See the complete Nature Journaling series.
Remember when we were all searching for our next supply of toilet paper? Paper products and cleaners were not the only items flying off the store shelves in early 2020. Seeds, soils, pots, and plants disappeared from home and garden centers at a faster rate than suppliers could restock. With disrupted lives and uncertain futures, each of us needed an outlet. For some that was bread baking or dancing, but many others found comfort outside in the garden.
Backyard plots, raised beds, container gardens, and even kitchen herb boxes were back in vogue with the onset of the global lockdown. When little of the world could be controlled, gardening quickly became the answer for individuals worldwide and here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The labor of growing plants calmed our worried minds and helped to ease our food insecurities sparked by the uncertain supply chain. Planting and weeding got us outside, where we reaped the mental and physical benefits of nature.
We gardened to shorten our grocery trips, fill our pantries, and occupy our time. And when we needed to supplement our stash of produce, we turned to local farmers and growers. Community supported agriculture (CSA) demand was at an all-time high last year as we sought out a safe supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. But we were not the only ones to receive the benefits of local agriculture and home gardens. Big or small, gardens support pollinators and local wildlife. They decrease our reliance of pollution-producing transportation. They require fewer water-fouling herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Each time we support local growers or calm our idle hands in the garden, our local environments and watersheds thrives too.
Today we are in the midst of a new growing season. Final frost dates are nearing or have passed for most regions. We are returning to the land once again—even if that land is confined to a single porch planter. The lessons we learned out of necessity last year can and should be applied to this new season of growth. Our minds, bodies, and the Bay will thank us for the peaceful exercise of gardening and the beautiful bounty we produce.
Art Prompt: Dirt Designs
Materials Needed: nature journal or paper, pen or pencil, coloring materials*, spoon*, collection jars*, water jar*, paintbrush* (*optional)
Assignment: Gardens are beautiful this time of year. However, the secret to a garden's beauty is hidden below ground. Plants rely on good, hearty soil to grow. Different plants like different soil conditions. Some prefer sandy soils, while others thrive in dark, loamy mixtures. Dirt in itself can be beautiful and inspire beauty on the page of our nature journals.
Find a safe spot to observe outside near a garden or planter. Create a quick sketch of the plants growing in the garden. Using a spoon or your hand, collect a small sample of garden soil. Below your plant drawings, rub the dirt onto your page. List the soil conditions. Is it smooth or gritty? Is it dry or wet? Continue to list the details including color, temperature, and other unique descriptors. Collect soil samples from different locations to expand your dirt palette.
Soils can also be used like watercolors. Store your soil samples in different jars. Add a small amount of water to each sample to create a kind of paint. Create a pattern in your nature journal using different soil-sample paints.
- USDA, National Resource Conservation Service, Painting with Soil
- Smithsonian Magazine, Using Soil to Make Art
Further Questions: Based on your observations and drawings, do you think the plants you observed were thriving in their soil conditions? Why or why not?
Writing Prompt: Life of a Pollinator
Materials Needed: nature journal or paper, pen or pencil
Assignment: Buzzing and bumbling about, pollinators are a necessary garden visitor. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 35% of our food crops require animal pollination to reproduce. That means bees, birds, bats, and insects are responsible for over a third of what we eat! Our reliance on these friendly pollinators can easily be overlooked, unless you spend some time in a garden.
Find a safe spot to observe outside near a garden or planter. Identify any pollinators that may be visiting the growing plants. Write a quick story about the pollinators’ travels around the garden. Which plants do they visit and for how long? Do they seem to favor a specific variety? Consider how the pollinator may feel about the garden, how the garden is designed, and its location. If the plants and pollinators could speak to one another, what would they discuss?
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Project Pollinator
- KidsGardening.org, My Pollinator Journal & Mi diario depolinizadores
Further Questions: Pollinator populations are declining worldwide. Research the species of pollinator you observed. Is their species threatened? What threats exist to your local pollinators? What positive actions can you take to help pollinators?
Check out more Nature Journaling prompts.