The third Saturday in August was National Honey Bee Day, but if you missed it, you still have local opportunities to learn about a very useful insect. Even more important than the delicious honey provided by bees is their role as key pollinators, since three quarters of the world’s flowering plants, including our local avocado crop, depend on pollinators to reproduce.
A United States Department of Agriculture website, www.farmers.gov/pollinators, cites an estimate stating “one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths, birds and bats, and beetles and other insects.”
The Agriculture Museum of Ventura County recently celebrated the 13th anniversary of Honey Bee Day with a “Save the Pollinators” exhibit, some of which is still on view. On Aug. 20, the museum hosted many clever and informative activities. Among other activities, volunteers helped kids craft bees out of pipe cleaners and make candles from wicks rolled into small sheets of bee’s wax.
Eduardo Flores, owner of Ventura Bee Rescue, hosted a display and explained how he captures bee swarms and relocates hives. In addition to finding new customers for those services, he hoped to find more local farmers interested in hosting colonies he establishes and maintains.
Bob Cromwell, the museum’s manager of education, offered honey sticks as rewards for children who eagerly raised hands in answer to his informative kid-oriented presentation, danced the bee “waggle” to imitate bee’s communication through motion, and sang along during his song session. Bee-themed songs included an altered Beatles song, “Let It Bee.” When not educating and entertaining, Cromwell served as DJ for the event, queueing up on his sound system bee-themed tunes ranging from Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s classical “Flight of the Bumblebee” to The Rolling Stones rock classic “I’m a King Bee.”
Of course, anyone who visits the museum will quickly learn there are no “king bees,” just queens, drones and workers. Educational signs explain the activities of a working bee hive which is on permanent display at the museum. The hive, with an open pipe to the outside, but fully enclosed in transparent plastic inside the museum, is swarming with real, live bees. At the event, kids swarmed the hive and stood staring at it, fascinated.
Schools can schedule field trips to the museum by contacting Cromwell at [email protected]. Admission is free 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, at 926 Railroad Avenue in Santa Paula.
Another way to learn about pollinators, and to glean some gardening ideas, is to go to the Ventura County Government Center and see a pollinator garden emerging on an 8,000-square-foot space planted in April by the General Services Agency. The garden, on the greenbelt between the Hall of Justice and the Pretrial Detention Facility, features a variety of colorful plants expected to flower at various times of the year, as well as plants such as milkweed, specific to targeted pollinators, according to Patrick Squires, the General Services Agency’s manager of housekeeping and grounds. The pollinator garden is supplemented by a succulent garden, which the General Services Agency planted last week and that demonstrates landscape optimal for cutting water use. An “ocean-friendly” garden, planted in 2015 and expanded in 2020 in cooperation with the Public Works Agency’s Watershed Protection District, teaches visitors to “slow, spread and sink” water.
As with the rest of the government center landscape, these gardens irrigate with well water rather than drawing directly from the city’s infrastructure. As the gardens establish, hand watering ensures application of only amounts needed. Extensive use of mulch further conserves water, reducing evaporation, shading soil, and preventing the growth of water-stealing weeds. Water usage at the government center has steadily decreased in recent years, according to Cyndy Taschman, who coordinates security and special services for the General Services Agency.
As noted on the Department of Agriculture website, “Animal pollinators face many challenges in the modern world. Habitat loss, disease, parasites, and environmental contaminants have all contributed to the decline of many species of pollinators.” The way we plant and maintain landscapes and crops affects the future of these essential animals.
David Goldstein, an Environmental Resource Analyst with the County of Ventura Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or [email protected].
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