Garden ecosystem teaches children to bee-lieve

MOUNT PLEASANT — If you build it, they will come.

That was the premise behind the construction of a bee house in the fifth-grade garden at Christ Our King-Stella Maris School.

Bronwyn Santos, a gardener and naturalist at Christ Our King church, had her husband build the box as the newest edition to the garden, which is used as a teaching tool for the fifth- grade class.

At first, she didn’t think it was going to work. She said it took a long time for the bees to find the box, which looks like a rustic wooden condo. One day it was empty and the next time she looked, more than half the holes were sealed with little “doors” to protect the eggs inside.

Santos notes that female eggs are laid in the back of the box where they are safer from predators such as woodpeckers, which have no trouble pecking out the doors that the bees make from clay or mud.

She points out that it is not a honeybee hive. It is a box designed to attract native bees, which are solitary insects and do not have a queen or workers.

For many people, even the word “bee” can spark an adrenaline rush of fear, but Santos reassured the students and teachers that bees are generally oblivious to humans and are not at all aggressive. She said they are no more likely to sting than any other insect.

“You have to overcome that fear and just educate people,” she said. “Our pollinators are such a blessing that most people just take for granted.”

As Edward O. Wilson, renowned naturalist and author, states in his book “The Forgotten Pollinators,” 80 percent of our food plants depend on pollination. He wrote that “one of every three mouthfuls of food we eat and of the beverages we drink are delivered to us roundabout by pollinators.”

Now, with the news full of stories about honeybee populations in peril, naturalists stress that native bees and other pollinating birds and insects are even more essential to plant reproduction.

This is one of the lessons the fifth-grade students learn in their weekly excursions to the small ecosystem, which Santos created as a hands-on teaching tool.

Jean Moschella, principal, said they incorporate science, social studies, math and religion into their garden lessons. For math, the pupils measured plant growth and created charts and graphs to track what they planted.

The history teacher, Kevin Kelly, asked Santos to plant indigo and tea as an example of crops grown in South Carolina.

The children love it, Moschella said. She jokingly describes her students as suburban kids who believe everything comes from a store. This year they learned otherwise, however. They planted their own vegetables and when they were ripe, the class made green pea salad for their principal and teachers.

“You never saw fifth-graders eating vegetables like this,” Moschella said. “They were just so excited about it.”

The garden ecosystem also is home to a pair of blue birds who built a nest and laid eggs in the bird box. The birds and the bees are surrounded by orange trees, herbs, flowers and vegetables.

Santos said the vegetables will continue to flourish over the summer and she is looking for a community outreach group that can use the extra food.

When school resumes, Santos would like to see the new batch of fifth-graders take ownership of the garden as much as possible. She suggested that they find and identify harmful insects and research ways to eradicate the leaf munchers without harmful chemicals. Santos also would like them to attract more pollinators.

“This was the first year, so it’s sort of just evolving,” she said.

To learn how to attract native bees and other pollinators to your garden, visit or e-mail