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!
But all is not lost. 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. “Anything that has a long life flower and is very fragrant will help attract bees and butterflies to the area,” says Josh Meyer, owner of New Roots Garden Centre in Newmarket.
Whether you choose to plant annuals or perennials, flowers such as lavender, Echinacea purpurea or purple coneflower, Rudbeckia or black-eyed susans, coreopsis and the aptly named bee balm are all popular choices to help transform your yard into a bee and butterfly friendly party zone.
“Dandelions are also a big pollinator,” says Meyer, who encourages gardeners to move away from the Leave It to Beaver perfectly manicured lawn. “Some of the weeds that grow are really good for bees and butterflies, and we’re always trying to get rid of them,” he says. “We need to get back to having a more natural look, with more wildflowers growing.”
And we also need to stop spraying chemicals. “You don’t want to be using chemicals anywhere,” says Mary Racco, owner of Snowball Garden Centre in Aurora. Bees and butterflies are very sensitive to chemicals. “The best way to maintain is the old-fashioned way – to pick out roots, especially after it rains,” says Racco.
The more homes that plant bee-friendly flowers in their yards in a single neighbourhood the better. It gives the bees a fighting chance at colonizing in one area since they don’t have to fly as far to pollinate and survive. Get your neighbours involved and have a flower-planting party as a weekend event. It’s also a perfect chance to get kids to participate, as schools are already jumping on board with ecological education.
If you want to kick your support up a notch, consider stepping into the shoes of an urban beekeeper by installing a beehive on your property. Though it may not be suitable for all living spaces, urban beekeeping is growing in popularity as citizens try to do their part to keep these vital insects thriving.
New Roots has both bee and butterfly houses available for sale, which you can hang on the fence to attract bees to your area. “Everyone always thinks of the honeybee and wasps, but there are about 30 varieties in between. which people don’t even know about,” says Meyer. “They don’t make honey, and they don’t sting, but they’re an important part of the chain.”
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.
by Allison Dempsey and Charlotte Ottaway
New Roots Garden Centre, Newmarket
Snowball Garden Centre, Aurora