Owls are garden friends at the Las Flores Community Garden, where two owl nest boxes were built on strong posts along the fence, as in the picture above. Owls are great hunters of rodents and help keep mice, rabbits, and squirrels from eating the growing veggies in the garden. Owls don’t make their own nests; they take over useful structures and abandoned nests. Barn owls, which are the size of cats, are the most likely garden partners. Kids can attract owls to their garden by building a sturdy wooden owl house that is the right size for a pair of barn owls and their young. Kids can build the wooden box 38 by 18 by 12 inches with the entrance 6 inches above the base of the box. The oval entrance hole can be 4 ½ wide by 3 ¾ inches tall and should be facing the north to keep the sun from heating up the box. The house need a drainage hole on the bottom and should be cleaned out once a year. Place the owl house high on a post or on top of a structure. In the midwest, there are almost no barn owls left because they are not at home in large fields planted with neat rows of chemically sprayed GMO corn or soybeans. Owls like meadows, grasslands, and open areas where mice and other small prey animals live. The Las Flores Community Garden sits in an open area with lots of rodents for food and two nesting boxes for the owl families.
Kids can be responsible stewards of the earth by starting in their own yard. Creating a sustainable landscape with low water usage and low maintenance where we live is an attainable goal. Ninety percent of insects are beneficial and aesthetically beautiful native plants are their food and shelter. To make a landscape sustainable the plants must be climate appropriate, be planted with awareness of their future growth, grouped with plants with the same water needs, and arranged for wildlife habitats. Birds, butterflies, and bees need certain plants, shrubs, and trees for food, water, and shelter. To encourage wildlife, kids can plant a balanced ecosystem, with plants that repel pests and attract friendly insects, birds, and critters. Kids can get their Wildlife Habitat certified by The National Wildlife Federation by going to www.nwf.org.
Kids can plant native plants in the right place for their sun and water needs instead of lawns. Raised beds and planter boxes for organic herbs and veggies filled with rich organic soil are attractive, wildlife friendly, and provide the best tasting, healthiest food for the family. Kids can keep water run-off on the property with land sculpting to add water features, which can solve drainage and erosion problems, as well as bring needed water for a wildlife habitat. Kids can plant fruit trees that grow well in their climate around the perimeter of their yard. The sound of running water, the smell of fresh fruit and herbs, and the cheerful colors of the flowers attract birds and butterflies, as well as turning the yard into a tranquil garden retreat.
Kids can learn something about math, science, nature, art, and music when they grow an organic garden in their backyard, patio, or balcony. Keeping a garden notebook is a fun way to discover clue after clue about how nature works and how all living things are connected. Kids can have lots of fun in a backyard veggie garden, digging in the dirt, discovering insects and animals, and eating food they have grown themselves. Kids can find a shady place to put a seat where they can wonder at the beauty of their garden. Sitting in their special place, kids can make a map for their notebook and measure the garden area by making an inch on paper represent a foot of garden. Kids can record in their notebook the date, time, and weather and note what animals, birds, insects, or flowers they see, hear, and smell. Kids can draw pictures of spiders spinning webs and caterpillars nibbling leaves. Kids can glue the seeds, beans and dried flowers they find in their notebook. Kids can plot the sun on the map and find where to place their raised beds, planters, and pots in the best sunlight for their veggie plants to thrive and grow. Kids can make a colorful garden plan in their notebook to choose what veggies, herbs, flowers, and fruits to plant and where to plant them, putting the low growing plants in front and the tall plants in the back. Different parts of the county have different growing seasons. As their organic veggies garden grows, kids can keep track of when to start seeds indoors, when to plant and when to harvest in their notebook. Kids can have lots of fun with their notebook in their shady spot in the garden, discovering worms, bees, butterflies, birds, and toads, and growing their favorite fruits and veggies for dinner.
Kids can create a butterfly garden with beautiful native flowers that are the specific plants for food and shelter for butterflies and caterpillars in their backyard. The main food of adult butterflies is nectar from red, orange, yellow, blue, or purple flowers. The female butterfly lays her eggs on very specific larval food plants. Larval food plants are native plants that haven’t been sprayed with weed or insect killers. The Monarch butterfly only eats one species of plant, milkweed. Homeowners and developers have changed the landscape from native plants and trees that butterflies and other insects used for food and homes to large lawns trimmed with exotic plants that originated in different climates. The exotic plants tend to escape the gardens and become invasive in the native landscape. Commercial agriculture has also removed the native habitat and added toxic chemicals to the land. Many native plants have been thought of as weeds to be removed but to many species of butterflies these plants are food, such as clovers, mallows, lantana, and butterfly weed. This loss of native habitat has reduced the biodiversity of the North American landscape significantly with less food for insects, birds, and wildlife. Kids can create a good butterfly garden with beautiful native flowers, culinary herbs, and fruits. Kids can watch as the female butterfly lays her eggs on the underside of leaves or flower buds of the native plant. The caterpillar will eat its host plant as it grows and forms a chrysalis. Kids can care for the chrysalis by providing wind protection and shelter from migrating birds. From the chrysalis the adult butterfly emerges to dry its wings in the sun. Kids can provide the butterflies with a shallow source of water and a sunny zone of bright colored native flowers for fragrance, nectar, and food.
Kids can invite birds to their organic veggie garden to eat thousands of pesky insects, aphids and bugs that could destroy their plants. Kids can use unglazed terra cotta pots to create a colorful bird bath. Kids can get 3 different size pots at the garden center that fit together as shown in the picture above. The large 18” terra cotta plant saucer makes the perfect bird bath. Kids can add 2 little 4“saucers make water dishes to glue on the sides of the large saucer for butterflies. At the local craft store, kids can get their favorite colors of acrylic Patio Paint. These acrylic paints can also be used for other projects like decorating terra cotta pots that can be planted with flowers or herbs as gifts. To make detailed designs, kids can use Painters Opaque Paint Permanent Markers. After painting the pots and saucers with bright designs, kids can cover them with Krylon Acrylic Crystal Clear Spray Coating. Kids can let them dry over night before gluing the 3 pots and saucer together with E600 glue. Kids can enjoy watching the different birds and their antics when they come to visit their garden bird bath.
Early Native American kids hung gourds in the tree branches for the birds. Birdhouse gourds are the perfect size for swallows, wrens, and chickadees, hung in a tree or under an overhanging roof 10 feet off the ground where it will get some sun. Birds eat many garden pests and are wonderful partners for an organic veggie garden.The gourds should be hung in early spring and the bird’s entrance should face away from the wind. We planted our gourds In the Kids Educational Garden at Las Flores Community Garden in June and harvested them in October. To create a Gourd Birdhouse, kids can soak completely dried gourds in a solution of ¼ cup bleach to a gallon of water for ½ hour. Kids can wear rubber gloves and use a scrub brush to get them very clean. Rinse them and dry them thoroughly. A teacher or parent can drill small holes an inch from the top of the gourd for the wire to go through for hanging, 3 or 4 small drainage holes in the lowest part of the gourd, and a larger hole for the bird’s entrance. The entry hole needs to be along the outer most curve of the gourd, 4” to 6” above the bottom, pointing straight out. Draw a hole 1 ½ inches across and 2 ½ inches high for swallows or 1 ¼ inch for wrens. Kids can completely clean out the insides of the gourd with a long-handled spoon and slip through a hanging wire. Using their imaginations, kids can paint and decorate the gourd and hang it inside to dry. Kids can plant berry bushes that birds like to eat and create a bird bath near the tree where they hang the gourd. Looking from a favorite window, it is fun for kids to watch the birds build a nest in their birdhouse gourd.