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With spring in full throttle, it's the time to get excited about gardening. If you plan on growing plants, you might want to consider adding some butterfly-friendly ones to the list. Even better, put in a butterfly garden. It is a wonderful project to share with kids.

Our featured adult-level book today, Butterfly Gardening: The North American Butterfly Association Guide by Jane Hurwitz has all the information you'll need to get started.

What's inside? The first part features basic information about common garden butterflies, their life cycles, and their needs. Range maps are included so you can find out which species of butterflies to expect in your area and what some of their common caterpillar food plants are.

Because the recommended species of butterfly garden plants vary depending on where you live, in Part II members of the North American Butterfly Association have written sections to suggest flowering plants and trees specific to regions around the United States, from the state of Florida to Portland, Oregon.

Overall, the book is illustrated with gorgeous, captivating photographs. It is also packed with tried-and-true practical information from experienced butterfly experts.

If you love gardening and/or love butterflies, Butterfly Gardening: The North American Butterfly Association Guide is a fantastic resource. Be inspired by a copy today.

Butterfly Gardening Activity Suggestions:

1. Create a Certified Butterfly Garden

The North American Butterfly Association encourages butterfly gardening through its certification program. To qualify, all you need in your garden are three different butterfly nectar plants and three different caterpillar food plants. In fact, look around your yard. You may already have some butterfly-friendly plants without realizing it.

Here are some butterfly-friendly plants that we've shown over the years:

Six Sonoran Desert Butterfly Garden Plants

Both queen and monarch butterfly caterpillars regularly use rush milkweeds as food.

Gulf fritillary caterpillars feed on passion vines.

Other insects do, as well.

At times, we've found painted lady butterfly caterpillars on our hollyhocks.

Adult painted lady butterfly (on lantana, a nectar plant)

Texan crescent caterpillars feed on a plant called Arizona foldwing, Dicliptera resupinata.

Citrus trees (orange, lemon grapefruit) attract numerous giant swallowtails. Their larvae are called orange dog caterpillars.

Check our butterflies category for many more posts about butterflies and plants. (We feature many different moths, too.)

2. Participate in a Butterfly Citizen Science Project

Check online for butterfly citizen science projects near you. Currently SciStarter lists 23 projects, such as:

If you decide to participate, we'd love to hear how it goes.

More Information:

Here at Growing with Science blog, we have other posts about butterfly gardening.

butterfly gardening week
Start with Butterfly Gardening with Children - which has links to a week of butterfly gardening posts, including Five great nectar plants for butterflies

Check out our growing list of Moth and Butterfly Books for Kids

Visit our National Moth Week 2017 post for related links and information.

Intrigued by the Butterfly Gardening book? If you visit the Princeton University Press website, they offer a PDF of Chapter 1

Publisher: Princeton University Press; Flexibound edition (April 10, 2018)
ISBN-10: 0691170347
ISBN-13: 978-0691170343

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher's representative for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Today we are joining with Share It! Science News blog in a kid-friendly investigation of composting. Here at Growing With Science we have activities to explore decomposition and the organisms found in compost. Share It! Science News is delving deep into composting with earthworms (vermicomposting). Be sure to go over and see what earthworm eggs look like.

Compost Science

Spring is a perfect time to add last year's compost to the garden and start this year's compost heap. While you are at it, why not incorporate some science activities for children?

Activity 1. Exploring Decomposition

Decomposition is an incredibly important process. Things rotting and decaying may not be pretty, but imagine what the world would be like without decomposition. Dead organisms would pile up and the nutrients tied up in them would not be released to be used again.

Test to see whether the addition of soil speeds up decomposition.

Note:  The observation portion of this experiment will take two to four weeks depending on materials used, temperature, and humidity. Also, set up outdoors or in a well-ventilated area and warn children not to disturb, inhale, or eat decaying materials.

Gather:

  • Clear containers, gallon-sized or bigger, if possible
  • Squares of fabric to cover container
  • Rubber bands to hold cloth covers in place
  • Plant debris, like leaves, grass clippings
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps, grains (no meat)
  • Soil, potting mix, or finished compost
  • Cup to measure soil and water
  • Water source
  • Optional:  man-made materials (to check if they are biodegradable)
  • Optional:  thermometer

Prepare two containers with identical mixes of plant material and the same amount of water (enough to make damp).

decomposition-experimant-1

Add a cup of soil, potting mix, or finished compost to one container.

decomposition-experiment-2Observe the two containers daily and record which one seems to contain materials that are decomposing more quickly. If there is a thermometer available, record the temperature of the mix each day. Add water as needed (same amount to both containers). Compare and discuss your results when completed.

Note:  Too much water will cause anaerobic conditions or lack of oxygen. The microorganisms that grow under anaerobic conditions tend to smell really bad. If that happens and you want to try to save the experiment, pour off the excess water and stir in some dry leaves or grass clippings (same amount in each container).

Extension 1:  Prepare more containers to compare the effect of adding soil versus potting soil and/or finished compost.

Extension 2:  Add various man-made materials to test to see if they are biodegradable. Examples might be different types of packing peanuts, pieces of Styrofoam, pieces of plastic bags, cardboard, or different types of paper.

Activity 2. Discovering Critters in the Compost

A compost pile is a community of living things that are dependent on each other. Microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts and molds are at the forefront of the decomposition process. Helping them (or eating them) are the invertebrates. The invertebrates help the microorganisms by tearing up or breaking up the larger pieces of plant material and by moving microorganisms about on their bodies. Remember that a compost pile that is working optimally will be too hot to harbor much besides microorganisms.

Compost.bin(Photograph of compost bin in public domain at Wikipedia)

Look through a sample of compost to see what critters are found hiding there.

Gather:

  • Magnifying lens
  • Dissecting microscope, if available
  • Petri or specimen dish to hold sample
  • Tweezers, forceps or a small stick to poke through compost
  • Small paintbrush to remove debris and move tiny creatures
  • Paper and pencil to make drawings and record results
  • Gloves (optional)
  • Identification guides, or take a look at descriptions of compost critters

What invertebrates should you expect? (Links go to related Growing With Science posts)

Insects

beetles, crickets, cockroaches, ants, flies like fruit flies, silverfish, or earwigs

2011-antsCrickets, cockroaches, some flies, and some beetles feed on the plant materials added to compost. The ants, riparian earwigs and most beetles will be feeding on other creatures living in the compost pile or bin.

Snails, slugs

snail-2Slugs and snails may feed on leaves of plants added to a compost pile and help break up large pieces.

Arachnids

Spiders

wolf-spider-23Mites

mite-red-closePseudoscorpions

"California"
Public domain photograph by Alex Wild

All the arachnids feed on other animals (are predators).

Millipedes, centipedes

millepede1

Millipedes feed on decaying plant materials. Centipedes are predators of other animals.

Earthworms

earthworm-setae

Earthworms help make big pieces of plant materials smaller. See Share It! Science News for how to compost with worms.

Sowbugs, Pillbugs

rolypoly

Sowbugs and pillbugs also feed on decaying plants.

Nematodes (round worms)

Nematodes are by far the most abundant invertebrate found in compost heaps. They are tiny hairlike worms usually visible only under the microscope. It has been estimated that a single rotting apple may contain as many as 90,000 nematodes!

Related:

  1. See our post with composting activities to accompany the Rotten Pumpkin Book
  2. Our post about decomposing tree leaves
  3. Compost Stew Book Author Website has loads of links to compost lessons, games, information, etc.
  4. Compost Stew lesson plan from Books in Bloom (download here)
  5. Resource for older children:  food web of the compost pile illustration (download here)

Try our growing list of children's books about decomposition and compost at Science Books for Kids.

compost-books

Follow Roberta's board Compost Science for Kids on Pinterest.

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Right in time for the spring gardening season and for STEM Friday, we have Dig In! by Cindy Jenson-Elliott and illustrated by ("dirt by") Mary Peterson.

Cindy Jenson-Elliott's new book celebrates the simple pleasures of mucking around in the soil. Each page reveals a new discovery, from earthworms to pill bugs.

With only a few words per page, the text is simple enough to read to toddlers or for beginning readers to tackle on their own.

I dig in the dirt...and find a seed.
Seed waits.
I dig in the dirt...and find a spider.
Spider runs.

The illustrations are linoleum block prints with just the right touch of humor. It might be fun to accompany the book with a quick art lesson using ink stamps or making potato prints to celebrate the illustrations.

It seems that digging in the dirt is a pastime too few young children get to indulge in these days. Dig In! is sure to encourage young readers to get outside and explore the world under their feet.

Related Activity:

Have everyone put on some old clothes and take your children out to a place they can examine some soil. Start by simply sitting on a patch of soil. Ask your children what they think soil is. Is it alive? (Yes, components of soil are alive.) What does it consist of? Are all soils alike? Smell the patch of soil, what do you smell? Touch the soil. What does it feel like? Is it wet or dry? Warm or cool?

Then allow the children to dig into the soil with their hands. Sandbox digging tools can be helpful, but not necessary. If age appropriate, supply a hand lens or magnifying glass. Talk about what they discover.

Some things to look for:

(Links go to related posts with activities)

Sue also has a review and suggestions for related activities at Sally's Bookshelf.

soil-little-pill-bug

Age Range: 4 - 8 years
Publisher: Beach Lane Books (March 1, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1442412615
ISBN-13: 978-1442412613

Disclosure:  An ARC was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.