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I-Grow cultivates little green thumbs

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GROWING UP GREEN: Organizers ofI-Grow Children’s Gardening, an annual nine-week educational program for children ages 6 through 13 at Garden Gate Greenhouse in Peru, prioritize spending time outside.
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BAT CRAFT: Master Gardener Shirley Kunkle assists two budding planters, Delaney Farnham (left) and Laurel Darland (right), with tracing the figures of brown bats at Garden Gate Greenhouse in Peru.

BY CAROLINE EGGERS - ceggers@perutribune.com

On Tuesday, children learned about purple vegetables, planting flowers, and bat behavior during this week’s installment of I-Grow Children’s Gardening, an annual nine-week educational program for children ages 6 through 13 at Garden Gate Greenhouse in Peru.

“The benefit of this program is to introduce kids to gardening,” said Diana Payne, a master gardener and associate of Garden Gate Greenhouse, and to teach kids about plants, animals and how to be good environmental stewards.

This year’s theme is dark gardens, so the children are learning about nocturnal creatures, dark-colored plants, and gardening during the low-sunlight wintertime.

“Each week we try to do something different,” Payne said.

The children planted a “flower bed” during the first week, and learned about the antioxidant benefits of dark-colored vegetables like purple bell peppers and dark leaf lettuce during another week.

The kids also planted a “winter scene” garden – although it was 90 degrees that day, the cottonwood tree happened to be blooming and provided a snow-like atmosphere, according to Payne.

The program organizers allow the kid’s imaginations to direct the flow of class sometimes, such as pausing the class to observe a frog hopping through the grass.  

“We just stop and go with the flow of the moment,” Payne said. “They are a very receptive group at this age, they’re always willing to try new things.”

On Tuesday, the young gardeners learned how bats fit into Indiana’s ecosystem.

Teresa Rody and Eva Webb, both interpretative naturalists with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, traveled to Peru to teach the kids about two native Indiana bats, the Eastern pipistrelle and the brown bat.

Bats help create a healthy environment by eating insects, pollinating fruits and curbing farmer’s reliance on pesticides – but both native bats are endangered, according to Rody.

“They’re an important part of the habitat,” she said.

After the outdoor learning activities, the young participants marched inside for crafts.

They traced the outline of a brown bat, and the rest of the page was up to them.

One girl tinted her bat’s wings pink, and another boy wrote “Bats EAT BUGS and they HELP FARMERS” across the top of his artwork.

While the children colored, the two naturalists brought a few items for show and tell, including the skull of a little brown bat.

“I feel bad for it,” one kid said.

“You don’t have to, it doesn’t have any feelings, it’s dead,” Webb said.

One participant, Delaney Farnham, said she wanted to give her drawing to her mother to convince her to like bats.

“It’s going to be really hard,” she said.

One mom observed from the sidelines.

“It’s just a really nice thing, she really enjoys it,” Amy Darland said of her daughter. “It makes her want to help me in my garden.”

Next week, the young gardeners will learn about owls and larger birds from Rody and Webb.

“We’re really pleased to come out to Garden Gate to share the natural world with these budding young gardeners,” Rody said.

To return the favor, Garden Gate Greenhouse donated some plants for the butterfly and hummingbird gardens at Salamonie River State Forest.