Plant a Prairie: Milkweed Seed Bombs

Plant a Prairie: Milkweed Seed Bombs

Target Grade Level / Age Range 

Grades K-2

Time 

30 minutes

Purpose  

By the end of this lesson, students will:

  1. be able to identify different plants and factors that were once native to prairielands.
  2. learn about how its inhabitants helped soil and water conservation.

Materials

  • Paper Plate or a container to mix the seed bombs in
  • Crayola Air Dry Clay (can be found at Wal-Mart for $5) used to protect the seeds from insects, birds, etc. that might eat them
  • Water
  • Prairie Seeds (Or seeds native to your area)
  • Compost/Potting Soil
  • Large flat tray (to allow your seed balls to dry and harden)
  • Ziploc bags (for students to take home milkweed seed bomb)

Suggested Companion Resources

  •   Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root

Vocabulary

  • Prairie – a large, open area of grassland
  • Native – associated with the country or region
  • Pollinator – an insect, bird, or animal (mainly insects like butterflies and bumble bees) that help pollinate plants.

Background – Agricultural Connections

Prairie vegetation is valuable for wildlife, soil conservation, and for aesthetic beauty. There is increasing interest in planting prairie on farms as a part of a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), for increasing the pollinator population, soil and water conservation as well as wildlife habitat and personal enjoyment.

The technique of planting prairie right in the field, in strips that lie roughly on the contour (while fitting in with farming operations) has become increasingly popular. Prairie strips can stop erosion, reduce nutrient loss, improve soil quality, and support monarch butterflies and other pollinators and wildlife.

 

(Figure 1: Prairie strip around the perimeter of a cornfield.) 

Iowa was once the home to many kinds of prairie grasses that covered the entire state of Iowa. The pioneers noted in their travels that some prairie grass was as tall as 8 feet.

Interest Approach or Motivator

  1. Read Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root. 
  2. Invite a Natural Resources Conservation (NRCS) employee or a County Outreach Coordinator from your area to come in and talk to your students about prairie land.
  3. Allow them time to run through their program, explain prairies, show some of the prairie roots and flowers, and answer any questions or comments from the students.

Procedures

  1. Tell the students that today we are going to do our part in helping butterflies and pollinators by spreading prairie life in our area.
  2. Explain that farmers use prairie land to not only help stop erosion and water run-off but to encourage pollinators to assist their crop production. Ask students what a pollinator is?
  3. Demonstrate how to make one of the seed balls then allow students to make their own to take home.
  4. Prairie/Milkweed Seed Bomb Activity:
    1. Put prairie or milkweed seed in a container or on a paper plate to mix the seed bombs. The class can do this collectively, or students can do this individually.
    2. Add in the clay or air-dry clay (If you’re using wet clay you won’t need water or if you’re using a dry clay add water sparingly until it’s moist enough to stick together), potting soil, and if the potting soil does not have fertilizer in it put in the compost. Use 3 times as much clay as you have seeds and 5 times as much soil as you have seeds.
    3. Mix all the ingredients together. Make sure it is evenly mixed throughout.
    4. Have each student grab a ping pong ball-sized amount of mixture and form it into a ball.
    5. Once it is shaped, place on the tray to let air dry.
    6. Once dry, place in Ziploc bags and let students take them home or if you have an area around the school you want to see growing with prairie let students place their prairie seed balls there or you could bring in sling shots and have students sling shot their prairie seed balls around the area.
    7. For reference on the Prairie Seed Balls, watch these videos:
      1. https://youtu.be/qgf5XWtlBhE
      2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuBYZO7F-No
  5. Wrap up the lesson with a discussion of what was learned, and ask students to share where they will throw/toss their seed bombs if they have an idea already.

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Did You Know? (Ag facts)

  • According to the Iowa State STRIPS team, strategically placed prairie strips have the potential to reduce runoff by 44% and provide a reduction in soil loss by 95%. 
  • Prairie strips will not reduce harvest and will provide habitat for wildlife, pollinators and potentially aid in monarch recovery efforts.
  • In just the last 20 years, the butterflies have declined by more than 90%. There are a number of factors to blame, like land development and intensive farming. Milkweed used to grow between rows of soybeans and corn across the country, but now herbicide-resistant plants allow farmers to use approved chemicals like Roundup in their fields, which can kill milkweed.
  • In the last 10 years, 100 million acres of potential monarch habitat has been lost due to the spraying of herbicides and the removal of key milkweed species. 

Extension Activities

  • Invite your local Naturalist or Ag in the Classroom instructor to focus a lesson on monarch butterflies and additional pollinators.
  • Work with Ag in the Classroom Coordinator to set up a FarmChat® with an area farmer who has a prairie strip on their farm.
  • Field trip to UNI Tallgrass Prairie Center (2412 W.  27th St. in Cedar Falls, Iowa)
  • Outside of school time as you travel, look for prairie areas. Return to class and share what you saw, location, and perhaps any photos that were taken.

Sources/Credits

Authors 

Hannah Pagel

Stephanie Fowler

Organization Affiliation 

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Denver Elementary School, Denver, Iowa

National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • T1.K-2a Describe how farmers/ranchers use land to grow crops and support livestock.
  • T2.K-2e Identify the importance of natural resources (e.g., sun, soil, water, minerals) in farming. 
  • T2.K-2 f Identify the types of plants and animals found on farms and compare with plants and animals found in wild landscapes. 
  • T5.K-2d Identify plants and animals grown or raised locally that are used for food, clothing, shelter, and landscapes.  

Iowa Core Standards

  • RI.1.7 Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.
  • 1-LS1-1 Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.
  • K-2-ETS1-1 Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

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