Fennel Pollen at UBC Farm Wonders Summer Camp
August 10, 2007

Hummmmmmm. I am at UBC Farm teaching elementary school children how to hum and vibrate their lips. We talk about the buzzing of bees and then head into the Landed Learning Garden to taste fennel pollen and observe the bees. I hang out from time to time with a group of food-obsessed friends. When one of them mentioned that fennel pollen was used as an ingredient in fine cooking, I grew curious. I love fennel, so decided to head to a neighbor's fennel patch and tasted the pollen. Wow! What an intense hit of licorice flavor. I was hooked. I also decided that since we like to get the kids using their sense of taste in the garden this would be a perfect way to start my lesson on bees.

The fennel plants were very popular with the bugs that afternoon. There were some unidentified brown beetles hopping from umbrel to umbrel and jumping onto one another's backs whenever they had the opportunity. Ladybugs and aphids also gathered together on top of the flowerettes. In fact, there wasn't a lot of pollen left on the fennel because we were competing with the bugs and the bees for the little grains of goodness. The fennel grains are larger than most pollen I've encountered. Chewing on the flowerettes gives the most intense jolt of flavor. Some children loved the pollen, and others hated it, especially if they didn't like licorice. "That's strong stuff," my son says, "but I like it."

Next we go bee watching. We talk about the difference between bumble bees and honey bees. We see bees in Borage, Bergamot, Blackberry blossoms, Mallow, Dahlias, Calendula, Scarlet Runner Bean blossoms, and of course, fennel. We are watching a bee when a big yellow weed starts to be pulled under. It suddenly gets shorter and shorter. Chomp. I peer down at the roots and see grey fur. Chomp. Chomp. Hmmm. We tried to get a glimpse of the hungry rodent, but I didn't want to disturb the unidentified creature, particularly if it was a rodent of a large variety.

We made messages for the bees, and then sat in a semi-circle around the hives as I told an old bee story "Sam Jones' Bees." The children were curious, attentive and asked very good questions. I was very pleased when the most sceptic of the bunch ("No, really how do you talk to bees?) said she heard the bees talking to her when she concentrated in a silent meditation. "I hear them saying 'yes' and 'no'." Meanwhile, a ladybug climbed on my sleeve and stayed to listen to the story. "I thought we were hear to talk about bees, not ladybugs, " one boy quipped. What a sweetheart. Thanks to the UBC Farm Wonders camp for a lovely afternoon with the bees.

A bumblebee in a Dahlia. Bottoms up!