our questions (“what are these gills under the mushroom?). We also learned that mushrooms naturally contain a carcinogen, which is eliminated by heating, which is why Mr. Pittard recommends cooking mushrooms for at least 5 minutes rather than eating raw.

At-Home Action Icon canstockphoto2179142At-Home Actions: Grow Your Own Mushrooms and Roast Them! is a great locally-owned place to get your mushroom logs. Some of our parents purchased logs to take home after the meeting, but you can also order from their online store.

Here’s a recipe from Chop Chop Magazine (cooking for kids)

Roasted Mushrooms

– 1 pound assorted mushrooms (you can use any combination of button, white, shiitake, portobello, cremini or oyster mushrooms), left whole if small, or quartered or halved if large

– 1 garlic clove, minced

– 1 tsp. salt

– 1/2 tsp. black pepper

1. Turn the oven on to BAKE and set it to 400 degrees.

2. Put the mushrooms on the baking sheet and add the olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Mix well with clean hands or spoon.

3. Put the baking sheet in the oven. Roast until the mushrooms are golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes.

4. Serve right away or cover and refrigerate up to overnight.