Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Have your say

There is global scientific consensus that pollinators are in decline in both the state of health and in population numbers. This is believed to be caused by multiple interacting factors such as loss of pollinator habitat and nutrition, pesticide exposure, climate change and weather, and disease, pests and genetics. Ontario beekeepers have also been experiencing higher than average over-winter hive losses in recent years, in addition to in-season mortality incidents (from the Environmental Registry).

Ontario is taking action that includes sustainable, long-term initiatives aimed at improving the health of bees and other pollinators.
Exercise your rights under Ontario's Environmental Bill of Rights! The comment period is now open on a proposed provincial regulation to control the use of neonicotinoids in Ontario in order to protect bee populations. You can access Pollinator Health: A Proposal for Enhancing Pollinator Health and Reducing the Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Ontario and leave a comment.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Winter Sowing Workshop Overview

On Saturday, October 25th, twenty people gathered at the City of Hamilton’s Gage Park Greenhouse to learn how to winter sow native seeds.   By collecting seeds and getting them ready for the winter, we would have locally sourced native plants for our pollinator patches. Sowing native seeds outside allows the plants to grow as nature intended. 

The workshop was led by Crown Point resident Bev Wagar who has been germinating native seeds over the winter for many years and was able to share many practical tips based on her experiences.

·         Seeds can be sown outside after winter solstice (December 21st)
·         Most of the required materials can be found in your kitchen / recycling bins.  Bev buys soil because it is sterile and she can avoid finding surprises in her soil.
·         Most native perennials can be winter sown (outdoor germination over the winter)
·         It’s best to find a local seed source
·         Milkweed can be harvested in the fall as the pods are splitting. The seeds should be put in a paper bag in the fridge and can then be planted out after winter solstice.   
·         If you are unsure how to sow the species you’re working with, research it online

·         Protected outside space that is not in direct sunlight
·         A clear lid to cover pots that has ventilation holes (ex. freezer weight plastic bags). Store bought plastic greenhouses can also work make sure to create air holes in the cover and bottom. Secure the lid to prevent the cover from dislodging. 
·         Bev uses commercial seed starter mix, ex. Premier PGX
·         Marker to label the container (note that the marker may fade over time)

·         Deep enough to fit approximately 3 inches of soil and have rigid sides
·         Drainage holes will be needed in the bottom
·         Good containers include: mushroom containers, old seed flats, Tupperware all can work.  Bev also suggested re-using clear plastic cake or croissant containers and transform them into small greenhouses, holding all of the containers inside.

·         Pour soil into a large mixing bowl and add water until soil holds together when squeezed, but is not dripping wet
·         Fill containers to the top loosely, ensuring there are no air pockets
·         Tamp the surface gently and level with a straight edge
·         For large seeds (ex. milkweed) add 2 seeds to each pot and cover with a thin layer of soil
·         For small seeds scatter around pots and lightly tamp down
·         Mist with water
·         Put the pots outside, away from direct sunlight and ensure the soil stays moist until germination which generally occurs between March and June

·         Gradually increase the exposure to sunlight
·         When there are 2 true leaves the plant can be transplanted to a different container.  The first two leaves you see are not ‘true’ they are from the energy in each seed.  Wait to see you see two more leaves.  Bev transplants her seedlings into single serving yogurt container with drainage holes cut in the bottom.
·         Add potting mix to the container and carefully “prick out” the small plants with a small stick and plant in the new pot, watering from the side, not directly on the stem
·         Place pot in a protected location away from direct sunlight. Morning sun is good as it mimics increasing light under natural conditions
·         When the roots have reached the bottom of the container, the plant can be planted in the garden

Here are some reference sites that Bev suggested:

·  (focussed on data on germination and everything you will need to know about seed starting and helpful tips.  A searchable database that includes Latin names of plants)
· (dedicated to winter sowing and handy tips that include re-using containers found in our recycling bins)

Our thank yous:
A huge thanks to Bev Wagar for leading this informative workshop.
Thanks to everyone who came out on a beautiful Saturday and joined us.
Thanks to Hamilton Future Fund and Hamilton Community Foundation for their support. 
Thanks to City of Hamilton for sponsoring the room rental. 

We are planning a number of events for 2015, starting on Seedy Saturday, details be announced.  STAY TUNED!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Follow-up on Thursday October 9th's "Disappearing Act: Where have your Pollinators Gone?"

After our event, we promised a bit of follow-up.  And here it is!

On Thursday Oct 9th, Pollinators Paradise Project organized a panel discussion, "Disappearing Act: Where have our Pollinators Gone?  How can we help?" that featured the following speakers:

Susan Chan, M.SC in Pollination Biology (Native Pollinator Program)
Scott Meyer (St. Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre)
Luc Peters (Local Beekeeper)
Brenda Van Ryswyk (Conservation Halton)

The panel speakers were amazing (if we do say so ourselves ;), the discussion was lively and thoughtful.

Here is some follow-up from one of our speakers, Susan Chan.  She wanted to pass on this article. This is Susan's message.

There was mention last night of how European canola crops are being devastated as a result of the temporary ban of neonicotinoids in Europe.  Here is an very well informed and well written article by a well-respected UK  bumble bee scientist which responds to that.  Please circulate to the audience if possible.
Click here for the article.

As well, in addition, Susan suggested that we contact Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Hon Jeff Leal, MPP.   Premier Kathleen Wynne's office has listed their 2014 priorities for MPP's Leals' office and in the list of priorities included: to meaningfully decrease neonicotinoids in Ontario by 2015.  Susan suggested that each of us can contact MPP Leal and inform him and his ministry that we support his mandate.

Click here for the list of priorities.

And Hon. Jeff Leal, MPP can be reached at:
Queen's Park Office
1421 - 99 Wellesley Street W 1st Floor, Whitney Block
M7A 1W3
Phone: 416-326-3074

We are happy to say that in the panel discussion, there were other action items that Brenda Van Ryswyk listed which included: creating habitats for our bees, planting pollinator patches and learning more about the pollinators, we are happy to say that our project is doing all these things and more!

For more information about what we are doing, here is a list of upcoming events:

Last but not least we wanted to thank all our speakers for an interesting and informative evening and as well, thank our MC, Jarah West.  Lastly, thank everyone who came out that night and who supports our project. 

Hope to see you soon!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Foodie Bees: Insects Head Downtown for Dinner

This great article in National Geographic describes the importance of creating pollinator habitats in urban areas. This is the focus of the Pollinator Paradise project - to establish pollinator habitats across Hamilton.

Posted by Jennifer S. Holland in Weird & Wild on September 27, 2014
Foodies aren’t the only ones swarming cities in search of the best eats. Even bees are going urban to satisfy their taste for diverse, high-quality food—especially as wild habitat becomes more scarce, new research reveals.

Gordon Frankie, an urban entomologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has been studying the foraging habits of native bees in the Guanacaste Province of Costa Rica (map) to find out just how much the pollinating insects are visiting and sampling foods from urban gardens. (See “Beautiful, Intimate Portraits of Bees.”)
A photo of a bee collecting pollen from a Brazilian guava flower
Augochloropsis ignita collects pollen from a flower of Brazilian guava. Photograph by Rollin Coville
The answer: Quite a bit more than expected. It may seem a little counterintuitive, but “urban environments are actually a refuge for bees,” said Frankie, who has received funding from the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. That’s because cities provide bees with new food resources, especially if native plants have short flowering seasons or are in short supply because of urban sprawl and other land-use changes.
City Bees
For the past decade, as part of the Costa Rica Bee Project, Frankie and colleagues have been monitoring specimens of the same plant species in both wild forests and urban environments—where they’re often the flashier, ornamental varieties—and recording the bee numbers and species tending to those plants. Costa Rica has 800 bee species; his team has collected 112. They found that in most cases, a plant specimen located in an urban setting attracts as many bee species as does its wild counterpart; occasionally, city specimens actually get more visitors than the wild ones.
Native plants are preferred in both locations, but the bees don’t turn up their noses at non-native sweets. Overall, as many as 80 percent of the native bees observed in wild settings were also visiting the urban gardens, according to the study (which has not yet been published). “That was higher than we expected, and it gave us hope. As more natural areas are disappearing or being impacted by humans, urban areas offer something more stable—people are looking after them.”
A photo of a bee visiting a Poincianella flower.
Centris varia visits a flower of Poincianella eriostachys. Photograph by Rollin Coville
The findings support the idea that properly designed urban spaces (meaning, gardens that are planted with particular bee preferences in mind) can not only maintain but even enhance the ability of pollinators to survive and do their jobs. (Also see “Beyond Bees: 4 Surprising Facts About Pollination.”)

What’s not yet clear is whether these insects are nesting in the cities or just commuting in for meals. “Right now we only know they are foraging from urban plants. Do they stay around or go out of the city to nest? We need to know if they merely transition through the city” or stay around to complete their life cycles outside of the wild. If so, the urban gardens are that much more important for the health of the bee population.

Spreading the Bee Buzz
Many of Costa Rica’s hundreds of bee species are crucial pollinators of important crops (such as beans, squash, and watermelons) and diverse native flora. That’s why Frankie’s team, with its plentiful bee data, is now working with biologist Ana Chassoul, of the Universidad Nacional de Costa Ricato reach out to schools and other audiences about pollinators. The idea is to make more people familiar with native Costa Rican bee species and the plants that support them, and to spread the word that both wild and planted landscapes can help the insects thrive. (Also see “Pictures: Rare Bees Make Flower-Mud ‘Sandwiches.’”)

Meanwhile, he and his Berkeley colleagues are beginning to design the first bee-habitat garden in Costa Rica. The Santa Ana Conservation Center will be used for education and as a model for future pollinator-friendly urban spaces in that country and beyond.

Happy Pioneers
Even in the U.S., where bees are now regulars in the news because of massive declines from colony collapse disorder and other afflictions, native bee species haven’t achieved the status of their honeybee counterparts. (See “The Plight of the Honeybee.”)

“A few years ago most people in the U.S. knew almost nothing of bees, could maybe identify a honeybee or a carpenter bee, but that’s about all,” Frankie said. “Now, everyone is very interested! But native bees are still relatively unstudied.”
A photo of a bee coming out of an Ipomea flower.
Augochloropsis metallica visits an Ipomea flower in Liberia, the capital city of Guanacaste Province. Note that it is missing its left antenna, a common occurrence that doesn’t seem to slow the insects down much. Photograph by Rollin Coville
Still, some U.S. cities, including many in California (with its 1,600 native bees)—where Frankie’s team is doing similar monitoring as in Costa Rica—are making strides in giving these bees what they need. (See Frankie and colleagues’ bee-friendly guide for California gardeners.)
Botanist Peter Bernhardt of St. Louis University in Missouri said urban environments are going to become more and more valuable to pollinators. (Read more about pollinators in National Geographic magazine.) “As city planners turn to a more restricted use of pesticides, bees should become happy pioneers in cities, encouraging quality projects in horticulture,” he said.

California has led the way in the domestication of some brilliant wildflowers, “which must bring a number of native bees into the city to stay.” And he thinks the data will eventually show they aren’t there just to feed. “After all, many species prefer to nest in dense soil, and we know the lawns in city parks receive a lot of trampling from our shoes. Urban dirt is hard-packed, the way bees like it.”

Going Non-Native
While managed honeybees do the lions’ share of the pollinating that interests farmers, economists, and policymakers, native insects also pick up a lot of slack. In response, the charge by bee-garden purists in the U.S. has always been to stick to native plants in city gardens, a tall order when in fact urban gardeners use more than 90 percent exotic plants. (Also see “Urban Farming: Growing Food in a Sprawling City.”)

Frankie said that for helping pollinators, that distinction might not be as important as once thought. “Bees will go wherever they can find pollen and nectar. If urban gardens are diverse, bees will visit. We are learning the relationships between particular bees to particular flowers so we can predict the best mix of plants in each environment, and that will include both native and non-natives.”

“It’s true that native bees overall prefer native plants,” said international landscape designer Kate Frey, who specializes in pollinator-habitat gardens. “Having said that, if recommending people only plant native species turns them away from planting bee gardens, we have to compromise. Some ornamentals bloom when there is a dearth of other flowers, so using non-native plants to bridge the gap, to supplement during lean times of native flora, could be a good thing.” (See more pictures of pollinators.)

Overall, Frankie recommends that some 10 percent of urban land—whether in Costa Rica or California or elsewhere—should be dedicated to bee-friendly gardens. “I know that’s a big wish, but the more we plant the right types and numbers of plants, the more bees, and more bee species, we can expect. If we do the gardens right, they will come.”

To make your own garden attractive to native bees, Frey offers these tips:
1. The same flowers that make us happy also support bees. Choose appropriate plants for your climate and soils. Each area of the country has specific plants that will thrive there, and not all plants are bee-friendly. Do your research to discover which plants serve your location, and native pollinators, best.
2. Plant profusely. The more flowers there are, the more food resources for bees. Putting just one plant here and another over there doesn’t support many bees, and doesn’t make for a lovely garden anyway.
3. Plant in patches or repeat the same plant throughout the garden. Native bees and honeybees need at least ten square feet (a square meter) from which to gather floral resources. Collector gardens with one each of various kinds of plants are not going to feed the bees.
4. Try to plan for as many months of bloom as your climate allows. Ornamental plants can help bridge the gaps.
5. Use at least 50 percent native plants, which will also draw butterflies and moths.
6. Offer more variety to pollinators by including annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees.
7. Make bee nesting habitat part of your garden. Seventy percent of native bees are ground-nesters that need bare ground (without mulch). Thirty percent nest in crevices—wood or hollow plant stems. Gardeners can make bee nest blocks or keep an old tree or snag on the property for these insects.
8. Bees like the warm sun and prefer sun-loving plants to shade plants. So, let there be light and heat in your city oasis!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Creating Pollinator Paradise

Creating pollinator habitat benefits us as we depend on pollinators for one out of every three bites of food that we eat.  About 75% of all flowering plants depend on pollinators. Most pollinators are beneficial insects such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. We depend on these pollinators for healthy plants and full harvests.

Everyone can play a role in helping to protect pollinators which can then help to pollinate our gardens. Following are the top 6 plant suggestions from Paul O’Hara of Blue Oak Native Landscaping and designer of wildlife habitats:

  • Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) - our toughest oak and tolerant of urban stresses.  If residents of Hamilton plant anything on their properties it should be a native oak tree as oaks feed more pollinating insects than any other native tree.
  • Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) - our native juniper and is sought after by many native birds for nesting and feeding.
  • Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina) - our native rose and great choice for urban gardens as it requires no pesticides or fungicides and the flowers are relished by native pollinators.
  • Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) - host plant for Monarch caterpillar and feeding plant for many other butterflies, bees, beetles and insects.
  • Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) and Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) – Monarch butterflies and many other insects rely on Asters and Goldenrods for feeding in the fall. Monarchs depend on it as fuel to migrate to Mexico for the winter.  Recommended Asters and Goldenrods for Hamilton include Blue-stemmed Goldenrod, Zig-zag Goldenrod, Gray Goldenrod, Early Goldenrod, Frost Aster, Heath Aster, Smooth Aster, and New England Aster.
  • Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum) – a great nectar plant for pollinating insects.
You can create a Pollinator Paradise by planting a variety of these native plants!  Learn about other ways you can help by visiting

Join us to learn about the challenges pollinators are facing and what we can do to help

Thursday, August 7, 2014

More than half of Ontario bees died during harsh winter

Beekeepers call for province to take action

CBC News Posted: Jul 23, 2014 9:05 PM ET Last Updated: Jul 25, 2014 9:12 PM ET

About 58 per cent of Ontario bees died this winter.
About 58 per cent of Ontario bees died this winter. ((Julio Cortez/Associated Press)
Defending neonicotinoids
Defending neonicotinoids 5:21
Ontario bees in peril
Ontario bees in peril 6:01
More than half of Ontario's bees did not survive the winter, according to a new report that has the province's beekeepers' group very concerned.
About 58 per cent of Ontario bees died during what was an especially long winter, while other provinces lost on average about 19 per cent of their swarm, according to the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists survey. That means Ontario lost bees at a rate three times that of the other provinces.
While the report fingers the weather — this year's polar vortex — as the main culprit for the bee deaths, acute and chronic pesticide damage or insufficient recovery from pesticide exposure last year have also been cited by hive-minders as contributing factors.
Ontario Beekeepers' Association president Dan Davidson says bees' exposure in the hive to pollen contaminated by pesticides "almost guarantees they will not survive the winter."
The group is calling on Ontario's governing Liberals to fast track a plan looking at permits restricting the number of plant seeds treated with neonicotinoids, a widely used pesticide that some scientists and environmentalists say are killing bees and other insects.
The apiculturists association states Canada's overall winter mortality rate averaged 25 per cent, well above what it says
beekeepers deem the "acceptable" loss limit of 15 per cent.
The Ontario bee group says nearly all corn seeds and about two-thirds of soy seeds sold in the province are pretreated with neonicotinoid coatings, though only a minority of the crops are at risk from pests the insecticide is meant to stop.
It did its own winter survey earlier this year and found more than a quarter of beekeepers lost 75 to 100 per cent of their
"Beekeepers cannot sustain these losses and many will have to leave the business if these losses continue," group vice-president Tibor Szabo said in a release Wednesday.
"The government of Ontario must immediately take the initiative to ensure this permit (system) is in place for the 2015 growing season if we are to have a sustainable industry as well as the pollinators we need for our fresh fruits and vegetables."
An international panel of 50 scientists working as the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides said last month the use of neonicotinoids and another popular insecticide called neonics should be phased out.
The panel said its study of 800 research papers provides conclusive evidence that the pesticides are causing mass deaths of insects that are essential to the process of pollinating most crops.
A Health Canada report has suggested that seeds treated with neonicotinoids contributed to the majority of the bee deaths in Ontario and Quebec in 2012, likely due to exposure of the pesticide-laced dust during planting.

With files from The Canadian Press

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Facts About Neonicotinoids, reposted from Alternatives Journal

The Facts About Neonicotinoids

BY Janet Kimantas, in Alternatives Journal
| Heroes 39.6
How neonicotinoids contaminate entire ecosystems Neonicotinoids are a class of neurotoxic chemicals that are structurally similar to nicotine, a powerful natural insecticide that is harmful to mammals. Neonicotinoids were designed to be more targeted to insects and less broadly destructive, but recent research suggests widespread impacts.
It’s the Smoking Gun. A groundbreaking report published in July by the international peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE has shed new light on the plight of honeybees. Taken all together, the evidence indicates that bees are at risk from a multitude of factors.
Although the plight of pollinators is familiar news, the winter of 2012-13 was particularly catastrophic. Some Ontario beekeepers lost 70 per cent of their colonies. Overall, Canada lost nearly 30 per cent – roughly 200,000 bee colonies. These losses spell hardship and even disaster for honey producers, but the role of bees and other pollinators is crucial for global agriculture, contributing an estimated $200-billion in ecological services.
Many factors are blamed: cold, wet weather, malnutrition and habitat loss. A growing number of beekeepers are implicating neonicotinoids (aka neonics), a class of pesticides used by corn, soybean and canola farmers. George Monbiot says they are “the new DDT” contaminating the agricultural environment. 
Agricultural runoff [in Holland] was so concentrated with imidacloprid that it could be used itself as an effective pesticide.
Reports that the EU has passed a two-year ban on neonics are misleading. A few have been suspended for purposes mainly affecting honeybees – but they continue to be used widely. A May 2013 Dutch study, “Macro-Invertebrate Decline in Surface Water Polluted with Imidacloprid,” found that agricultural runoff was so concentrated with imidacloprid that it could be used itself as an effective pesticide. This toxic runoff is leading to 70-per-cent less aquatic invertebrate species richness and abundance, a factor with unknown consequences for the broader ecosystem.
The American Bird Conservancy commissioned internationally renowned toxicologist Pierre Mineau to research the impact of neonics on birds and aquatic systems. The 100-page report concludes that the chemicals are also lethal to birds and in some areas both surface- and groundwater are contaminated beyond the lethal threshold for many aquatic species.
When the entire ecosystem is examined, it becomes clear how chemicals interact with organisms in complex and unpredictable ways. Up until now, most research has fed bees only one chemical at a time. But the July PLOS ONE article, entitled “Crop Pollination Exposes Honey Bees To Pesticides,” tested how bees are exposed to combinations and loads of pesticides in the real world. It found insecticides in pollen samples at concentrations higher than median lethal doses. It also implicated “fairly safe” fungicides in honeybee population declines. Bees who ingest these fungicides are more susceptible to the parasite Nosema ceranae, which can result in complete colony collapse. Bees are subject to an unsupervised cocktail of chemicals in the environment, putting many other species at risk.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pollinator-friendly native plants

Native species help to support our local birds, butterflies and pollinators by providing food, shelter, and places to raise their young. Many of these species  are in decline due to habitat loss and the use of harmful insecticides and herbicides. 
You can help by planting these native species in your yard!
WILD BERGAMOT - Monarda fistulosa

Plant in full sun. Low Maintenance. Drought tolerant. Part of the mint family. Flowers provide nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. 
Butterfly Milkweed - ASCLEPIAS TUBEROSA
Plant in full sun. Low Maintenance. Drought tolerant. Striking orange flowers are a magnet for many butterfly species, including Monarchs.

New England Aster - Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Plant in full sun or partial shade. Low maintenance. Drought tolerant. Important food source for pollinators, particularly in the fall.