Lettuce Bloom

Students from Crompond Elementary School in Yorktown in Lettuce Bloom school garden. Picture by Joe Larese, The Journal News

“Yuck! Bug! Someone squish it!” We have all heard children and adults shouting out like this in our classrooms, backyards and even our homes. But when it comes to our gardens it is important that we know which bugs to squish and which ones we should let stay. One of our “Lettuce Bloom” garden rules is: Respect the plants, animals, and insects that live in our garden. In our classrooms we make sure to take the time to study insects and teach the students why some of these bugs are good for our garden and why some are bad for our garden’s growth.

We begin this unit of study by having students brainstorm bugs that they have seen in our garden. We then ask them to describe their favorite bug-this can be hard for some students. Next they draw their bugs and explain why it’s their favorite. We do the same thing with their least favorite bug. This leads into a discussion of why gardeners need to know about insects to have a successful garden. Just because we might not like a bug doesn’t mean we should eliminate it from our garden.

Here are a few of the creepy crawlies that we discuss with our little gardeners. We categorize the following insects as “good bugs” and encourage them to stay in our gardens. Earthworms are considered good-but we make sure they are brown. Bumblebees are big, fat and fuzzy-looking. They’re black and yellow. Bumblebees are related to honeybees and both are important for pollination. Spiders have an undeserved reputation; even though the sight of them freaks me out, we need to make sure that students don’t kill them. These active hunters eliminate many of the harmful insects that appear in our gardens. Butterflies and their larvae (caterpillars) can be very colorful. Caterpillars feed on the leaves of plants and are sometimes considered pests. However, once they turn into butterflies, these bugs will help pollinate plants and are good to have in the back garden. Click the link for more information on and pictures of some good bugs.

It’s important to always teach student to “look but don’t touch” with insects in the garden and if they see any of the following “bad bugs” to let an adult know. We want to keep in mind our rule about respecting insects so that means students should not touch or harm any bug. When it comes to worms, green means bad. All of the green worms that crawl on plants are bad news. They are impressive eaters and can eat whole plants in just a few days. Soil-dwelling grubs, which are mostly white with obvious legs and heads, usually aren’t good news, as they feed on plant roots and crawl to the soil surface at night, where they gnaw on plants. Grasshoppers can eat a bunch of plant flesh when they’re hungry, but these hoppers are usually just passing through the garden; a healthy, local bird population should take care of any hoppers. Click the link for more information on and pictures of bad bugs.

So, bugs are both good and bad, but even the bad ones aren’t usually a real danger to the garden. If we teach our students to understand the difference between good and bad bugs maybe there will be less fear of these garden critters.  They will know when to remain calm and when to take action.

Happy Gardening! ~ Cari

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Cari Byrnes is a teacher at Crompond Intermediate School in Yorktown, New York which has the “Lettuce Bloom Garden”.

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