IN ANSWER TO the immortal question, “What’s the buzz?” a Walnut Creek nursery is holding a Pollinator and Friends event Saturday to help us all save the bees and, ultimately, our own food supply.

Beekeepers, bug-eaters (yes, bug-eaters), botanic gardeners and butterfly lovers will swarm the Ruth Bancroft Garden & Nursery to help adults and children learn how to protect pollinators in their gardens and beyond.

Youngsters look at a colony of bee at a Pollinator and Friends event at the Ruth Bancroft Garden & Nursery in Walnut Creek in August 2022. The Garden is holding another event Saturday, April 8, 2023. (Photo credit: Kaitlin Sullivan)

“We’ll have an observation hive complete with queen bee on display,” said Jacki Kohleriter, the nursery’s visitor education manager. She quickly added, “The bees will be behind plexiglass,” so there’s no reason to fear getting stung.

Bees pollinate one in three bites of the food we eat, and are essential to staples from apples and squash to buckwheat and coffee, according to the Bee Conservancy, a national organization based in New York. But the U.S. honeybee population has dropped 60 percent since 1947. One in four of North America’s native bee species are at risk of extinction, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Befriending bees and other pollinators can be as simple as planting California poppies, rosemary, lavender or cosmos in your yard,” said Jan Spieth, president of the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association. Spieth’s association is bringing the aforementioned observation hive to the event.

Butterflies are also pollinators, and the event includes a butterfly release in which the gossamer-winged beauties will take wing, possibly even alighting on one or two children (or adults, for that matter) in the process.

Protein bars on little legs

Chocolate-covered crickets and spicy superworms are just the thing to make kids squeal with joy (and adults cringe in disgust). But the snacks sold by Bay Area-based company Don Bugito, available at the event, have a higher purpose.

“Our vision is simple, to rescue ancestral food practices and the use of clean ingredients by offering alternative protein snacks based on farmed edible insects and native American ingredients,” according to the company’s website.

These chocolate covered crickets won’t make a sound, and are apparently a tasty alternative source of protein. (Image via Don Bugito)

“It’s an alternative source of protein,” said McNeilly Fieweger, education and engagement program coordinator for Berkeley’s Ecology Center. “The dairy industry in general is responsible for most of the state’s methane emissions.”

So, drop that burger and grab a dark chocolate-covered cricket, eh? Plus, Kohleriter of the Bancroft Garden noted, “at the end of the day, pound for pound, bugs require less resources than other protein sources.” As we all know, saving the environment sometimes means getting out of our comfort zone. It’s all in a good bee cause.

Of course, you don’t have to go so far as eating insects. For example, abandoning the use of insecticides benefits the birds and the bees.

“You really want to be thoughtful about what you use in your garden,” Spieth said. “We discourage pesticides and systemics.”

If you absolutely must spray something, Spieth said, “do it after 4 p.m. when the wind has died and the pollinators are moving back to their homes.”

“Befriending bees and other pollinators can be as simple as planting California poppies, rosemary, lavender or cosmos in your yard.”

Jan Spieth, Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association

Bats are also pollinators, a little-known fact. They’ve gotten a bad rap, what with all those horror movies depicting the poor little critters as bloodthirsty demons. But most bats are small, around the size of a mouse, and long-nosed bats visit flowers and transport pollen, Fieweger said.

Besides, they’re cute, as the Northern California Bats organization is sure to demonstrate with the bats they’re bringing Saturday.

“Number One, they eat pests that are a problem for farmers and gardeners. If you appreciate food grown without pesticides, bats are your best friends,” said Corky Quirk, founder of the organization. There are at least 40 different kinds of bats in the U.S. that eat nothing but insects, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Quirk had no comment as to the bats’ opinions of chocolate-covered crickets or coconut brittle mealworms, though the critters would seem to be in an ideal position to do a review.

Known for more than being a fine venue for an event about pollinating insects, the Ruth Bancroft Garden & Nursery in Walnut Creek is also a colorful source of inspiration to gardeners and nature lovers. Adults can see the garden as part of their admission to the Pollinator and Friends event on Saturday, April 8, 2023. Kids get in for free. (Photo credit: Monica Avila)

Nurturing nature

Along with bats, bees and butterflies, the day-long event will offer a wealth of in-depth information on how to attract and nurture pollinators.

Children will gather round for a morning reading from “The Garden Next Door,” by a local author familiar with the Bay Area pollination scene. Collin Pine lives in Oakland with his husband and their pet banana slug. (No word as to whether the slug will be in attendance.)

There will also be a story time with the Contra Costa Library, along with educational organizations, vendors and stations throughout the venue including a children’s craft table.

Pollinator and Friends will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 8, at the Ruth Bancroft Garden & Nursery, 1552 Bancroft Road in Walnut Creek. Admission for children is free and adults will be admitted free with Garden admission, which is $12 for adults and $10 for seniors. Visitors should reserve tickets in advance online.

More information is available at the Bancroft Garden website.