Grier Students enjoyed a trip to the historic site of Fort Roberdeau where they learned about pollinator gardens from site volunteer and local expert, Stan Kotala. Last fall, seventeen Grier girls volunteered as Weeding Warriors to help eradicate the invasive plant called privet from the site. Now that the garden is more established and full of native plants, the pollinator garden on the site is mostly self-maintaining. The students also learned from local beekeeper, Regis Nale, about the process of pollinator and why bees are essential to life as we know it. Bees are responsible for one-third of all the food consumed by humans! Without them, we would be limited to an unvaried and nutritionally deficient diet of corn, tomatoes, and rice. Mrs. Fernandes adds that if you consider all pollinators (not just bees) and their relationship with plants, that number increases to 75% and includes our cotton clothes, too!
As the girls toured the pollinator garden, they noticed that it does not appear traditionally “well-manicured,” but looks more “wild.” That is, Stan explained, because their purpose is to support wildlife, such as the birds that eat seeds and mason bees that live in hollow stems. The girls identified plants such as liatris, goldenrod, bee balm, phlox, New England aster, purple and green coneflowers, and a service berry tree. These native plants have adapted to this climate and need very little care. They support a thriving population of pollinators. The students observed butterflies, moths, bees, and flies enjoying the plants.
The beekeeper described the astounding complexity of tiny bee brains and their ability to communicate with each other. He also reported that his bee club lost 50% of their bees the year before and 60% of their bees last year. This is due to a number of factors.
NO GENETIC DIVERSITY. Since the early settlers first brought their honeybees, there has been little change to the gene pool. In an effort to stop the spread of disease, the current law prohibits moving bees from country to country.
VARROA MITES. These insects get into the hive and live off of the young brood as they incubate over the winter. Beekeepers must be careful to treat their hives for these mites.
POOR DIET. We have created monocultures in our farming practices (growing only ONE type of crop over an entire farm). This limits the bees in the types of protein and nectar they need to live.
PESTICIDE AND HERBICIDE USAGE. Chemicals used to treat seeds and lawns work their way into the pollen of flowers and end up in hives for YEARS after they’ve been applied.
Beekeeper Nale listed several ways humans can help bees:
Plant a variety of native plants in our yards and along roadways.
Stop mowing our lawns to perfection!
Don’t cut down plants in flower beds in the fall (they provide habitats for caterpillars that grow into next year’s butterflies!)
Plant fruit trees and maple trees.
Leave some areas swampy so that in the spring, when bees are first coming out of the hives, they can go get pollen from skunk cabbage (it’s one of the first plants to flower and grows in wet areas)
Don’t use certain chemicals in our yards
Educate people (especially children!) about the importance of bees
The Grier girls on this educational trip enjoyed their time in the beautiful weather, surrounded by the historic panorama of Fort Roberdeau and the native gardens.