Food is one of the most universal comforts. Certain tastes take me back in time. The taste of sour cherries or raspberries always makes me think of my grandmother. She had gardens and cherry trees and a giant raspberry patch. My tongue easily takes me back to those long, slow summer days of picking cherries or raspberries, the sound of the creek running nearby and that indescribable combination of smells, tastes, sounds and feelings that make up my memory of a childhood summer.
Inevitably, the sounds of childhood include the sounds of bees. I was a barefoot child, eager for that time in Mid-July when the soles of my feet had toughened to leather and I could run across the gravel driveway without flinching. Barefoot children quickly learn to recognize where the bees are.
The flower gardens were hotbeds of bee activity, but those were easily avoided. The clovers behind the garage were harder to avoid, as were the violets under the apple tree. Bees made a buzzing soundtrack to the sound of summer.
I never really thought about them. My dad waited to spray the fruit trees till after the flowers were gone. It never occurred to me that it was to make sure the spray didn’t accidentally hurt the bees. Bumblebees flew out of flowers that were picked for my mom in big, childish bouquets. Carpenter Bees made their home in the beams above the breezeway.
Bees were just there, along with butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, beetles and other creepy crawlies. They went about their business, hanging around on flowers and under rocks. We went about our business, going through the daily rituals of weeding gardens, shelling peas and picking berries and fruit.
Somehow, I never connected the dots between the bugs that shared the yard and the food that we ate. This may be one of the most important connections to make. The connection is called pollination. Technically speaking, pollination is the process of pollen moving from the male part of the flower to the female part, where it helps the flower produce seeds and fruits.
Pollinators help move the pollen around. It sticks to the hairs on bees, the foreheads of hummingbirds, the tongues of butterflies and the furry bodies of moths. As these pollinators move from flower to flower, the pollen from one flower drops off on another and pollinates it. This lets the ovaries in the flower turn into seeds.
A garden without pollinators is a garden without vegetables. Bees need to visit pea flowers for the pea flower to transform itself into peas. A zucchini flower without a bee visit will fall off, never transforming itself into a zucchini. Apple flowers without pollinators fall off the branch, leaving the tree fruit-free for the year.
It is a generally accepted statistic that insect pollinators provide one bite for every three you eat. They are essential to creating the food we eat. Not only do they pollinate berries and fruit and veggies, but they also are essential in pollinating the chocolate and coffee that feed our cravings.
Pollination is one of the most misunderstood topics that I come across in classrooms. Children think that pollination has something to do with bees and the honey they gather out of flowers. They don’t recognize pollination as the transformation of parts of a flower into seeds and fruit and food.
Most people also don’t realize the huge impact of native bees. There are over 400 kinds of bees in New York. Honeybees, which were imported from Europe in the 1620s, are just one of them. These bees, along with beetles, flies and butterflies, provide an essential service for plants by helping them make seeds. That service is just as important for people, who eat the fruits of the insect’s labor. (Awful pun intended.)
Because pollination is such a misunderstood concept, Audubon naturalists have put together an amazing exhibit that delves into the mysteries and value of pollination. The grand opening of the exhibit will be on March 17 from 1:30 to 4 p.m.
This exhibit was created with the financial support of the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation and the law firm of Walsh, Roberts and Grace. It is an entertaining, creative and family friendly look at pollination and how to help pollinators in your yard. It could not have been completed without the services of Fancher Chair, who supplied some amazing furniture, or Cummins Engine Plant, who supplied many volunteers.
The exhibit also relied heavily on the dedication of over 20 Audubon volunteers, who designed, built, stained, painted and created. This exhibit was funded locally and created by people around you who have hidden talents. Audubon is fortunate to have such loyal support.
While it will not be visible at the grand opening of the exhibit, Eagle Scout Adam Carlson created a model pollination garden last summer to go along with the pollination exhibit, spending countless hours in the sun digging, planting and beautifying the grounds outside the new pollination exhibit.
Personally, I would like to extend a huge thank you to Sarah Hatfield and Katie Finch, Audubon’s Teacher-Naturalists. Their creativity, talent and perseverance through this exhibit process has brought a whole new level of creativity and professionalism to this exhibit.
Jeff Tome is Senior Naturalist at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary and was lead naturalist on the pollination exhibit. The public is invited to the grand opening of the exhibit on March 17 from 1:30 to 4 p.m. where there will be pollinated treats and refreshments. The Audubon Center is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren. For more information, visit jamestownaudubon.org.