Spring Pond Life
We set up a 10-gallon aquarium each spring as soon as we heard the first frogs calling. We started with a layer of gravel on the bottom to anchor a few plants we gathered from pond or brook, then half filled it with water from a pond or vernal pool. We added eggs or tadpoles of various frogs and salamanders as well as whatever insect larvae came along in the water.
Caddisfly larvae build themselves a temporary home of sticks or tiny stones, dragonfly larvae are voracious and one year ate many of our tadpoles before we figured out who they were, and mosquito larvae provide food for other critters but should be skimmed off the top when they pupate and before they emerge as adults.
Do not add fish food or bread or such, as the plants and pond water provide the food. Just pay attention and add plants or remove some tadpoles if the plants are disappearing. As needed, take out some of the water and replace it with fresh water from the same source used at the start. When the tadpoles have legs, put in sticks or other platforms for the frogs they are becoming to climb up on out of the water. Once they are frogs they should be released quite soon into the place where they were collected. You could use a gallon glass jar, but the water would need frequent changing and fewer critters should be put into it.
As a kid I loved working in the dirt and making things grow. As an adult I’ve noticed that kids who say they don’t like vegetables are much more willing to eat them once they’ve helped to grow them.
Growing up, I helped my mother in her gardens, but I also liked having a garden of my own. My brother and I each had 4×4 plots where we could plant whatever we liked.
We also had a ‘pea tent.” We dug five holes, mixed in compost,and anchored tipi poles firmly in them at a slant, tying the tops of the poles together. We ran strings diagonally back and forth between all but one pair of poles. Then we planted a mix of snap peas (peas we could eat,pod and all) and sweet peas (just for their blossoms) around each pole. The pea vines clung to the poles and the trellis and made the tent into an enclosed and shady space that offered flowers and tasty snacks.
Peas can be planted as soon as the ground is thawed; they’re frost-hardy, and they’re quite easy to grow. They don’t do well in the heat of summer.
You could make a later-season living tent by planting pole beans instead of peas–perhaps scarlet runner beans, which are spectacularly lovely and also tasty. Beans should be planted after danger of frost; they’re likely to keep growing and bearing until the fall frost.
One kid who visited our farm on Saturday afternoons for several years said on his first visit that he’d “never planted nothing before” and he’d like to try. My mother helped him plant sunflowers which grew taller than he was before the summer ended. Later the kids who came for our summer program measured themselves against the sunflowers each week.
Sunflowers are also fairly easy to grow, but they’re not frost-hardy. In cold climates, like ours in upstate New York, they should be started indoors and then transplanted outside once the danger of frost is past. In warmer climates you can plant them directly outdoors.
One Small Space
For years, beginning when I was little, I would choose ‘my nature place’ for the year in early spring. I’d pick a small spot, just a few feet square, in the woods or the field or on the edge of the swamp. I’d go back to that spot at least once a week, often several times a week, all through the time of year when sitting outdoors was comfortable. I didn’t have any particular assignment except to pay attention to what was going on in that small space as the seasons changed. I looked at the plants that grew there; I watched as the grasses and forbs emerged, grew, seeded and died, and as the leaves on the trees came out and changed color and size. I sat still and listened for birdsong or watched for birds flying over. Sometimes I poked into the leaf litter, turned over stones, and noticed insects, worms, springtails, or even salamanders. Sometimes I wrote notes about, or sketched, what I observed. Sometimes I brought in leaves, flowers or pebbles to identify. Sometimes I just sat there and felt the wind and the light.
When I was an adult and kids came to our farm for a summer program they helped in the garden, took active nature walks, and picnicked by the pond; but also, for fifteen minutes each day, they separated and each sat quietly in separate spots, paying attention. Some looked unhappily at the notebooks we offered and asked if this was an assignment and if they’d have to write a poem about it. We said the only rule was that they needed to stay in their places and not call out to others during those fifteen minutes. At the end of this ‘circle time’ they gathered together and told each other what they had heard and seen.
At first many found this difficult, but they came to like it, and perhaps to notice that frogs, dragonflies etc. were more apt to appear when they were sitting still not running around. Toward the end of the summer program, if our nature walks ran late and we said we might have to skip circle time, they insisted that they didn’t want to miss that and were very willing to hurry lunch so as to make time for it.
Ten activities to do anywhere:
Richard Louv of the Children and Nature Network offers nature exploration suggestions for times of quarantine here.