by Allison Dempsey & Emily Bednarz
Unless you’ve been in deep hibernation for the past few years, you’ve probably heard something about the serious and distressing decline of the world’s bee population. Known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), the disappearance of the western honeybee colonies has been well documented around the globe, although the root cause is not completely known. Most experts agree that a combination of factors including pesticides, malnutrition, starvation and mites are at least partly to blame.
Regardless of the reason, the economic and ecological impact is impossible to ignore. Our little buzzing friends are responsible for the pollination of a huge variety of crops such as apples, cucumbers, raspberries, watermelons and almonds, to name just a few. In short, bees are vital to human survival, impacting nearly 75 percent of all plant species used for human food consumption. And that’s not even counting the honey!
There are several things we can all do to help save the bees, and in turn, ourselves. Starting at home, we can incorporate certain plants and flowers in our gardens that bees — and butterflies, too, also excellent pollinators — are especially attracted to. Paul Jenkins, co-founder of the Wildflower Farm in Orillia, says that you can support your local pollinator population by sticking to native plant species. “If pollinators have a choice between a native-Canadian wildflower and an imported delphinium, for example, they’ll take the wildflower first—because that’s what they’re programmed to do by nature.”
Since bees eat every day, offering a steady supply of diverse food sources is also important, says Jenkins. “Buckwheat honey is very popular, but buckwheat only flowers for about two weeks, and bees still need to eat for the rest of the season. Flowers don’t bloom for very long, and so the trick is to have a non-stop succession of flowering plants.”
But it’s not just food that matters when talking about supporting your local bee and butterfly population, says Debra Lidstone of Barrie Garden Centre. “People always ask what kind of flowers they can plant to feed the bees, and that’s important—but equally as important, and what doesn’t get as much attention, is their habitat. For example, we need places that will support the larval stage of the butterfly, and yet as soon as someone sees a caterpillar on a leaf, they want to get rid of it.”
As Lidstone says, restoring the bee population requires a bit of an overhaul in the way we view gardening and lawn care. Brian Scott from Innisfil Creek Honey says, “The more natural and less manicured your property is, the better. Planting flowers in your garden isn’t going to change a thing; the best thing you can do is plant white clover, let the dandelions grow, and don’t mow your lawn.” While your first instinct may be to pluck those pesky dandelions, Scott insists that they are “one of the first and largest populations of nectar-bearing flowers the bees get to eat in the spring. If people let their dandelions grow, that would be better than anything you could do by planting flowers.”
Changing the way you think about your lawn is also essential, according to Lidstone. “We don’t need to ‘best’ our neighbours’ lawns, and we don’t need our lawn to look like a golf course. We need it to work for us: we need it to survive, we need it to be green, and we need it to be comfortable. I’m not advocating that we have it full of thistles because that’s not comfortable for us—but we need to be working for the health of the lawn rather than the look of the lawn.”
It’s also a matter of changing minds about the potential danger bees pose. “People are more open these days to changing how they plant gardens, but as soon as they have children that are frightened of bees, everything changes,” says Lidstone. “We can explain to our children that bees have a place, and that the absolute last thing they want to do is sting you. If you have bee-friendly plants some distance from your patio, they are more likely to be drawn to the plant than to your drink or sandwich.”
Fortunately, as we continue to spread awareness, more people are looking for ways to do their part in helping to save bees and butterflies. And this, we think, is bee-utiful.
Barrie’s Garden Centre
Innisfil Creek Honey