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In the words of punk music icon Joe Strummer, “If you’re after getting the honey, then you don’t go killing all the bees.” This tune always runs through my mind when I read about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – a phenomenon in which bees abruptly die off in such numbers that there are not enough left to support the colony.
It is expected that continued CCD will have serious repercussions on the human food supply. Some estimate that the humble bee is responsible for one in every three bites of food we take! I recently took a walk through the LEAF Learning Garden (LLG), a demonstration space at the Artscape Wychwood Barns that provides visitors the opportunity to learn about and connect with nature. When visiting the garden, you can’t help but notice a familiar buzzing sound – that of wild and domestic pollinators working their magic in every corner of the garden.
This small space is truly a bee utopia and it made me wonder how much better it might be for our flighty friends if everyone dedicated a portion of their own property to creating bee-friendly space. Here are four easy ways to create your own pollinator paradise:
1. Plant bee-friendly species
It’s best to plant a diversity of native flowering plants in a variety of colours. Bees have good colour vision and a mixture of blue, purple, white and yellow flowers will look good to you and the bees. Mix and match plants that bloom at different times throughout spring, summer and fall. Examples in the LLG include cardinal flower, dense blazing star and cup plant (a suitable name as the leaves form cups that hold water, which is as important as pollen and nectar for bees in summer).
2. Ditch the chemicals
There is growing evidence that neonicotinoids (a class of widely-used insecticides) are largely to blame for the decline in honey bees. While efforts are being made in many countries to ban these products, it’s important to remember that several chemicals are harmful to pollinators. At the LLG, only natural practices are used to maintain the garden. Weeding, mulching, regular watering, and choosing native species are natural ways to ensure your garden thrives. Chemical fertilizers and insecticides may appear helpful, but the long-term harm they cause to both our plants and our environment make them a bad option. And while you may intend to only take out that pesky aphid, other beneficial insects (including pollinators) are also affected.
3. Create pollinator habitat
Habitat loss is cited as another cause of decline in pollinators. Did you know that bees love rotting vegetation and stumps? Many use these for shelter, while others even live in the ground. So consider keeping that old stump, and you might just create a happy living space for your local pollinator! Bees also like ground cover. In the LLG, wild strawberries cover a large patch of ground and bees love their flowers. Digging a hole in a sunny spot and filling it with sand and loam can provide a great home for ground-dwelling pollinators as well.
4. Benefits beyond bees
Plants that are good for one species often benefit others as well, so you may find some hummingbirds and butterflies hitting up your garden too! While not all fruit-bearing plants are suitable for human consumption, many birds rely on these tasty morsels for survival. And guess who they depend on for these fruits? Yes, pollinators!
Have you got a “buzz” on yet? To quote Joe again, “people can change anything they want to, and that means everything in the world.” Why not start with your corner? Consider purchasing one of LEAF's Native Garden Kits for spring delivery.
The LEAF Learning Garden is supported by Ontario Power Generation's Biodiversity program.