You don’t have to go far to celebrate Earth Day all year!

{ save the earth }
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ana Santos

Earth Day was last week, and the world united to be green-conscious for one day. But many of you may want to do more. Here are some easy, eco-friendly ideas for your own garden so you can remember earth day all year long…

Can I compost this? A site about items to help those of us just getting started composting so we know what can hurt and harm our compost.

How can I recycle this? Get creative if something is made of a material not recycled by your city.

Capture yummy rainwater for your plants during the heat of summer with this rainwater collection system. I have a storebought rain barrel (it is currently completely full from our recent storm) and the faucet at the bottom of the barrel is perfect for filling up my watering can to give my plants a drink.  

Reuse your newspaper to mulch your garden. I haven’t tried this one myself but several sources say it works especially well for vegetable gardens… which is also a green hint if you can grow your own salad!

At this point I can use the herbs in my herb garden to make my own salad dressing (here’s one to try) but the best I can do for the rest of the salad is buy local at the farmers market near my house. If you live in Houston you should definitely take advantage of one of the many farmers markets; the produce is second to none, and with our long growing season, you can access many items during their usual “off season.”

Worms
Creative Commons License photo credit: Яick Harris

My next project at home is vermicomposting… more on that later! Talk about Creepy Crawlies!!

Last but certainly not least… you can sign up your 8 and 9 year old friends for “It’s Easy Being Green” during Xplorations Summer Camps here at the Houston Museum of Natural Science! Nicole blogged about some of the cool activities they’ll be working on to make their homes a greener place!  

… and if you planted a tree this year in honor of earth day don’t forget to water it!

Cure Nature Deficit Disorder – Take Your Kids Outside!

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Building a compost heap

Every week I volunteer at a local elementary school in the arboretum and gardens on the schoolgrounds. The PTA environmental chair and I recently turned an area into a vegetable garden and built a large compost bin. We’ve told the teachers about what we’re doing, and some of them have brought their classes out to help us plant.

The kids are enthusiastic diggers and rakers; we’ve had to buy more kid-sized spades and rakes to prevent struggles to “have my turn.” They love to find june bug grubs (bad for baby plants) and earthworms (good for the soil).

They are eager to start the compost pile and feel how warm it gets as it decomposes. Most of them have never planted seeds before, and are amazed to learn what a baby radish or a seedling broccoli plant looks like. This week the sugar snap peas are getting ripe, and I worry that there will not be enough pods to go around to the class that planted them – and I know everyone is going to want to eat one!

Laying out the compost bins

Helping the kids to plant a garden takes me back many years. I fondly remember helping my parents to tend our vegetable garden in Calgary’s short growing season (no tomatoes there!). My father and I would often go out with a flashlight after dark to pick the slugs off the beans and lettuce, dropping them into a can of salty water. The few ears of corn we got each year would be relished as a special treat, cooked and eaten only minutes after they were picked. Besides harvesting our garden crops, we would also go out looking for wild june berries (called Saskatoons in Canada), tiny wild strawberries (so flavorful), or crabapples and chokecherries that my mother rendered into jelly or syrup.

I was very lucky to grow up when and where I did. But surely all kids should have a chance to learn how plants grow and what bugs live in their backyard or the overgrown area behind their fence. Things are different today – kids are busier, more sheltered, and many of their parents are uncomfortable in the outdoors. These days many people turn their gardening over to a landscaping crew, and their kids never work out in the yard (in contrast, us kids had to mow and edge our huge lawn all summer, and rake up all the leaves in the fall – for no pay!).

Today people grow up so distant from nature that it no longer surprises me to meet a grown woman (like the garden club member who visited recently) who hadn’t the faintest idea that butterflies come from caterpillars.

Some of you may have heard about Last Child in the Woods, a book by Richard Loew that has gotten a lot of attention over the last few years. Loew coined the term “Nature deficit disorder” and convincingly argues that many people today suffer from it, to the detriment of themselves and the world.

I recommend the book, and most of all, I recommend sending your kids to play and work outdoors (if possible, on their own – or if not, with you to guide them).

Big BEETLE Bonanza!

Last week I was wondering around the containment room looking for something to do. It’s not like I had nothing to do, but I was just looking for something different that day. I decided to tackle the 24 containers full of dirt and grubs. About a year ago right after we opened Erin got an exciting phone call. A guy had LIVE beetle grubs in a wood/compost pile in his back yard and he didn’t know what to do with them, so he decided to call us. We jumped on this one and told him to bring them our way. Phone calls like that are normal around here, but they are extra special when it involves a large live insect that we get to keep. He brought the grubs in a large trashbag with lots of dirt and wood. It was like opening up a huge Christmas present with lots of little presents inside. We found 24 grubs. We weren’t sure what type of beetle they were, but we knew they could either be the Ox Beetle or the Eastern Hercules Beetle.

Erin and I were fortunate enought to raise a few Dynastes hercules grubs a few years back, but it was only a few, not 24. We decided to give each grub an individual container. We kept the dirt they came in and mixed in some potting soil, ecoearth, and lots of rotten wood. After that we sat back and waited. About once a month we would make sure they were all still alive and add new dirt and wood if needed. We would also check the moisture in the containers every now and then and added water as needed.

So . . . last week I thought I would add all new dirt and wood to all the grub containers. Erin and I had collected some rotten wood the week before just for that purpose. I was a little nervous to dump out all the dirt from each container because there was a possibility one of the grubs had pupated. Beetles have complete metamorphosis in which they have an egg, larva, pupae, and adult stage. The grubs enclose themselves in a cell of dirt and saliva before they go into the pupae stage and the last thing I wanted to do was bust open that enclosure.

This is what happened . . . I got the first container with great anticipation. I read that it takes about 12 months for the grub to grow, pupae, and become an adult. Maybe, just maybe we would have adults. I slowly and carefully dumped out the dirt and to my surprise there was NOTHING. I was very puzzled but Erin soon informed me that she had found a wandering escapee and put it into another large dirt bucket we had. So, I moved onto the second containter and found a grub. I added all new dirt and fresh rotten wood and went to the next one. I think I found 4 grubs and then my luck changed. I dumped out all the dirt and discovered an ADULT! I’m pretty sure Erin thought I was crazy because I screamed and was so estatic. We had a female ox beetle, Strategus aloeus. We really wanted the eastern hercules beetle, Dynastes tityus, but this was still cool. I found a total of 8 adult females but no males. Fortunately, we have a male that we collected last summer, so maybe we will get babies. On the last container that I opened I busted open a pupal cell and found a wiggly pupae. I decided to just leave it in the containter on top of the dirt. I kept checking on it last week and yesterday I found that a female had emerged from it. It always makes us feel like such good parents when we successfully raise baby bugs. All the beetles are on display in the insect zoo so you should definitely come and check them out.

One more quick story that happened last night after I wrote this blog. My husband, Nick, called me outside because he thought our dog had caught a snake or something and he wasn’t about to investigate it himself. I crept out into the grass and saw something moving. After I got a flashlight I discovered that is was in fact an Ox beetle, just what I had written about that day. Fortunately, it was still alive so I released it into my front yard away from my dogs. It must be the time of year for Ox beetles so keep an eye out in your yard for these amazing creatures.

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