By Lori McCurdy
Gardening with children offers so much joy, but it is not without disappointments too. I had the pleasure of working with Fun City Youth Academy this summer, visiting the garden with students every day for eight weeks. We learned so much about soil and compost, seeds and transplants, weeding and watering, and how to give the garden our LOVE. I had planned to do a lesson on insects just as the plants were maturing. The timing couldn’t have been better, as I noticed that their pumpkin vines weren’t looking so good.
When I investigated closer, my hypothesis was proven correct. That week, the students got a lesson on insects all right, but it wasn’t the one I had originally planned. I introduced them to the nasty squash vine borers. First we made observations about the yellowing leaves and contemplated what might be the cause. They made the connections that sunlight and water might be factors some how. Then I moved the leaves near the base of the plant to reveal the sawdust looking evidence that I know all too well. I explained that tiny eggs had been laid, and then hatched, and now the hungry larvae had began to feed on the vine. With my pocketknife, I demonstrated how to “do a little surgery” on the plant to remove the culprits. They were fascinated by what I pulled out of the plant, and wanted to study the larvae. It was the perfect time to then talk about life cycles, and this larvae was just a baby moth! Then we covered the plant’s “surgery site” with compost and went looking for more evidence of insects in the garden. It was as if these kids were on a treasure hunt! Someone exclaimed, “I found some,” and everyone gathered around to see, until someone else shouted out “look at THESE bugs!” We also discovered the tiny eggs of the squash bug, and then noticed a recent hatch with squash bugs of varying sizes and development. It was a perfect example of how an insect can look different during the varying stages of life!
As the kids ran around looking for insects, a tiny watermelon was discovered! And then we spotted cucumbers too! Although the day had started with a hard lesson, that sometimes plants may not survive despite the care given, it ended with a delightful surprise. Their plants had begun fruiting!! It seemed to lift any sadness about the possible loss of pumpkins.
When my time with Fun City was nearing and end, we celebrated our garden experiences by enjoying some watermelon. (Although it wasn’t their little watermelon that was now just the size of a tomato). I overheard one of the young gardeners reflect, “Remember when our watermelon was just a baby?”