With the coming of May everywhere seems to have exploded into blossom. The apples trees are heavy with flowers, the bluebells are carpeting the local woods once again and everywhere the hedgerows and grass verges are springing into floral finery of blues, whites, pinks and yellows.
With the blooming of the flowers comes an increase in activity in that important little pollinator, the bee. From the dripping golden honey that goes on our breakfast to the crucial role played in bringing around a third of the food we eat into existence, bees are the often unsung heroes that we simply cannot do without. Their numbers are dwindling drastically though. Changing farming practices, a reduction in habitats and the prevalence of serious disease are all factors making survival tough for bees and we need to do all we can to help out.
The Great British Bee Count is taking place from 1-31st May 2015 and needs our help. Download the free app (available from the Apple App store & Google Play ) and get the family involved in a little home science by getting out and counting the bees near where you live. The app is fairly intuitive – use the ID guide to find your bees, send in your photos, or give over just 2 minutes to a timed bee count. In doing so you will be helping a nationwide project to monitor bee levels and locations and to help identify areas where they are in the greatest trouble.
Education is the first step towards helping declining bee populations. No matter how old they are, all children can learn about bees and pollination to some extent. Of course the best place to start is by taking five minutes in a green space and simply observing what the bees are actually doing, how they are all quite different looking and watching for other types of pollinators visiting the flowers. All whilst doing your bee count of course!
If you grow fruit then get the kids involved – Roo loves watching the life-cycle of our apple trees through the year, whilst strawberry, raspberry or bean plants are a good option for watching the cycle play out over a shorter period.
Here are a few more ideas to get young children’s minds buzzing about pollination:
- Plant a sunflower. Growing the flower from seed, learning about how it needs water, soil and light to keep growing, watching the flower come out and how it attracts insects and then watching as the flower goes full cycle and produces more seeds (perhaps to harvest and grow next year) is a great way of teaching children first hand about the life-cycle of plants. Plus they get to enter the local sunflower competitions or compete with siblings and friends for the tallest one all at the same time!
- Go to your local supermarket and spot how many fruit are in the vegetable aisles! Younger kids will be fascinated when they realise that seed-bearing ‘vegetables’ such as courgettes, butternut squash, peppers, tomatoes and cucumber should all rightly be found in their pudding bowls not with their main meal! It’s a great way to get talking about plant seeds and the results of pollination as well as possibly getting help with the food prep for dinner! Maybe you can even get them to invent a new type of fruit salad…
- Get crafty. Make some paper flowers by cutting out coloured paper or magazines and using sellotape or staples to make them into a cone. Push up the bottoms with your finger from the outside to create a shallow bottom and balance them in old toilet roll tubes (paint green and add paper leaves for extra crafting fun). Alternatively you can make your flowers from paper cups and decorate the outsides with petals.
Next fill the flower cups with a generous layer of glitter using a different colour for each flower. Caster sugar coloured with a little food colouring might work if you don’t have glitter to hand. Now make your bee. It doesn’t matter what the body is made from (we used a small pompom but card, screwed up paper ball or half a lollipop stick all just as good) so long as it fits inside the flower cups. Wrap the body around with short bits of pipe cleaners to make legs and tie or sew a piece of cotton round the body so you can ‘fly’ your bee from flower to flower. Finally wet your bees legs with some water.
Now the kids can fly their bee from flower to flower collecting the glitter pollen on its legs. Don’t forget to check the different colours on the bee’s legs as it moves around. Also check the flowers to see if they can spot different colour glitter pollen in there delivered by their bee.
- Dissect a flower. For younger kids, how about getting them to pick a flower and identify the main bits by drawing it themselves or creating a flower model from the recycling box. It’s amazing how observant a three year-old can be when given the chance! Petals, pollen and possibly stamen are all the tiniest tots really need to know to get the general gist of enough flower biology to understand where the bees come in.
For older siblings you can give them a sharp knife (obviously teach them how to use it safely & responsibly first or just pull apart with fingers), tweezers, magnifying glass and white plate or some white paper on a board and let them loose identifying the different parts of a flower by themselves. This diagram from Mundesley Junior School is particularly useful. Daffodils, gladioli and other large flowers are all good specimens to set to work on (just tell the main gardener in your house to look away…)!