If you’re a gardener, chances are you have to deal with bugs. And most of the time, those bugs can do bad things to your fruits and vegetables.

Today on “You Can Grow It,” our garden master Jim Duthie is talking about bugs, but in a good way. And he explains how Idaho school kids are learning some important lessons about the environment, thanks to bugs.

Today we’re talking about bugs….not the creepy, crawly bugs, but Boise Urban Garden School, which today was hosting hundreds of school children, fifth graders, from around the Treasure Valley, to learn about different aspects of our environment, from the forests, to the wetlands, and, of course, growing your own gardens at home.

Remember your grade school days, and the excitement of a field trip? For these Idaho fifth graders, it’s a literal trip to a field, more specifically, to the Boise Urban Garden School.

The Boise Urban Garden School, known as B.U.G.S. for short, is partners with the Boise Parks and Recreation Department to provide students with opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of nature, food, healthy nutrition, and how to plant and maintain an organic garden.

Today’s field trip is a cooperative effort between B.U.G.S. and the Ada Soil and Water Conservation District, giving these kids a hands-on learning experience about the natural environment of southwest Idaho.

Groups of students rotate from station to station to learn about different environmental topics. The first stop – the Bureau of Land Management explains how wildfires start and spread.

“But we do have a fire going right now. Who can tell me what that fire is? Pioneer. The Pioneer fire, right.”

The kids learn about different types of plants that fuel wildfires, including invasive species like cheat grass, which burns easily, as well as how fires are managed and controlled.

Next, it’s all about the Boise watershed. Here they’re creating their own relief maps out of crumpled paper to simulate Idaho’s topography of ridges and valleys, and they learn about how rain and snow water collects in high areas and then flows into the rivers and streams below. Having a good understanding of how we get our water will make them more aware of the need for conserving this important natural resource.

Then it’s off to the garden, where they’ll see where their food comes from, and how they can plant and maintain an organic garden of their own. Today they’re also learning about beneficial insects that pollinate the plants that produce fruits and vegetables. Armed with a magnifying glass, Taylor is searching for some real bugs that live in this garden. Fellow fifth-grader cooper is also checking each leaf and stem for some of those same bugs.

Another station features the Ada Soil and Water Conservation District, and offers some interesting insight into ecosystems, and the diversity of plant and animal life living under our feet.

“What we’re learning about soil is that it is an ecosystem, just like our ecosystems, okay. So we have an ecosystem. Let’s pretend this is our ecosystem right here.”

An understanding of resource conservation will help these young people make responsible decisions in the future.

Finally, a visit with the U.S. Forest Service, to learn about the different kinds of trees that grow in Idaho’s forests, and the challenges they’re facing from drought, disease and insect infestations.

“So each female beetle can lay anywhere from 40 to about 60 eggs.”

One of the biggest challenges is the pine bark beetles, which has invaded Idaho’s forests and killed thousands of acres of trees. Can you guess how many beetles there are in this jar? About a million.

“What is one of the predators of the beetles? Birds. Birds. You know which one? Have you ever heard a lot of (knocking)? Woodpeckers. Right. Woodpeckers, right.”

Thousands of more acres of forest land are being killed by invasive mistletoe, and a long-term project is underway to clear dead and dying trees and replace them with more resistant species.

“I think it’s all really important that we support each other. We all have kind of similar goals in environmental education and youth education,” said Naomi Davenport, Boise Urban Garden School specialist.

Grants help underwrite the costs of field trips like these, to pay the cost of bussing the students and providing a free lunch. And similar programs are underway throughout Idaho, although local presentations may differ due to local resources.

The whole point is that this generation of youth will grow up to be more responsible and ecologically-minded citizens.

To learn more about Boise Urban Garden school, and all the interesting learning opportunities for your kids, check out the B.U.G.S. website.