It’s never too soon to learn about the importance of pollinators—which are increasingly endangered from habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change. Three local schools with pollinator-friendly gardens are Gilchrist, Hawks Rise, and the Tallahassee School of Math and Science.
Pollinators assist with reproducing over a third of the world’s food crops, but over 40 percent are endangered, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Through hands-on programs, students learn about these small birds, bats and insects that move from plant to plant searching for protein-rich pollen nectar. Pollinators need native plants to sustain them for their long migrations.
Students at the Tallahassee School of Math and Science (TSMS) have a thriving butterfly garden with host plants near their raised beds so that bees and butterflies might pollinate the vegetables, according to teacher Philip Froemke.
Host Feeder Plants attract adult butterflies to the garden where they lay their eggs on Host Larval Plants, which newborn caterpillars eat. Once the caterpillars have grown to maturity, they crawl 20 to 50 feet and climb up to a high point on the side of the building or a fence to make their chrysalis. After about two weeks a new butterfly emerges.
“TSMS has had great success attracting Monarch butterflies, with several generations being born each summer,” Froemke said. “We provide native milkweed, the preferred host plant for Monarchs. Two other favorites of pollinators are Mexican sunflowers, and African blue basil, which is much loved by bees.”
When TSMS opened for the 2015-16 school year at its newly renovated campus on Monroe St., Froemke noticed an abundance of open space received full sun, making it an ideal place for a school garden.
“I began researching grant opportunities and visiting school and community gardens around Tallahassee to get ideas,” said Froemke. “The goal was to create a pretty place where there would be opportunities for hands-on learning, a place that would provide a mini-field trip on campus.”
The garden was designed with an arbor entrance covered with Confederate Jasmine, a butterfly (or pollinator) garden, a vegetable garden with six raised beds, and an outdoor classroom with cedar benches. Parents built the raised beds and benches.
“School gardens sometimes fail to survive due to poor access to water, so we made sure to include irrigation,” said Froemke. The school obtained a Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant of $5,000.
Partnerships with the Family Nutrition Program at the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension, the Damayan Garden Project, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have helped the garden thrive. More recently, the Tallahassee Garden Club has donated plants for the Butterfly Garden.
During her training as a Master Gardener, Susan Barnes took on the pollinator garden at Hawks Rise Elementary School as a project. She went to her Shannon Forest Garden Circle members for help and they agreed. “Since then, I have had an annual budget from the circle and a loyal source of labor for pruning and weeding,” she said.
Barnes labeled all the plants with their common and scientific names and also does presentations each spring in kindergarten and first grade classrooms on the life cycle of butterflies. Most recently, the school installed an enclosed bulletin board to display cards Barnes created to show which plants are blooming and which pollinators are visiting.
Gilchrist Elementary School also has about 20 raised beds planted at several locations around the school. Some are vegetable beds, and some are dedicated to butterflies and birds. “All of them enhance the appearance of the school and are integral to the education process,” said Chris Parrish, Youth Garden Chair for TGC. She has worked with Gilchrist’s school gardens since 2004.
Through youth gardens, students learn about the importance of pollinators to the world’s food supply. By spreading their knowledge about native host and feeder plants throughout their community, these students can help stem the loss of these vitally important creatures before more become extinct.
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