Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Learning about Pollinators

The beehives at Marra Farm emit a steady hum that fascinates children. We stop on our tours of the farm to watch the constant stream of bees on their way to and from the hive, some setting out to find nectar and pollen, others return to the hive laden with food they have collected.

When bees fly from flower to flower to collect their food, pollen sticks to their legs, allowing them to pollinate the plants they visit. Bees work nonstop during the summer to stockpile enough food to last them through the winter.

These beautiful cucumbers began as flowers cross-pollinated by bees.
Thanks, bees!

As we learn in our kids’ classes at Marra Farm, we humans should remember to thank the honeybees. We reap the benefits of their hard work, consuming not only their honey, but the literal fruits and vegetables of their labors.

Global Pollination

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 70% of the crops that produce 90% of the world’s food supply require pollination by bees.

A complex mix of factors has contributed to the catastrophic collapse of bee colonies around the world in recent years, including the widespread use of toxic agricultural chemicals, the decline of flowering plants, a rise in pollution, and even the globalization of food supplies – international shipping quickly spreads virulent fungal pathogens, which can wipe out entire hives.

Colony collapse disorder spells bad news for global food security. In the words of Achim Steiner, the executive director of the UNEP, “Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services in a world of close to 7 billion people.”

For a holistic look at the threats facing bees around the world as a result of current mainstream agricultural practices, consider watching the award-winning documentary More Than Honey.

A honeybee industriously collects pollen in the
Childrens’ Garden at the Seattle Community Farm.

Pollinator Lessons

Despite the grim future of our most vital pollinators, in our garden and nutrition education classes we focus on teaching children the important role bees play in the garden:

  • We examine the Velcro straps on a student’s shoes and learn how bees also have sticky “Velcro” on their legs that collects pollen when they buzz from flower to flower. 
  • We learn how a bee returning from a successful foraging mission performs a “waggle dance” to tell the other bees in the hive about the direction and distance to flower patches with abundant nectar and pollen. And then we do our own waggle dances! 
  • We visit flowers in the garden and observe bees collecting nectar. Then we watch as pollen from one flower brushes off a bee’s legs onto another flower. 
  • We learn about the different roles within the bee colony by dividing the class into worker bees, drone bees, and the queen bee, and then we fly around going "buzz buzz buzz!" 
By teaching the next generation about the importance of honeybees, we hope to instill appreciation for these buzzing friends and their habitats.

Bumblebees throng to the vibrant purple artichoke flowers.
The many artichokes at Marra Farm and the Seattle Community Farm
are planted expressly to attract our bee friends.

-Cordelia, summer Children's Garden and Nutrition Education intern

No comments: