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The camera looks down at a child playing in the mud with a plastic cup an tin pie pan.

diggin’ in

This week is all about dirt and the amazing potato.

day one: the enormous potato

Today we have something to watch, an animal print in the mud, and activities you can do. Let’s get to digging!

to watch.

As a part of Longwood Gardens Community Reads we are sharing this fun read aloud of The Enormous Potato.

nature ID challenge.

Today’s Nature ID Challenge is a common one. This track was found in the sand near the creek at Crow’s Nest Preserve. Think you know what it is?

Molly Smyrl

Answer: A white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), which is the only hooved wild animal in this part of Pennsylvania.

fun facts.

Did you ever wonder what the difference is between a fruit and a vegetable? Botanically speaking fruits come from a flower, and everything else is a vegetable. Fruits contain seeds while vegetables are stems, roots, and leaves. Which do you think a potato is?  

Click here for more fun crafts, snacks, and activities with vegetables.

Click here for more fun activities with fruit.

day two: grow your own potato

grow.

Did you know that you can grow potatoes in water? It’s true!

When they start sprouting, take them outdoors to plant in your backyard or in a large bucket. You can even use an old trash can! If you don’t have a potato, there are lots of vegetables you can regrow in water. Learn how.

nature ID challenge.

We’re branching out from tracks—who knows what’s happening in today’s picture? And do you know what family of species is represented (since the specific species is hard to identify in this case)? 


Answer: This is an acorn, putting a root down into the soil. It’s hard to tell just based on the acorn, but based on the combination of the shape of the acorn and the trees nearby, this is probably the acorn from some type of red oak.

fun facts.

Most plants grow from seeds, but potatoes are a root vegetable. Roots are parts of a plant that usually grow downward, anchoring the plant into the ground, where they absorb moisture and nutrients. Examples of root vegetables include beets, carrots, celeriac, parsnips, and turnips. 

Potatoes are a starchy tuber native to the Americas. Tubers form at the base of roots and store energy in the form of starch to support new stem growth for the plant. Examples of tubers include potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, and yams. 

If you have some seeds in your pantry—even dried beans will work—try this at home and compare your potato in water to the seed in a bag: Seed jar science experiment.

day three: crafting with tubers

craft.

It’s time to play! Here are two potato crafts you can make at home.

Did you know you can make a stamp out of a potato? No knife needed. Learn how.

You can turn a potato into a toy! Craft your own Potato Head out of real potatoes. Learn how.

nature ID challenge. 

This hole in the ground was found in a hedgerow between two farm fields. The hole is about 9 to 12 inches in diameter. Can you figure out what animal made it?  

Answer: Although we can’t say with complete certainty without seeing the animal, we believe that this is a groundhog den. Groundhogs often have large throw piles of dirt outside the main entrance to the den, and the hole is usually between 6 and 11 inches wide. They often make dens either in or near meadows. Groundhog dens can be taken over by foxes, but since there are no fox tracks or scat nearby, we don’t think that’s the case here.

cook.

It’s time to get cooking! Potato chips are delicious and easy to make. You can even cook them in your microwave.

recipe for microwave potato chips

Get creative with your potato chip toppings and make snack time into a taste test.

day four: going underground

underground scavenger hunt.

Potatoes grow underground. There are lots of animals that live in holes and underground too! Take a walk around your neighborhood and see if you can find all the holes and underground homes that animals might live in. Can you find three things from this list?

  • tunnels in grass
  • holes in wood fences (from solitary bee)
  • a good place a chipmunk could hide
  • a beetle or other insect (under a rock)
  • a hole in a tree
  • a worm
  • squirrel holes in yards (from searching for hidden nuts)
  • a groundhog
  • a bird box (man-made hole for birds 😊)

nature ID challenge.

Today’s Nature ID Challenge is another hole leading to an animal den. Any guesses what made it?

Answer: Like yesterday’s challenge, it’s hard to say what animal is using a hole without actually seeing the animal, but we think this hole was probably made by an Eastern Chipmunk. The size of the opening (1.5 to 2 inches) is right for a chipmunk, as is the fact that it’s a very “clean” hole—no throw pile of dirt or discarded food remains, which most other small rodents have near their burrows.

fun facts.

One animal you may see that lives underground is a groundhog. Chipmunks also live underground but are harder to find being much smaller and much faster.

  • A chipmunk can expand its cheek three times the size of it’s head to store nuts.
  • Groundhogs are good swimmers and can climb tall shrubs and sizable trees.
  • One tiny chipmunk can gather up to 165 acorns in one day.
  • Groundhogs have four incisor teeth that grow 1.5 mm (0.06 in) per week. Constant usage wears them down again by about that much each week.
  • Chipmunks have five toes on their front paws and four toes on their back paws.
  • A groundhog’s burrow is called a sette (pronounced set).
  • Chipmunks are the size of a bumblebee at birth. They are blind, naked, and helpless. Both parents take care of the babies.
  • The etymology of the name woodchuck is unrelated to wood or chucking. It stems from an Algonquian (possibly Narragansett) name for the animal, “wuchak.” The similarity between the words has led to the popular tongue-twister:

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could
if a woodchuck could chuck wood!

day five: potato fun

potato fun

Want to learn more about potatoes? Pennsylvania Cooperative Potato Growers has a ton of information, and a great teachers page with coloring pages, word searches, and trivia. Check it out!

nature ID challenge. 

To wrap up the week, we have an extra-hard challenge! This small hole was scraped in the lawn near the Crow’s Nest Visitor’s Center. It’s not deep—the animal just scraped aside the grass to get to the dirt—but there are many others like it around the yard. Can you figure out what animal made this?  

Stuck? Here are some hints:  

  1. The holes were made at night. 
  2. If we were to find the scat (a.k.a. poop) from this species, it would contain a lot of insect pieces. 

Answer: These scrapes in the yard were made by skunks searching for grubs in the dirt! These insect-loving critters will come out at night and dig around to find some tasty insects to eat.

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