PEMBROKE — A summer camp is giving young people a new perspective on a neighborhood insect that typically sends them running.
Students in grades seventh through 12th learned Thursday that thousands of bee species pollinate fruits, vegetables, and all kinds of flowering plants during the Kids in the Garden portion of a STEM-oriented summer camp at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke that started Monday and ends June 29. The focus on bees, which took place during the Week of the Pollinator, was one portion of a camp experience to encourage participants to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
“We’re teaching kids about the importance of nature,” said Nancy Ruppert, apiary inspector for the N.C. Department of Agriculture. “The food we have won’t be available without the pollinators, like the bees.”
“The kids can do individual research projects, and also become Bee Ambassadors,” said Rita Hagevik, a UNCP professor. “They are studying plants and pollinators, bee health, and telling their friends and family how important they are.
“Some of the students take this information that’s given on a beginning level and use it as a basis for coming back during the school year. They’ll do individual research projects to be entered in the science fair.”
A regional science fair winner, Anna Huesa, 13, won a first-place ribbon for a research project using harmonic radar with bees.
“I’m getting things in this real-world research that I can’t get in regular school,” Huesa said. “In the classroom I read a textbook and then spit it back out again. This is more hands-on. I get to do my own research, and I think it’s a much more efficient way to learn.”
A common misconception was addressed during the “bee camp,” which was held at the UNCP Campus Garden and Apiary.
“The common idea is that there is only one kind of bee, the honeybee, but this is incorrect. There are 4,000 species of bees in the United States,” said Kaitlin Campbell, a UNCP professor. “These include mason, sweat and carpenter bees. These are native, but the honeybee is imported.”
Honeybees love large plants and orchards but miss other small plants, Campbell said. Native wildflowers are food resources too, and other bee species take care of these.
“The impact of the bee on the food supply is very important,” Ruppert said. “Food prices would go up if there is a smaller supply of food because of the lack of pollinators”
Thursday’s event was the third year for the bee camp.
“I never thought it would be so big,” Hagevik said. “It’s been a super service and learning site for the university. It’s blossomed into research projects on pollen and bees. We’ve had 55 students go through this in the past two years, and 22 are in the program this year.”
“This is my second year of the program,” Huesa said. “I’m glad that I came last year. I’ve learned how to do our part in planting native flowers that will attract native species of bee.”
A healthy diet of pollen from sunflowers and grass cut long is ideal for the bee.
Healthy insects need a healthy diet, Huesa said.
Thursday’s field trip also was to create interest in beekeeping as a hobby.
“Most of the beekeepers that I know are over 50,” Ruppert said. “We need to get more of the young people interested. North Carolina has 77 local beekeeping clubs, the largest association the country. There’s even an online bee school with N.C. State online.”
The hobby faces problems, such as parasites, habitat collapse and colony collapse. Research about the future of the honeybee continues at UNCP.
“There is concern that the honeybee may not be reliable in the future, so we are looking at other pollination sources,” Hagevik said. “We’re trying to get research going at Robeson Community College and Fayetteville Tech, and we’re starting demonstration gardens at Robeson Early College and Tar Heel Middle School.”