Bugs in the Garden, Butterflies in the Meadow

Wasps and earthworms, leafhoppers and assassin bugs, butterflies and honeybees–what do all these critters share in common? They, and many others, are happy residents in the gardens and meadows of Fishkill Farms. Our recent farm adventure introduced us to all of these and other insects–some helpful, others not so much.

We were fortunate to have another visit with Walker, one of Fishkill’s growers, for a tour of the farm’s greenhouse, sunflower patch, and compost heap. It was a hot, sunny day on the farm, a welcome change from the many rainy days this summer has brought us, and the surrounding fields and orchards seemed to be postively buzzing with life. Kids arrived at the picnic tables and began doing some eyedropper painting to make the first part of the butterfly mobile we would be putting together later on. As we waited for the group to assemble for the day, a rainbow of butterflies emerged from creative hands and were set to dry in the sun during our hike.

Walker soon arrived having spent the morning caring for and helping to vaccinate some of the farm’s sheep. He carried with him a small container with holes punched in the top. On the container was written “Walker’s bugs” in magic marker. Walker reminds me of a big kid. He sat right down at the picnic table with his bugs talking to our group about the various critters they might see around the farm, introducing them to the ones he had captured and getting them excited to set off on their own bug hunt.

We set out for the greenhouse where Walker showed them a wasp’s nest snugged away in the corner. We learned that wasps lay their eggs on the body of a host insect where they will stay until they hatch. While watching the wasps zip in and out of their home, we were treated to the sight of butterflies fluttering around the plants in the greenhouse, mostly monarchs and swallowtails, and the kids clutched their nets in anticipation of catching one back outside.

Right next to the greenhouse is an area planted with several rows of enormous sunflowers. There we met some of the most important insects on the farm–the bees–who were busily pollinating and frolicking from one giant flower to the next. The kids loved it in there. The sunflowers towered above their heads creating a magical space for them to run and hide and play.

Walker lured the children from this forest of flowers holding a cupped hand out to them and asking, “What do you think I might have in here?” Opening his hand slowly, he revealed a very large, brown leafhopper (and I’m not sure how this is different from a grasshopper!) who quickly leaped into the hands of a waiting child. We sat still for a moment and suddenly saw the insects everywhere around us, springing up from the thick grass in all directions. The kids’ nets came in handy here.

Our last stop was the farm’s composting area where the kids were thrilled by plump earthworms and even more so by the produce they saw in various stages of decomposition, including a large, dried out pumpkin/acorn squash that had been there for quite some time. They played eye-spy, spotting eggshells, carrots, beets, and a pile of chicken poop in and around the compost pile, amazed that this “garbage” would soon be going back into the garden.

By this time, our group was pretty sweaty and wilted, so we headed back up to the orchard behind the farm store for some shady read-aloud time before finishing the butterfly mobiles and enjoying some of the farm’s newly harvested, super-sweet white peaches.

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