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Buzzing Back to School (Gardens)

September 13th, 2016
By: Madeleine Carnemark, Pollinator Program and Policy Coordinator
Center for Food Safety

Long Horned Bee, photo credit Celeste Ets Hokin

When September rolls around, students and teachers are busy settling into the classroom and swapping vacation stories. But for many students, back to school doesn’t just mean back to homework, school lunches, and extracurricular activities, it also means back to the school garden – where pollinators have been hard at work all summer pollinating crops and preparing for a plentiful harvest.

Initiatives at the local, state, and federal levels to promote pollinator habitat health, nutritious food education, and hands-on curricula are making school gardens an increasingly integral part of the learning environment.  School gardens are not only a great way for students to get outside, get excited about healthy eating, and receive practical gardening skills, but they also foster an appreciation for the hard work that goes into growing delicious fruits and vegetables—both as a gardener and as an observer of the pollinator species we depend on so greatly.

Although non-native honey bees are typically credited with a majority of our pollination needs, the beauty of school gardens is that they show students the vast array of pollinators that all play critical roles in helping the garden thrive. Native bees in particular are an excellent example for students learning about the interconnections of the food web and the unique relationships between specific plants and pollinator species. 

Unlike honey bees, which were brought over from Europe in the 1600s, native bee species have always called North America home and have special traits that make them particularly good at pollinating certain plants. The squash bee for example is a terrific pollinator of, you guessed it—squash (and all other members of the cucurbit family). In fact, its entire lifecycle is in tune with the opening and closing of squash flowers. Similarly, bumble bees have big fuzzy bodies and the ability to vibrate their muscles at high speeds (creating the iconic buzz sounds), which enables them to shake pollen loose on the small flowers of berry and tomato plants (something that other bee species aren’t capable of). Native bees come in all shapes, colors, and sizes and each have unique characteristics and behaviors that make them easy to identify. Spending time in the garden observing native bees is not only educational, but can be tons of fun!

From the 4,000 species of native bees, to the numerous butterfly species—including the majestic monarch butterfly—the school garden can be a perfect stage for observing the direct correlation between providing healthy habitat for pollinators—by eliminating the use of toxic pesticides and planting pollinator friendly plants—and having a bountiful garden. So as the long days of summer fade away and students settle into the school year and return to the school garden, we hope they remember to bee-thankful for bees and other pollinators by keeping the garden a bee-safe environment!

 

Interested in Learning More About Native Bees?

A great resource for spotting and identifying native bees in the garden is the Wild Bee Gardens App. The app provides stunning photos and comprehensive information about dozens of native bee species and pollinator friendly plants, as well as in-depth identification guides.

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