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Gardening with kids: On death and dying in the garden

On death and dying in the garden

Why do we kill bugs, but not bunnies? The real humdingers come on Friday afternoon, late, when dinner is just a vague notion but everyone is sure to complain about it. It wasn’t a totally random question though, because earlier, out in the garden, we had been doing some killing.

The lesson of “thou shalt not kill” seems pretty straightforward until a kid gets hold of it. The young are less accustomed to the accommodations that life teaches us to apply to our ethics and morals. The question came on a day when we had witnessed the damage of two different garden pests, which we handled very differently.

Bunny eats our lettuce, carrot-tops and bean sprouts. But bunny is so darn cute. We tolerate her appetite and I only throw clumps of soil at her when the kids aren’t looking. We plant extra of her favorites and look forward to seeing her in the garden. The Mexican bean beetle looks like an orange ladybug and is a scourge to squash, melons, pumpkins and beans. She must be stopped, and she’s no lovely beetle either.


We had spent some time that afternoon picking bean beetles off our best pumpkin plant. Voracious in appetite and prolific in reproduction, the beetles can wreck a plant in short order. The kids spot them easily and our afternoon chore was picking the bugs off the vines. What do we do with them? Each person was given the choice to dispatch of their beetles as they saw fit. We ended up with lots of squashed bugs.

Are we going to kill the bunny too? Heavens, no! And a four year old gave a sigh of relief. But then, when the idea tumbled in her head a bit, she came back with the inevitable, why? For many people, there is a consensus on what is okay or not okay to kill. Most bugs are in the kill column and some animals are too, if they are among the few dozen we eat. Pets are not okay to kill or any animal that is majestic. Lizards are way lower than mammals, fish and lizards are tied, and arthropods are a little more okay to kill than amphibians. Killing any animal for pleasure is indicative of a deeper problem and gratification from killing is exclusively reserved for mosquitos.

It can be annoying, but kids routinely give you reason to question what you believe. Why do we kill bugs, but not bunnies? The opportunities to talk about deep topics start at a young age. As with many aspects of parenting, these discussions can test patience and they often end with less clarity, and a touch of self-doubt. Despite the challenges, deep, rambling conversations with the kids do introduce them to the notion that life is rarely black and white. The garden affords lessons that seldom have a clear message but are good for fertile young minds to grapple with. We agreed that we won’t kill the bunnies and we will squash the beetles, but we won’t enjoy it. Then, we left the pepperoni off the pizza that eventually became dinner and everyone ate just fine.