Joe sat in the driveway peering into an old and broken ceramic frog.
“What are you doing buddy?” asked his mom, throwing a bag in the garbage can.
Joe looked up at his mom, a sparkle in his eye and a smile on his face.
“I found a new bug.”
His mom wandered over and crouched down next to him.
“Ah,” she said. “Roly polys.”
“Roly polys?” Joe asked, raising his eyebrows. “What are roly polys? Why are they rolling into a ball? What do they do?”
His mom smiled. “You should do some research and find out.”
Joe didn’t need any more encouragement. He hopped up and got his bug house from the garage. After popping a few roly polys into the container, he raced inside to research his new find.
“They live under rocks and like dark, moist places,” said Joe. “No wonder I found a bunch in the frog.”
“How many did you find?” his mom asked.
“Oh, ten. Maybe 12. But I only brought 6 inside with me.”
His mom glanced up from scrambling eggs.
“They are in your bug house, right?”
“Of course!” he laughed.
“What else have you learned about them?”
“Let’s see…they live a long time, up to 5 years!”
“Wow, that is a long time for a bug.”
“Not when you think about how long a black garden ant lives,” said Joe as he clicked on a new link. “They can live for 15 years.”
Click, click went the mouse.
“They have a bunch of names,” Joe said. “Pill bug, sow bug, potato bug and doodle bug…wait a minute, it says here that they aren’t bugs at all.”
Joe was getting excited. He eagerly read on.
“Not bugs?” said his mom, puzzled. “Then what are they?”
“Crustaceans? Like shrimp? On land?”
“Yep! It says here ‘Roly poly bugs might not look like lobsters or crabs, but they are actually land-based crustaceans.'”
Joe’s eyes were wide and gleaming. But…as he read on, the sparkle faded and his smile turned into a scowl.
“What’s wrong?” asked his mom, noticing his expression.
Joe sighed and turned to face his mom.
“They eat dead and decaying plants.”
“Ok, but why so glum? That helps the garden,” she said.
“They also eat live plants–young plants and seedlings. In the garden.”
“Yes,” Joe said darkly. “But we don’t want to get rid of them completely. They help the worms turn the decaying stuff into soil. They speed up the process.”
“So, what do we do about them?”
“We could use diatomaceous earth, but that will kill all the bugs, even the good ones.”
“Or, we could pull mulch away from the seedlings to keep the moisture away.”
“Or, we could just continue to start all of our seeds inside and transplant them when they’ve grown beyond the seedling stage.”
“Why don’t we do both?” asked his mom.
“Yes, we could start some indoors and direct sow some. Then, you could compare results,” she added.
“An experiment?” Joe asked.
“Yep. I wanted to do that anyway. The volunteer tomatoes we had last year were stronger than the ones we transpla–“.
“An experiment!” Joe jumped up and grabbed a notebook, a pen and his bug house.
With that, he ran downstairs to start his seedlings leaving his mom smiling and shaking her head.