Small, muddied hands carefully mold a mixture of clay, earth and native seeds. Some squeal at the funny texture. Others stay focused on the task at hand. They are all molding seed balls to take home and plant. This was one of four stations at the Youth Pollinator Habitat Program hosted by Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever and the Missouri Department of Conservation.
The event, which happened in mid-April, connected local school children with the outdoors at the Thomas Hill Conservation Area near Macon. They learned about the importance of nature and conservation. It focused on the decline in pollinators and their significance in nature.
In addition to the seed ball station, the three other stations focused on bee-keeping, the value of pollinators and planting native wildflowers and grasses.
At the seed ball station, the students learned about some native plants from Missouri. They created seed balls consisting of Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, a Partridge Pea and Plains Coreopsis.
To learn the value of pollinators, students took part in a game where they chose ingredients to ‘make’ a meal. After, they talked about ingredients and if they could be made without a pollinator. There were some sad faces when their ice cream sundaes had no ice cream, because pollinators help create the food that cows ingest in order to create milk. This station taught the kids how pollinating insects are essential in food production, a fact that is often overlooked.
Pollinating insects, which are an essential cog in the food production machine, was the next stop at the event.
The beekeeping station was hosted by local beekeeper, Dan West. He allowed the students to get up close and personal with a group of bees. Students learned about bees and the important role they play in the pollinating process. They found the queen in the hive, and learned she will lay up to 2,500 eggs a day.
West instilled the need for safety around the insect. The students enjoyed the opportunity to try on a beekeeping suit.
The children took part in planting an area that will become a habitat they can visit in the years to come. They can participate in Monarch tagging and plant identification in the future. With the help of some adults, they planted about 50 plants.
After going through all the stations, kids in attendance lined up with buckets of native seed and tossed it across an acre of ground. The Pollinator Plot will be there to increase awareness about the decreasing pollinator populations and to educate the general public about the importance of pollinators. It will also create foraging and nesting habitats. The pollinator habitats create ideal brood rearing habitats for pheasants and quail, as chicks rely on soft-bodied insects for food in their first few months.
The program benefits not only pollinators with the Pollinator Plot, but also engages students with hands-on outdoor activities. It creates a foundation for an appreciation of conservation they can carry with them throughout their life.