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.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Woodlands Park Literacy Trail: Bloom where you're planted!

We're excited to be continuing our work with the City through Alex Moroz, Community Liaison Coordinator at Parks and Cemeteries--Public Works, to plant more pollinator paradise patches across Hamilton. For instance, we will be part of the great work going on at Woodlands Park, off Barton Street East--an area of the city that can use some tender loving care.

The project will clean up an old alley and create a new literacy trail extension in the park. As well our pollinator patches, the trail will get a makeover with new trees and gardens.

The PPP is proud to be also included in developing the content for panels describing the life cycle of a bumblebee!

As part of the city's goal to reduce poverty by increasing literacy resources, reading pods will be established to encourage children and families to sit and enjoy a book under a tree or surrounded by vegetation. There will also be solar powered lighting and a technology charging station.

With literacy and neighbourhood pride, by enhancing and beautifying the community, that old adage, "you bloom where you are planted" might have a chance at taking root.

Students in the Rotary Club of Hamilton’s Rotary Literacy Program, attending the launch! 
The project is funded through CN EcoConnexions ($25,000) and matched by Councillor Matthew Green ($25, 000 from area rating). Trees Canada is the other partner on this project.

Lucy Day Park: Make Over
We have also been planting a native plant garden at Lucy Day Park, also in the east end of Hamilton.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The rise of the pollinator-friendly front yard.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly. Photo credit: Vesna Stevens.
Dandelions poking out here and there on the neighbour's property? Wildflowers and milkweed shamelessly facing the street? Keep calm; it's a sign of the times. The reign of the manicured lawn is over; the rise of the nature-friendly front yard is upon us.

What was once considered unattractive scruff is gaining in appreciation for its untamed beauty and for the dinner it provides resident bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Undoubtedly, banning pesticides for cosmetic use has helped towards more relaxed attitudes but of greater significance is a growing awareness of the plight of pollinators.
Pollinators supply crucial ecological services but their numbers are in decline; their habitats have mostly disappeared. We have lost meadowlands, grasslands, marshlands suited to nesting sites and feeding and reproduction. Pesticides, climate change all factor in hugely.

Thankfully, urban environments are growing with the potential of supporting large numbers of pollinators.
According to the Urban Pollinators Project (Bristol University), half of Germany’s entire bee fauna have been found in Berlin, 35% of British hoverfly species were sampled in a single Leicester garden and honeybees produce more honey in urban Birmingham than in the surrounding countryside.