Thursday, September 22, 2016

Protecting Our Native Bees and Other Pollinators: What we Can do to Help.

The evidence is clear that many native wild pollinators are declining. That wouldn’t be a big deal, if commercial honeybees could pick up the slack. They can’t. Managed honey bee colonies supplement the work of natural wild pollinators, not the other way around. In a study of 41 different crop systems worldwide, honeybees only increased yield in 14 percent of the crops. Who did all the pollination? Native bees and other insects. Gwen Pearson, Your worrying about the wrong bees.

All pollinators are in trouble, not just honeybees. And while honeybees get most of the credit, native bees and other pollinators are actually the workforce of the pollinating world, doing the bulk of the chores.

Bumblebee on nectaring on a scabious plant by Carmel Mothersill
According to Bee City Canada, bees are often considered to be the most important animal pollinator for a number of reasons, including that they are the only pollinator that rely solely on flowers for all their nutritional needs, obtaining their protein from pollen and carbohydrates from nectar.

Being fuzzy and electrostatically charged, makes bees particularly effective at carrying pollen.
Bee City Canada also points out that bees are flower-constant: they like to work one kind of flower at a time. So "a bee that has started to gather nectar from apple blossoms will continue to gather nectar from apple blossoms until that period of foraging  has ended," helping to ensure the cross-pollination of plants.

Writer, Gwen Pearson reports in 'Native Bees Increase Blueberry Crop Yields' (Wired, 2015) that research looking at the individual efficiency of different bee species found small, native bees were highly efficient pollinators; their visits resulting in nearly twice as many seeds as honey bees. "They also aren’t as wimpy as honey bees, which only like to forage in nice sunny weather," Pearson writes. From the research, Pearson quotes:
“A perfect bee would be super abundant, work under all weather conditions, and handle pollen efficiently. A perfect bee also doesn’t exist,” said Dr. Burrack. “We wondered if all these different bees, working together, can fill in the gaps and function as a perfect bee community.” Essentially, each bee species is complimentary.
Native bees deserve more of our attention. Thankfully, there is a lot we can do to help protect our native bees and other pollinators.

On Wednesday, November 2nd, join us to learn about the what native pollinators do for us, the challenges they face, including the harm honeybees can cause to native pollen bees in urban areas (including spreading disease and competing for limited resources) and how we can help by building a habitat corridor of native plants. We will also learn about the challenges of urban beekeeping.

Speaker include: Research, Scott MacIvor (University of Toronto).  Peter Kevan (University of Guelph, Environmental Biology). Local Hamilton Beekeeper, Michelle Ordyniec.

Wednesday, Nov. 2nd.
The Spectator Building
44 Frid St.

Get your FREE tickets here.

For more information, contact Beatrice at

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Taking Care of Your Fall Pollinator Garden

How do you take care of your pollinator garden in the fall? Here is some advice from local experts.
Master Gardener, Bev Wagar writes:
I don't do much in the fall. I leave all the stalks and all the seed-heads (except when they are pesky re-seeders) for the insects to nest in. The plant stalks and leaves fall down and help insulate the plants against the wild temperature swings we get with global warming. This is especially important when there is no snow cover.
Brenda Van Ryswyk has similar suggestions: "Do nothing!" this Natural Heritage Ecologist says.
She writes:
Just leave things be is the best thing to do. Birds love to eat the seeds through the winter. Some bees will overwinter as larva in the old plant stems. Sweep/rake your leaves into a pile and leave them be; it's great mulch and butterflies and bumblebees may overwinter in it.
At the very least do not “clean up” your garden too much. Pollinators need some of the things we may consider “messy”. Old stems for the solitary bees to nest in, dried flower heads with seeds for the birds to eat (Goldfinch and Dark-eyed Juncos visit my garden for seeds on the plants all winter long). 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sting! Will planting pollinator-friendly gardens encourage this?

Urgh! It's late summer, you're out picnicking and the "bees" are getting into the food and trying to sting you too, right? So won't planting pollinator friendly flowers encourage them?

Yellow Jacket
But here's the thing: people often confuse wasps for bees. These "bees" that are bothering you are likely wasps such as yellow jackets (bright yellow with black stripes), hornets (black with white stripes), or paper wasps (brown, red or yellow with a skinny waist).

"Most stings around homes and playgrounds do not come from bees but are from wasps as they will build their nests in metal structures or around houses and then sting those who get close to their nest," says Brenda Van Ryswyk, Natural Heritage Ecologist with Conservation Halton.

Bee. Photo Credit: Glenn Barrett.
The bees we are trying to encourage in our gardens are native bees and they will not sting: often they can not sting.

Brenda assures us that solitary bees--which make up the majority of our native bees--are so small they cannot break our skin, so are not a concern.

"The exception is the bumblebee, it can sting, but will only do so if threatened," Brenda explains.

As well, if someone is keeping European honeybees nearby, they will likely visit your garden too, but again, these will only sting if threatened.

"The only concern comes if people are trying to capture or swat bees and the bee thinks its life is at risk," Brenda says.

What good are Wasps?

What good are wasps, you may ask? A lot. They are an important part of our ecosystems, serving beneficial ecological functions.

Many wasps and yellow jackets can be pollinators too, but some species are more scavengers than pollinators and some wasp species are important pest predators.

"It tends to be the non-native paper nest making yellow jackets or the eastern yellow jacket (also makes paper nests and is native) that are a stinging problem," Brenda says.

Brenda advises that to manage the non-native, paper nest making, yellow jackets and the eastern yellow jackets (also makes paper nests and is native) that are a stinging problem, prevention is the key. She suggests that in the early spring, place the fake paper nests around your house and the queen can be tricked to think it is already occupied and she will move elsewhere. Another suggestion is to get the queen pheromone traps for yellow jackets from the hardware store.

She advises that if you had a problem then plug up any holes that they used last year or may find attractive for nesting on, or catch nests early and remove them. If you have a problem one year make sure to seal the hole for the next year.

Brenda says she learned the following trick for bluebird houses:If it is an area not exposed to rain (under a roof overhang, or in a play structure); remove the nest then rub a bar of soap on the surface that they had attached the nest to and the soap will prevent them from attaching a nest to it again. It may need to be refreshed in the spring but should be effective all summer. Any bar soap should do as it is the slippery nature of the soap that stops them from attaching the nest to the surface.

More tips to avoid being stung:

If you have clover in the lawn do not go barefoot, you can be stung if you step on one without knowing.

The majority of stings come when you are harassing bees or approaching their home to close so be sure to stay away from hives.

Find more tips at the David Suzuki website here.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Active Senior: Planting a Pollinator Paradise at her Retirement Community.

Thanks to summer intern, Saige Patti for this blog post.

Inspired by the Urquhart Butterfly Garden in Dundas, Heather Ridge decided to start a pollinator garden of her own, near a pond in her retirement community of St. Elizabeth Village.

Armed with an encyclopedia of plants, Heather planted the garden in 2014 with her friend Sandy, who is a member of the horticultural society. WHICH ONE?  Since then, she has added many more plants, built two obelisk trellises and a bench, and decorated with other ornaments like birdhouses and birdbaths.

Now, the garden is flourishing with plants including phlox, maltese cross, coreopsis, butterfly bush, heather, lobelia, salvia, sundrops, yarrow, gayfeather, and geranium. “I even have a cactus!” Heather says. There are vegetables, herbs, and three trees including a magnolia tree which Heather finds “messy, but gorgeous.”

Heather used to grow roses on her horse farm. “I always had my farm looking nice, but I’ve never done anything this intense,” she explains. The retirement community supported Heather’s project by helping her pay for it. When she started, she was interested in attracting butterflies, but her main goal was to make something beautiful. Turtlehead, her favourite plant, is planted right by the bench so that people can see it when they are sitting down. “When these bud out they look like the heads of a turtle,” she explains. She likes the plant for its distinctness.