Garden Scavenger Hunts: Explore the garden with your kids, and give your plants a helping hand!

Spending time in the garden gives most people a sense of calm and tranquility.  It is a sanctuary, especially within an urban context, where it becomes natural to breathe deeply and slowly.  The garden space can be a place of therapy, a reminder of patience when waiting for the harvest, and of silence and reflection as you work with the earth.  Take a closer look, however, and you will discover a world of energy and activity as well.  The habitat of your garden space is full of movement: Bustling bugs pass tunneling worms, leaves exchange sunlight for food in the process of photosynthesis, living organisms and bacteria feed, help decay, and build soil in an endless cycle.  Following the life of a seed alone demonstrates the commotion in the garden.  From seed to seedling, then flower to fruit and back again to seed.  The goings-on include exchanges, growth, decay, and the reciprocity of life. What better way to enjoy all of the activity then to get down close and observe it!

A favorite game in the garden with kids is an insect scavenger hunt!  Have children carefully inspect the soil and plants for insects, identify the bugs, and then discuss whether the found creature is beneficial or harmful to the garden. Make the scavenger hunts productive by implementing organic methods of ridding the garden of harmful pests. The best organic methods include preventing pests BEFORE they become a problem like building healthy soil by composting, planting a diversity of crops, practicing crop rotation, adding organic soil amendments, planting flowers that attract beneficial insects, and paying attention to the soil, air, and water.  However if pests persist here are some ideas to try in the garden:

  • Soap sprays dry out and kill soft-bodied insects like aphids and white flies.  Insecticidal soap sprays are available in stores or buy a mild liquid soap (not a detergent) and make your own. It is recommended to use a mild, bio-degradable soap such as Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps. For homemade sprays mix a mild liquid soap 1:100 parts with water. Put into a plastic spray bottle and spray your plants once a week if pests are persistent or as needed.  Note that sprays will wash away in the rain so be sure to reapply after a downfall.
  • Other homemade soap sprays using strong smelling roots and spices such as garlic, onions, horseradish, ginger, rhubarb leaves, cayenne and other hot peppers, which are all known to repel insects.  Add a handful of roots and spices to the bottom of a mason jar. Cover with the boiling water, screw on the top, and let set overnight. Strain, and add to the Soap Spray.
  • Garlic spray helps detour insects as well as deer and rabbits since these animals dislike the strong the smell of garlic.  Simply blend a head of garlic in a blender with about two cups of water; let sit for a day, then strain out pulp and dilute with about a gallon of water.  Add to sprayer and spray plants on tops and bottoms of leaves.
  • Slug traps and barriers for instance crushing eggshells around plants will help fend off slugs with their sharp edges. The calcium in the eggshells is a good soil amendment as well! Slugs avoid crawling over anything dry, dusty or scratchy.  Lime can be placed around the garden as a border to ward off slugs from entering. A proven trap is placing shallow bowls (pie tins work well) of stale beer or baker’s yeast dissolved in water throughout high slug traffic areas.  Set the top edges of the dish at ground level so slugs can easily get into the mixture.
  • Handpicking snails, slugs, caterpillars and other slow-moving insects can be very satisfying!

Another scavenger hunt idea includes giving children a leaf of a weed from the garden and then having them search the garden to match and identify the plant.  Help the garden out by pulling the weed as a reward for identifying it correctly!  Brainstorm other scavenger hunts with children and you are guaranteed a full afternoon of fun as well as great results if combined with productive means to keep the garden healthy.  There are many active ways to enjoy the garden with your family.  Scavenger hunts are simply one of many wonderful games that inspire discovery and discussion of the garden, which is teeming with life and movement.

(Many thanks to our lovely Youth Grow Intern, Andryce Anderson, for this post.)


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