Sixth-graders at Athens’ St. Joseph Catholic Parish School now know some things most of us don’t, like how to tell a carpenter bee from a bumblebee.
For the past month, they’ve been participating in the Georgia Pollinator Census project, along with 49 other schools and community gardens throughout Georgia, including Clarke County’s Stroud Elementary School and Hilsman Elementary School.
Twice a week, they’ve been visiting a tiny pollinator garden behind the school on Epps Bridge Parkway, recording time and temperature, and counting and listing the various kinds of pollinators they see on the plants in the garden — chrysanthemums, lantana, and the one flower that’s in all of the participating gardens, the Snow Flurry aster, a Georgia native plant that blooms in fall.
The counting and identification part of the project was supposed to have ended Sept. 30, but the St. Joseph students were out again Tuesday counting and recording. The project got extended an extra week thanks to Hurricane Irma, which shut down St. Joseph and many other schools in the 25 participating counties a few days last month, explained Becky Griffin, community and school garden coordinator for the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.
Now she will tally up what hundreds of youngsters have found for a kind of pollinator snapshot across the state, with some comparisons between urban, suburban and rural environments.
The St. Joseph garden, eight by six feet, is not ideal.
“Our garden was slow getting started,” said St. Joseph science teacher and middle school coordinator Laura Ward.
“We don’t think there’s enough sunlight,” explained sixth-grader Julia Taylor as she recorded such data as time and temperature.
But the garden still manages to attract lots of pollinators — various kinds of bees, flies and butterflies, along with insects visiting for other reasons, such as grasshoppers.
The students have also learned that some plants release chemicals that inhibit the growth of others, said classmate Max McNiff, eyeing a tomato plant that’s part of the garden.
And they’ve learned about pollen, how plants need pollen to reproduce, and how pollinator insects help them do that, said Patrick Howe.
The Cooperative Extension’s Griffin actually launched the project this spring, visiting every one of the participating schools and gardens to deliver aster plants and insect kits, which students could use if they wanted to collect specimens of the pollinators they found. At the same time, she taught participating teachers what they were doing and encouraging them to post on the Georgia Pollinator Census Facebook page, which many of them did.
This was the first year for the Georgia Pollinator Census, and Griffin is now planning to expand it.
“It’s going really well,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful partnership.”
Students are learning the importance of insects to plants and gardens, she said. Not everyone does, said Griffin, recounting the story of a gardener who came to her to ask why she wasn’t getting any cucumbers in her garden after dusting the young plants with an insecticide.
She hopes to get community gardeners and other involved in that larger effort, as well as schools, for a one- or two-day census.