During university I took an animal behaviour course where we learned all about bees, and ever since reading Winter World: the ingenuity of animal survival by Bernd Heinrich, I have been so fascinated by these beautiful little insects!
For the entire semester that I took Animal Behaviour, everyone around me was constantly being inundated with facts about ravens, bees, chipmunks and cuckoos (thank you, Luc – for listening to me, and pausing to watch ravens with me in -35°C temperatures)!!!
Bees and other pollinator populations around the globe are struggling.
The use of agricultural herbicides and pesticides, coupled with reduced availability of the proper food sources, has recently been causing bee populations around the world to plummet.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been on the rise since 2006. In some cases of CCD, almost all the worker bees in a colony will disappear over winter, leaving only the queen bee and a couple of nurse bees behind.
CCD is likely caused my a combination of factors, but no one knows exactly what is causing such massive collapse in the population. Agricultural pesticides, a lack of the right food sources, and an increase in mites and diseases are just a couple of reasons as to why worldwide pollinator populations are struggling.
But before we talk about bee-friendly gardening tactics, I want to tell you about some of my favourite, most fascinating buzz-worthy facts, because bumble bees are pretty cool!
Did you know….
- In the winter, bees retreat to their hive and huddle around the Queen bee. The vibrate or shiver to create heat in the hive all winter long. They are able to keep the center of hive close to 30°C throughout the winter!
- In order to produce energy to keep the hive warm, bees need lots of honey to feed on all winter long! Up to 30 lbs of honey can be consumed in one winter!
- In the spring, they send out worker bees to “test out the air” & see if it is warm enough to go outside yet. If the worker bees don’t come back, the rest of the hive knows that they didn’t survive the spring weather test… best to stay inside for now!
- Bees can communicate the exact direction and distance to pollen and nectar sources, to other members of their hive using a very unique “wiggle dance“! This dance involves a wiggle and a figure-eight movement, that describes exactly what direction and how far to fly to get to the food!
So, why should we be concerned about Colony Collapse Disorder?
Other than the fact that bees and other pollinators are such beautiful, intelligent creatures; they are also integral to the production of up to one third of our food sources.
Source: Fix.com Blog
Almost 90 per cent of the world’s plants rely on pollinators like bees and butterflies for fertilization and reproduction, including over 70 per cent of the major crops that feed us — everything from apples, tomatoes, raspberries and peppers to chocolate, coffee and almonds. – David Suzuki Foundation
The good news is…
Bees and other pollinators can thrive in urban settings. There are short flight paths, and a wide variety of plants to feed on. You can make a difference, just by planting the right kinds of flowers and veggies in your back yard!
Now let’s talk Bee Nutrition!
Bees feed on two things: nectar, and pollen. Nectar provides sugar, while pollen provides proteins and fats. A wide variety of different heirloom, native plants will provide the best food for native bees. Planting such a wide variety of flowers means that they will all bloom at different times throughout the spring and summer, keeping those bees sustained throughout the entire season.
Use this great guide from fix.com to get some ideas on what flowers you can plant in your garden to support the pollinators in your area:
Source: Fix.com Blog
Source: Fix.com Blog
The David Suzuki Foundation also provides this extensive list of plants (organized by when they bloom), which are great for attracting bees to your garden:
|Cotoneaster||Cat mint||Beggar’s tricks|
Some bees nest in the ground, while others nest at ground level, and still others nest above ground. Bees that nest in the ground will help to improve the soil quality of your garden, and mix up the nutrients in the soil. It’s a win/ win for the bees and the plants in your garden!
For those above-ground nesting bees, you can also make or purchase a bee house for your back yard. The David Suzuki foundation warns against using cedar for bee houses, because it is insecticidal.