Blessed By Weeds

natural weed control methods, benefits of weeds

Nature doesn’t appreciate the bare earth method we call “weeding.” The soil we count on to grow food and flowers isn’t just a blank medium for our use. It’s a fragile, complex, living system that’s home to bacteria, fungi, and other life forms busy beneath our feet.

Left alone, nature brings forth plants of all kinds that improve the soil’s ability to foster life. We call them weeds. They seem to spring up without reason other than to frustrate us. But nature has her reasons.

~Many of these plants boost the presence of mycorrhiza.  This beneficial fungi massively improves a plant’s ability to use the soil’s water and nutrients while providing protection from certain pathogens. Mycorrhizas are found in more than 90 percent of plant families but their presence is inhibited by too much fertilizer and can be destroyed by excessive digging, tilling, and soil compaction.

~Many of these plants help to break up heavy soil with strong root systems, aerating and improving drainage. This makes the ground a better home for the plants we prefer to grow.

~Many of these plants improve soil fertility. Two common categories of weeds are dynamic accumulators and nitrogen fixers. Nitrogen fixers are able to capture atmospheric nitrogen, and due to a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria, these plants “fix” critically important nitrogen in the soil. Dynamic accumulators draw trace elements and other nutrients from deep underground and transport them closer to the surface

In places where soil is poor, the right plants to correct those particular deficiencies tend to spring up. In fact, botanists know that weeds are an indicator of soil properties such as pH and mineral levels. That’s nature’s wisdom at work.

Then we come in, gardeners and farmers, doing our darndest to get down to bare ground between rows of plants. Bare soil isn’t a natural state. The eroding effects of wind, water and sunlight wreak havoc on naked dirt. That’s where weeds pitch in, acting as protective ground cover by holding moisture and preventing topsoil loss. Think of weeds as self-appointed caretakers for vulnerable humus.

Weeds benefit more than the soil.

~In bloom, they attract natural pollinators such as bees, moths, and butterflies. They also provide habitat for many other helpful insects which balance out the pests you don’t want in your garden. Nature likes diversity.

~Plants we call weeds have been used for eons for food, oils, herbs, seasonings, and medications. Might as well celebrate dandelion season by frying up some dandelion flowers or making dandelion lemonade.  And during most of the growing season you can pluck some lambsquarters, plantain, purslane, chickweed, or other edible weeds to incorporate in your meals. (Identify them carefully and only pick plants that are not exposed to herbicides.) These foods are highly nutritious, and free for the picking. Weeds are the ultimate way to eat locally.

I want to understand the weeds that nature bestows on me. For example, I’ve learned to respect the fierce tenacity of thistles. Around here they can quickly grow taller than I am. And I can’t help but adore the beauty of those delicate flowers atop such a prickly stem.

They’ve visited most fiercely in our front flower bed, one that was mounded up from subsoil left when our septic system was excavated. Nature knows the soil there isn’t very hospitable to life. That’s exactly why thistles flourished there. I’ve augmented that bed with cow manure dragged from out back, stacked it with layers of straw and mulch, and pulled out as many thistles as  I can before my strength gives out.

Thistles are dynamic accumulators that work to bring up deep nutrients and their long roots break up poor soil.  Because they’re been actively improving the soil, fewer thistles appear in that bed every year, as if they’re completing a job started nearly 19 years ago. Other weeds are now taking their place, surely just as necessary.

But respect for weeds goes only so far. It’s not possible to grow peas, lettuce, and other delicate plants in a jungle of weeds. Besides, I am a low energy lazy gardener. Once summer heat rolls in I’m more inclined to hide in the shade with a book than sweat with Puritan righteousness in the sun.

So I have lots of experience with weed control methods.  (Other than chemical. I don’t go there.) Here are some thoughts on the matter.

  Hoeing. I’m not good at hoeing, although that may have something to do with using an antique implement that probably hasn’t been sharpened for decades. My hoeing technique also probably leaves something to be desired. Finally, the whole hoeing experience is impaired by having dogs out with me, dogs that like to dash after each other in wild canine exuberance which puts them right in the way of my hoe.

 Weeding. I’m not good at pulling weeds either but that’s the method I use most often. As I pull weeds, I lay their still-green bodies between the rows as a natural mulch. I tend to sit on the ground as I hand weed, and I happen to like how close that puts me to the smell of growth and the sight of tiny insects and an overall greater awareness of what’s going on in the garden. The size of my various gardens makes it impossible to do this well unless I want to spend many many hours a week on my butt pulling weeds, which I do until the blazing heat hits. Then I do so fewer hours with greater grumpiness.

 

 Landscape fabric or carpet discards. We were given reams of landscape fabric by a friend of a friend who used to run a greenhouse. It wasn’t easy to get between the rows and batten down with clips, but I covered it with heavy layers of grass clippings and it looked great. I was thrilled. It worked well until I pulled it off at the end of the growing season. The soil looked awful, cracked and strange as if it had boiled under all that black fabric. Rather than being soft and friable it was hard. I wanted to beg the dirt’s forgiveness. I was also rather bitter, as this was easy to use. It also has to be pulled up every year or it’ll accumulate so much biomass on its surface that plants will simply grow on top of it.

Years ago we tried using strips of discarded carpeting. I know, strange, but I read this back in some organic gardening magazine years ago. They claimed that carpet old enough to be torn out of a house doesn’t really have toxins to leach. Carpet kept down 100% of the weeds and, especially if it’s a bright color, gives your garden a Dr. Seuss sort of vibe. It was pretty darn amazing. But again, it has to be pulled up. And like landscape fabric, a great deal of biomass clings to the carpet and ends up being thrown out rather than becoming part of the soil.  Worse, I suspect it’s not really all that non-toxic…

 

 Newspapers and straw, or feed bags and straw. I read about the newspaper and straw method many years ago in Mother Earth News, and have been doing it on and off ever since. Basically you layer heavy, overlapping newspaper sections between the rows covered by straw or grass clippings. By the end of the growing season it’s largely biodegraded, becoming dirt by the next spring. I have a love/hate thing going with this method, probably because I’ve made all the mistakes possible. Too little newspaper, straw so flimsy that it doesn’t break into sections that firmly hold anything down. And the worst, trying to put down newspaper when there’s any breeze at all. One year I laid down quite a few rows and got the straw nicely set atop those papers but didn’t dampen it with rain barrel water because the sky threatened rain within minutes. Bad idea. That rain appeared only after heavy gusts of wind, meaning I was running around the yard trying to catch wind borne newspaper and stomping my feet in Rumpelstiltskin fits of frustration.

The past few years I’ve used heavy paper feedbags  which are even better than newspapers. We save livestock feed bags and also have our feed mill save us bags. Just cut open, spread out, cover with straw, and water. (Be careful to avoid feedbags with plastic lining! ) Unfortunately our feed mill is using mostly plastic bags, so I’ll be back to newspaper.

 

VLUU L200 / Samsung L200 Jeans, yes jeans. This is one of my stranger innovations. I got into the pile of jeans I’ve been saving to make a quilt (the kind perfect to keep in a car trunk for impromptu picnics). I slashed them apart, laid them between rows of emerging garlic plants while my kids laughed at crazy mom, then covered them with straw. They stay put well and biodegrade in about two years, although some heavy seams can be found here and there. Probably best to use between perennials. If you run across a cheap bolt of burlap or cotton fabric that should work too.

 

Garden, hopeful whack version. Weed whacking. I’ve been hankering after a small weed whacker for some time. I have a dreamy hope that, if I plant rows far enough apart, I can just cut weeds down to a reasonable height. I picture lawn-like strips between rows of gorgeous vegetables.  I haven’t tried this yet. Let me add that I have no known weed whacking skills. Chances are I’d accidentally decapitate innocent broccoli plants on my first try.

Thank you weeds. You haven’t forgotten your true value in our teeming, complex ecosystem.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, a weed is simply, “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

What do YOU do to live with and live without weeds?

 

An earlier version of this post appeared on our farm site

34 Ways to Raise Nature-Loving Kids

family outdoor activities

“Man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard.”–– Luther Standing Bear

Kids can’t help but explore when they’re in natural areas. They climb on fallen logs, leap over tiny streams, and wander through tall grasses. Their imaginations are as activated as their senses. These kinds of experiences open new worlds to them.

In Sharing Nature with ChildrenJoseph Cornell writes,

It is very helpful—almost essential—for people at first to have startling, captivating experiences in nature. This kind of first contact extinguishes for a moment the self-enclosing preoccupations and worries that keep us from feeling our identity with other expressions of life. From that release into expanded awareness and concern, love naturally follows. And memories of moments of love and expansion act as reminders of, and incentives to, a more sensitive way of living.

Cornell suggests expanding on outdoor experiences. For example, he describes a unique game of hide and seek. Hiders try to blend in with natural objects to “feel that they are a natural part of the objects around them, and the searchers can try to sense a foreign presence among the rocks and leaves.”

Although time spent in unspoiled areas is vitally important, children can experience nature in their own way and on their own terms every day, even in the smallest city apartment, as they pay attention to the weather, observe insects, grow plants from seed, and watch birds. Children can notice seasonal changes around them in the constellations, nearby trees, and the changing patterns of light falling on surrounding buildings. We are not separate from the ecosystems enfolding us.  Nature is essential for every child’s emotional, physical, and ethical development. (Please, read more about this in Richard Louv’s excellent book, Last Child in the Woods.)

Here are some ways to let our kids experience the lessons generously available to them in every aspect of nature.

~Go hiking. Before leaving, you might decide what each of you will keep your eyes open to see. Your son might decide to look for things that fly. Your daughter might decide to look for what’s blooming. It’s interesting how much more cued all of you will be to your surroundings when really looking.  You might enjoy Take a City Nature Walk or any in the series of Take A Walk books by Jane Kirkland.

nature-loving kids

~ Appoint a child as the hike navigator when setting off on a nature walk. For safety’s sake note the trail taken and the way back, but encourage your child to pay attention along the way so that he or she can guide your return. If the child is confused, assist by pointing out signs found in nature such as the position of the sun and direction of nearby water flow. Note signpost items like rock outcroppings, elevations, and unusually formed trees.

developing kids' love of nature

~ Build specific memories that encourage children to identify with nature. Go back to the same wilderness area year after year to check out a certain stream where you saw a beaver dam. Remember to notice the growth of a sapling in a nearby park as it matures into a young tree. Casually name places something unique to your family, such as “shoe-tying rock” or “Dad’s-go-no-further bend in the trail.” And let your children find their own special places in your backyard, in the park, and in the creek at the end of the street. This way natural areas become touchstones for your child and your family. They remain distinctly in memory even if the places themselves may eventually no longer exist.

love of nature in kids

~Allow time for solitude in nature. A child’s time alone, even when a parent is within hearing, helps them feel grounded and whole as beings in a world teeming with less meaningful distractions. Given enough time, they will see and hear the natural world with more complexity than they ever could through quick observation.

raising kids and teens who love the outdoors

~Draw attention to the sky. Take time to look up each time you go outdoors. Notice how the sunset and sunrise change on the horizon as the seasons turn.  Whenever possible, lie on the ground and look at the sky from that perspective. Some children like to lie still, watching the sky long enough to claim they can feel the earth’s rotation. You might take photos, sending your favorite cloud photos to The Cloud Appreciation Society.

raising outdoorsy kids

~Play outside after dark.  Make a habit of taking a walk at dusk. See who can be first to notice the first faint sliver of a new moon. Point out constellations to one another. Look for shooting stars. Play games perfect for dusk and beyond. Sing lullabies to animals you imagine settling down to sleep in nests and burrows. Or just go out, hold hands, and enjoy the darkness.

family fun at dusk

~Go on micro level explorations. Closely watch what goes on in a small area of a tide pool. Observe sand, rocks, and water. Look for invertebrates, fish, crustaceans. What actions are they taking? Why? Cover a carton with clear plastic over the bottom in order to see more easily. Or sit on the ground in an overgrown area, even a weedy part of the garden, and observe the same tiny section for fifteen minutes or so. Notice plants, rocks, and soil. Check the effect of wind. Listen to nearby sounds. Watch for insects. Use a magnifying glass. Or don’t make an effort to watch at all. Just lie on your stomach in the grass, in a forested area, or near water and just be.

science-y family activities

~Consider macro viewpoints. Go from the close-up to farther away. Step away from the tide pool to a pier or hill. Get up off the grass and climb a tree. Observe from that vantage point. What conditions might affect the soil, water, and creatures you were watching so intently? Consider a more distant perspective of the habitat you’re in.

kids nature learning activities

~Bike, canoe, walk the dog, swim, sail, surf, climb, go horseback riding, skate, kayak — share with your kids whatever you love to do outside.

outdoor family fun

~Take indoor activities outside. Read books on a swing, play board games or cards on the grass, play with dolls and trucks under a tree, paint plein air, play an instrument. We can’t expect kids to do this unless we eagerly do as well. It’s becoming common for people to meditate, do tai chi, and work on laptops in parks. Simply being outside changes the experience.

~Learn wilderness survival skills. It’s entirely satisfying to know how to start a fire, follow animal tracks, forage for edible plants, and find shelter. The resonance of these ancestral skills haven’t diminished in our today’s world. It’s best to learn directly from others, but if that’s not an option check out these wonderful handbooks: Willy Whitefeather’s Outdoor Survival Handbook for Kids and Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature and Survival for Children

~Leave room for silence. Make it a tradition to quiet yourselves, even for a few minutes. Really listen to the wind in the trees, chittering insects, rustling leaves, moving water, and other auditory feasts.

encouraging kids to play outside

~Get involved in bird science. Audubon Society has local chapters that host bird walks, advocacy campaigns, nature outings, and educational programs. Audubon teamed up with the Cornell Ornithology Lab for citizen science programs including the Great Backyard Bird Count.

raising nature lovers

~Welcome dirt. It’s not simply something to scrub off, it is integral to the nourishment we take in every day. Certain bacteria found in soil are even linked to positive mood and enhanced learning.   Let kids play in the mud, run outside in the rain, climb trees, play with sticks, and otherwise indulge in direct sensory experiences outdoors. Perhaps you can designate an area of the yard where kids can play right in the dirt. They might want to use it to build mountains and valleys for their toy dinosaurs, cars, or action figures. They might want to dig holes, perhaps looking for archaeological finds using Hands-On Archaeology: Real-Life Activities for Kids as a guide. For a real mess, give them enough water to make a mud pit. Your status as an epic parent will linger (so will the stains).

raise nature loving kids

~Get involved as a family in pursuits upholding the importance of natural systems. Volunteer with a group to restore a wetlands area or to pull invasive plant species. In your own backyard make sure to leave wild areas so native pollinators, birds and other creatures have access to diverse materials for forage and nesting.  You might create wildlife habitat in your backyard, schoolyard, or church property with tips from the National Wildlife Federation and the Xerces Society.  If you get really involved, check out the President’s Environmental Youth Awards, recognizing youth for environmental projects.

Keep lists. For those who like to log their activities, lists are a great motivator. You might list species you’ve seen or paths you’ve hiked or nature areas you’ve visited. More on keeping unusual lists, check here.

Eat outside. Take your dinner to the park or the beach or far in the back yard. If at all possible, cook some of it outside over a flame. Everything tastes better whether cooked on a grill, over a fire pit, or over a real campfire. Slice a few inches open on an unpeeled banana, stuff in a dollop of peanut butter and a few chocolate chips, then grill till it becomes a warm pudding in its own banana container. Bake brownies or cake inside hollowed out oranges over a fire pit.  Bury baking potatoes in the coals till they’re cooked to roasty goodness. For more ideas check out Campfire CookingScout’s Outdoor Cookbook and Easy Campfire Cooking

Sleep outside. It’s great if you can get away, especially to state or national parks, but you can also say yes to sleeping on an open porch or in a hammock slung between trees or in a backyard tent. If your kids are young, sleep out there with them, maybe just one kid at a time for some special adult-child togetherness. When kids get older, let them do it on their own. My oldest liked to haul a little tent to the back of our yard and settle in. By the time he was 11 he managed to stay out all night!

raise outdoor loving kids

Create a seasonal table.  Many of us enjoy setting a space aside for a nature table. In our home it has always been a simple display of seasonal items, but you can get more elaborate. Some feature folktale scenes with felted figures and wood turnings. It’s a celebratory way of bringing inside a few things from the natural world. More on this here.

~Garden together. Let each child plant one “crop” in the garden that’s his or hers to tend. Fast-growing plants like sugar snap peas, radishes, and green beans are ideal. Let the kid farmer in charge be the one to check regularly for weeds, watering needs, and harvest times. For more ideas check out Gardening Projects for Kids and for those of you without yards or community garden plots, try Kids’ Container Gardening.  Growing their own foods has been found to inspire children to be more adventurous eaters.

raising nature lovers

~Eat local. Go to pick-your-own farms. Your kids will happily to dig into baskets of blueberries and bags of apples for a taste, but they’re just as likely to be eager to try radishes, endive, broccoli, pecans, and other treats they pick themselves. Join a CSA that encourages members to donate time on the farm.  Find nearby farms through Local Harvest; some have open houses or welcome visitors.

~Cook with the sun. Use a solar oven to cook at home or on campouts using nature’s free energy supply.  Assemble your own solar cooker and make lunch using only the sun’s rays for heat, you can find all sorts of plans here.

raising outdoorsy kids

~Pay attention to subtext. Look behind a promotional campaign or news story to discover more about the situation. How do efforts to control or “help” nature overlook interdependent natural systems? How do corporate and media messages shape our view of nature? There are lots of ways to help kids of all ages become media aware.

 ~Explore recycling. Buying easily recyclable items aids the process of reclamation, but  buying less in the first place leads to fewer items requiring disposal. Find out what happens to recyclable products. Visit an artist who relies on used materials. Call your local recycling, solid waste, or public works department for information, tours, or speakers. If there are items you cannot easily recycle (furniture, batteries, paint) locate organizations that will take them from the resources from Earth911.  Save worn-out sneakers to donate to a recycling program. Heck, start a Stinky Shoe Drive so your family can work toward a goal of 25 pounds of shoes or more. Here are organizations that recycle them.  Enjoy recyclable products too. Toys from Trash provides instructions for making a variety of playthings from repurposed items.

earth-friendly kids

~Bring useful information. Along with water and snacks in your backpacks, you can bring field guides and take-along science ideas. Instructions to measure a slope using a string and jar of water, the methods of testing for rock hardness, charts of constellations are all great to have on hand when the timing is right. Sure, you can look these things up on your phone but kids running off clutching a dust-darkened field guide somehow feels right. There are plenty of guides for kids but my family likes standards like  Peterson guides and Audubon field guides. (Smithsonian guides are appealing, but not durable.) 

~Set off on a search. Brainstorm indications of animal life or other areas of interest, then set out with your list and check off what can be found   Another time, try a nature scavenger hunt. You might have to make tree rubbings, spot a certain bird, collect rocks, and so on. For toddlers, try a color hunt.

outdoor family fun

~Pay close attention to weather. Notice how the air feels different before the storm and how you can “smell” snow coming. Put together a DIY weather station.  Find out if you really predict weather using pinecones. Go out and experience windy days, rainy days, snowy days, all of weather’s moods where you live.

~Ignore inclement weather. There are all sort of things to be learned when you’re snowed in!

nature learning in winter

~Allow kids the allure of hidden places. Explore to find little hideaways or even an afternoon’s hideout made from a sheet draped over a branch. This gives kids a sense of their own place outdoors.

kids who love to play outside

~Let fiction build a love of nature. When I was a kid I loved books told from the perspective of an animal, giving me a compelling glimpse of the lives of other creatures. I still remember reading dusty old library copies of An Otter’s Story Rabbit Hill, and White Fang The most popular from-an-animal’s perspective these days is the delightful book, The Tale of Despereaux.  Here’s a list for younger children and here’s one more appropriate for older kids.

build a love for nature

~Keep a nature journal. This doesn’t have to be anything more than a blank book. Take it along when you go outdoors and set aside time to draw, write observations, or make up stories. Don’t expect kids to use their nature journals if you aren’t avidly using one yourself!

kids nature journal

~Emphasize hands-on fun. Run, climb, roll, and revel in being outdoors. Kids, especially the youngest among us, are great models for our own fun. You can find more ideas in books like  Nature’s Playground: Activities, Crafts, and Games to Encourage Children to Get Outdoors and Go Wild!: 101 Things to Do Outdoors Before You Grow Up.

outdoor family fun

~Focus on one thing over time. Pick out a tree right past your window or a stream nearby. Describe it fully to yourself, perhaps writing about it or drawing it. Spend time regularly observing it. Notice changes in different seasons. Pay attention to everything that’s beautiful, distressing, and hard to understand. As questions arise, look for the answers.

kids who love nature

 ~Stay positive. Simply enjoy and observe. Don’t allow yourself to make dire observations no matter how much you worry about issues affecting our lovely planet. The first step for children is love of the natural world, from that flows the desire to save it. When choosing resources, focus on those which help young people become informed and active in positive ways. Emphasize joy.

love nature to save nature

What activities and resources do you suggest?

PORTIONs OF THIS POST Are EXCERPTED FROM FREE RANGE LEARNING

Sprouting Plant Advocates

Every growing season our four children choose which crop will be theirs to plant and tend in our vegetable garden. It doesn’t make my work easier. But this tradition helps them understand how intrinsically connected we all are to sunlight, soil, and the lives of growing things.

Claire always insists on sugar snap peas. They grow quickly enough to gratify her restless nature and besides, they’re fun to eat fresh from the vine. Her three brothers aren’t as opinionated. They choose something different each year. Last year Benjamin had a great crop of sweet corn, buzzing with honeybees and taller than his pre-teen shoulders. Little Samuel’s green peppers struggled—perhaps too close to the shadowing tomato plants, but still they produced a gratifying harvest, heavy and large in his preschooler’s hands. Only Kirby’s chosen crop, watermelons, disappointed. He’d picked them out of the seed catalog based on claims of huge size and juicy red flesh. He took personal pride in the resulting vines stretching vigorously across the garden. Yet the flowers never fruited. Instead they turned brown and curled up.

This winter, before we’ve even ordered our spring seeds, Kirby’s second-grade class begins a unit on botany. He comes home and tells us that everyone got to write his or her name on a Styrofoam cup. Then they filled the cups with potting soil and each planted one white bean. Although he’s seen this miracle happen over and over at home he’s excited about the project at school. Daily he supplies progress reports while unloading his book bag containing carefully drawn worksheets with terms like root, stem, leaves, pistol, and stamen.

For nearly a week the cups show only dirt. Then one day Kirby eagerly hurries from the bus with wonderful news. A bean has sprouted! Emily’s cup is the first to show life. “It’s like a little bent green rubber band,” he exclaims.

Every day he reports whose cups are bursting with growth. It has become a competition. Emily’s plant, at first the class wonder, is now no longer the tallest. For a few days Jason’s plant is the tallest, then Kerri’s, then Christoper’s plant takes the lead. Only a few cups show no visible progress. Kirby’s cup is one of those. His enthusiasm is not diminished. He’s seen what happens when a seed awakens, splits its shell, pushes through the dirt, and stands upright. He trusts in the life force of each seed.

That Friday there’s a teacher study day. A three-day weekend with no one at school to water those little cups. I find myself wondering about the tender green beans lined up in the cold window, dry and struggling to live. I’m almost afraid to send my trusting son off to school on Monday.

But Kirby returns home with a shy grin, as if he can hardly believe a long-awaited hope has come true. “It’s this big!” he says, stretching his thumb and forefinger apart. Apparently his little plant mustered up some courage during the long weekend alone. Not only has it burst through the soil, it’s already competing with older seedlings in height.

A few days later I volunteer in the classroom and notice the progress of the seedlings. Standing up from cups – children’s names scrawled proudly across the front – they appear to have identities of their own. But they’re getting gangly, leaning on the window or neighboring plants. They need to be put into bigger pots or, if only they’d been planted at the right time, into a garden. It seems an ill-timed project.

The next day, coming in from errands, I’m disconcerted by a terse phone message from Kirby’s teacher. Something about non-compliance. The teacher wants me to call back to help her determine an appropriate punishment. I can’t imagine what might have gone wrong. I start to call her back, but then I hear the school bus rounding the corner. I’ll wait to hear what Kirby has to say first.

There’s a look children get that’s hard to describe. They appear so full they may burst, but they don’t know if they can let out what has them so overwhelmed. The adult world has them confounded. That’s the look Kirby wears. Misery, anger, guilt, petulance, and defiance as well.  There’s so much emotion on his face that I can only give him a big hug and ask him to tell me.

He can’t sit. He paces as he starts to explain. Today in class his teacher had each pupil take his or her plant, sit at their desks and…. for a minute he can’t go on. He tries again. Finally I understand. The ultimate purpose of the seedling is to serve as an example of plant anatomy. “She wanted me to kill it Mom!” he said, wide-eyed at the injustice of it.

It seems Kirby took the plastic knife he was given but just sat there. He wouldn’t take his plant out of the dirt, he wouldn’t cut it apart. While the other children followed instructions on their worksheets the teacher scolded Kirby.  Then took his plant and put it back on the windowsill where it sat alone, nearly tipping over without other seedlings to lean on. My son waited, knowing he’d done something wrong.

It’s too soon to plant the bean plant in the garden. Repotting might not give it a strong chance either. I have to tell him the truth about his plant’s chances. But I explain that I’m proud of him for doing what he thought was right. The world needs more people who listen to their hearts.

I call his teacher. I try to explain that my kindhearted son felt he was sticking up for a friend of his, that sometimes following the rules doesn’t always serve the higher good. The teacher doesn’t agree. The next day Kirby is punished. He is learning that rules, even the ones we feel are wrong, bear consequences.

Although his bright green plant isn’t likely to survive, I suspect that, this year, Kirby will decide to plant green beans in our garden. He’ll grow them in memory of his friend and of the fallen green comrades who gave their lives for second-grade science.

First published in Green Prints, a loooong time ago!