If you pay attention to news about the ecology at all, you already know that a lot of what we hear is very discouraging. But what you DON’T hear is sometimes very hopeful. Here are some things you can do with kids right now that will make a difference in how they understand the world, for certain, and maybe also make a long term impact on the Northern VA ecology. Little people can do big things.
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You CAN make a difference in a small amount of time. Here are some hands-on activities you and your kids can do in Northern VA that will allow your kids to participate in *real* science and also to learn “soft” concepts like stewardship, community action, and responsibility.
Save the Bees
I won’t bore you by explaining how and why bees are in danger, but we all know we need them. What we don’t all know is that we can help protect them and we can help gather information for the scientists who are studying the problem in search of a solution. Visit the Great Sunflower Project for information on how to help collect pollinator data and also about gardening practices that protect pollinators. If you don’t have room or the inclination to plant sunflowers, why not try a dandelion patch? Dandelions are practically synonymous with childhood, they are a major food plant for bees, and what would summer be without what our very own Jamie G taught the Joy Troupe Kiddos to call “Poofy Heads?” MOMs Organic Market has launched a campaign they call “Save the Dandelions,” and it’s a perfect, small scale, hands-on activity for kids.
Save the Butterflies
My son’s favorite book right now is The Very Hungry Caterpillar. That makes it doubly exciting that I sort of accidentally stumbled into butterfly gardening last year. This year we plan to add a butterfly puddle, which is fool proof and fun. Last year I tried and failed to start milkweed from seed. What is Milkweed, you ask, and why do I want to grow it? Milkweed is a wildflower that is named after its milky sap. Despite the word “weed” in the name it’s quite pretty AND- it is the ONLY food Monarch caterpillars can eat. You’ll find one variety marketed at local stores as Butterfly Weed, but you can order milkweed seeds in many colors and varieties on Amazon.com or other online sources. A tip for you from my “break it and learn from experience” learning style- milkweeds can’t grow from seed if it’s too hot. The right time to plant them is either to start them indoors now and transplant them around Easter or the beginning of May, or sow the seeds directly outdoors April 1-10. (Those are average dates for the Eastern part of NOVA. If you live closer to the mountains, please check your average date of last frost and proceed accordingly- seeds sown outdoors after last frost, or transplanted 4-8 weeks after starting indoors and after last frost.) Once you’ve established milkweed it should come back year after year.
Community Wildlife Habitats
I didn’t know until yesterday that there is an organized effort to surround the Chesapeake bay with wildlife-friendly communities that garden to tolerate drought, filter runoff, and reduce flooding. The effort is meant to improve water quality in the the Chesapeake and to help our local ecology tolerate climate change. Any community can participate, or you can do just your own back yard, if that seems like a more reasonable starting point. Learn more about the NWF Community Habitat Project here. Arlington, Fairfax, and Falls Church are already participating!
There’s so much more.
From rain gardens to native plants to whimsical details, I’ll never run out of things to talk about when it comes to the garden. If you want to spend a little time on this or a lot, join me on my In The Garden Pinterest Board for resources, ideas, and inspiration.