Hunting for earthworms

Marion Owen finds a few earthworms for summer school students from Main Elementary School. They were on a field trip to learn about healthy garden soil.

KODIAK — I stood on the lawn near the compost bins and faced a group of summer school students. They were on a field trip from Main Elementary School to learn what makes good garden soil.

We toured the garden, smelled handfuls of soil, and balanced earthworms on our fingers. When I mentioned worm poop, it brought a collective “Yuck!” from the kids.

I stopped by a raised bed covered with white hoops and plastic. I lifted the plastic to expose leafy seedlings underneath.

“Anyone know what these big plants are?”

Silence.

I tried a different tactic. “Does anyone here eat squash?”

“Ick,” chimed in one boy.

“How about zucchini?” I asked.

“Oh, my mother cooks zucchini for us,” one girl said. “I like it.” Several kids nodded their heads.

“Well, these are zucchini plants,” I said. “They need rich and warm soil which they get under this tent.”

“You mean like wearing a big coat when it’s cold?” asked a girl with pigtails.

I flashed her a smile.

I made my way to the greenhouse, the kids in tow. They jostled for position at the door. I tickled tomato blossoms and talked about growing food in containers. 

They asked about the metal cages around the tomato plants and why I needed to tap the flowers.

I stepped outside and pointed to the cherry tree which was full of white blossoms and honeybees. “The bees live up the street in big boxes or beehives and they flew all the way to our house to this very cherry tree. All creatures have to eat,” I told them. 

“But if the cherry tree isn’t planted in good dirt,” I said, wagging my finger, “Guess what? It won’t grow very well. Which means the tree might not bloom and the bees might not have enough food. And we don’t get any cherries.

“Healthy soil means healthy plants which mean healthy food for you,” I said. “See how it’s all connected”?

A couple sea lions swam by, exhaling and snorting, which created a bit of a distraction among the boys.

An orange and white helicopter flew low over the house. Oops, another distraction. To rally the troops I asked, “That was cool. Who do those helicopters belong to?”

“The Coast Guard!” shouted a couple students in the front.

“Yes. And whenever you see or hear one of those helicopters go by, it helps to send good thoughts to the crew. The Coast Guard saves a lot of lives.”  

So, there they were, arranged in a horseshoe shape around me. They cradled notebooks in their arms, pencils poised. 

“We make compost from seaweed, grass clippings, brown leaves and other local ingredients,” I said. “And then, after about six weeks, then we turn it into the garden.” 

“Compost adds nutrients to the soil.” 

Blank stares. 

“Nutrients are … well, like little food,” I tried to explain.

I spelled out “nutrients” so they could write it down.

As if the word “nutrients” wasn’t obscure enough, the kids probably found compost just as challenging. Or boring. Or unimportant. After all, couldn’t you buy bagged dirt at the store?

“Compost is like what mother nature makes under the trees in the forest and…”

A hand shot up from the middle of the group. “Whose mother nature?”

You gotta love kids, I thought. They ask the darndest things.

Most of the kids were looking down at their feet. “Does anyone know who mother nature is?” 

“It’s the small plants in the woods?” offered one girl.

“Is it the wind?” asked another.

I waited a few moments. A boy in the middle, who hadn’t said a word all morning, raised his hand. Just a little. 

“Yes?” I said, bending my knees and leaning forward. “Who do you think mother nature is?

“Is it … is it God?” he asked.

To sign up for Marion’s “Goodness from Kodiak” newsletter, visit her blog at MarionOwenAlaska.com.

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