“Bug Club”—aspiring entomologists emerge!

Leadership and innovation is encouraged at our school. Witness the parent-led garden crusade.  I believe the spirit of entrepeneurship often trickles down to kids.  When faced with a school or community problem, it’s not uncommon for my son to suggest we just “write a grant” for that.

Fifth grade Avery recently told her Mom (Marisa, garden conspirator) that she’d really like to start an “entomology club.” She told her teacher too, and of course, I also heard about.  Everyone encouraged her to run with her idea, so she gave a short speech to the class and invited friends to join her in a quest to understand the insect life in our garden.

I had some grant money left over for garden curriculum so I immediately ordered her some fieldguides, viewing chambers, and even some goggles that make you see the world through the compound eyes of a fly.

Meanwhile my six-year old son took a one-hour drawing class with Marisa during our enrichment afternoons at school called University of Wednesday.  In one short lesson on “foreshortening” he came home and drew a castle.  Next thing you know….Marisa and I have arranged to get together once a week.  She and Elliot are going to sit down and do pencil drawings; Avery and I are going to talk entomology. It’s a creative trade of time and talent, and I like the idea of two moms bartering for their kids’ enrichment.

This week some kids saw a “big, green worm” at recess and apparently wanted to squish it.  Avery and bug friends intervened and put it in a viewing chamber. I met with the kids to ID the little guy in our big reference book and, like detectives, they took me to where they found it, confirming that it was a swallowtail caterpillar based not only on markings but also by its cherry tree host. All this learning in the garden before the bell even rung!  That night it transformed into a chrysalis, and Avery is now fiercely guarding it in the fifth grade classroom and teaching her peers about respecting wildlife in the garden.  Bonus: turns out swallowtails are her favorite!

Here are some of the members of the bug club.  No, they don’t always look like this—today was picture day!

In front, from left to right: a “ladybug” house for overwintering, insect spectacles, a viewing chamber and carnivorous plant kit

Creating wildlife habitat on the school campus

Did you know you can register your backyard as a “certified wildlife habitat” through the National Wildlife Foundation?  Or your schoolyard?  If you have the four elements of habitat, and can show that you garden in an environmentally friendly way, you can earn this distinction.  You can then display a NWF sign, which can help educate others about the elements of habitat that people can provide for wildlife in our own backyards (no matter how small) and school grounds.

Our school garden has met these requirements (both in a butterfly/hummingbird habitat bed and also throughout the larger garden), and we recently did the paperwork and received our sign.  After the photos below, read more about the habitat elements and go here for more information.

We got the fancy yard sign, so the total cost with registration was $119

Asclepsias (host for larval monarch butterfly), monkey flower and germander to attract hummingbirds

All habitats need a water source, even as simple as a bird bath. Rocks placed inside give birds a place to perch. Our water evaporates quickly, but if yours doesn’t, be sure to empty every few days for good mosquito control. Also pictured are lavender and buddleia (butterfly bush)

Even a pile of rocks can be a habitat element for lizards

Extra feeders and a birdhouse

 From the National Wildlife Foundation website:
bee on coneflower

Provide Food for Wildlife

Everyone needs to eat! Planting native forbs, shrubs and trees is the easiest way to provide the foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts that many species of wildlife require to survive and thrive. You can also incorporate supplemental feeders and food sources.

bird drinking water

Supply Water for Wildlife

Wildlife need clean water sources for many purposes, including drinking, bathing and reproduction. Water sources may include natural features such as ponds, lakes, rivers, springs, oceans and wetlands; or human-made features such as bird baths, puddling areas for butterflies, installed ponds or rain gardens.


Create Cover for Wildlife

Wildlife require places to hide in order to feel safe from people, predators and inclement weather. Use things like native vegetation, shrubs, thickets and brush piles or even dead trees.

blue bird at nesting box

Give Wildlife a Place to Raise Their Young

Wildlife need a sheltered place to raise their offspring. Many places for cover can double as locations where wildlife can raise young, from wildflower meadows and bushes where many butterflies and moths lay their eggs, or caves where bats roost and form colonies.

And finally….

What sustainable gardening practices do I need to certify?

You should be doing two things to help manage your habitat in a sustainable way.
Soil and Water Conservation: Riparian Buffer • Capture Rain Water from Roof • Xeriscape (water-wise landscaping) • Drip or Soaker Hose for Irrigation • Limit Water Use • Reduce Erosion (i.e. ground cover, terraces) • Use Mulch • Rain Garden
Controlling Exotic Species: Practice Integrated Pest Management • Remove Non-Native Plants and Animals • Use Native Plants • Reduce Lawn Areas
Organic Practices: Eliminate Chemical Pesticides • Eliminate Chemical Fertilizers • Compost