In recent years, there has been a growing concern among beekeepers and environmentalists about the rapid decline of honeybees. Just last year alone, Ontario beekeepers reported a 58 per cent loss of the province’s honeybee population. With these little creatures responsible for the cross-pollination of a third of the world’s food crops, losing them could prove to be a devastating event.
Just last week, the Government of Ontario acknowledged the important work of beekeepers and honeybees when they implemented new rules that would restrict a widely used bee-killing pesticide by 80 per cent in just 2 years. Nearly all corn crops and 60 per cent of soy bean crops in Ontario are currently treated with neonicotinoids, which have been shown in numerous studies to be a major contributing factor in bee deaths.
The Ontario Bee Association responded to the new restrictions in a press release, stating that there’s still more work to be done when it comes to protecting the bees.
“Our bees continue to die from the overuse of neonicotinoids,” said Tibor Szabo, OBA president, “And while the new regs may not be perfect, in the end, the Ontario government did the right thing.”
While restricting the use of neonics is a step in the right direction, there are also many things that can be done at home to support bee population and health. Creating a bee-friendly environment will support pollinator health and may lead to a bountiful harvest later on in the growing season.
Grow plants that attract bees. Choose a variety of plants that will bloom at different points throughout the season so there is always a source of nutrition for bees. As a general rule of thumb, native plants attract native bees and exotic plants attract honeybees. Be aware that flowers bred to simply please the human eye are sometimes lacking in nutrition for pollinators. Choose heirloom or native varieties whenever possible.
Flowers: Bee balm, Milkweed, Lavender, New England aster, Cosmos, Foxglove, Coneflower
Shrubs: Chokecherry, Common ninebark, Common elderberry, New Jersey tea, Serviceberry
Trees: Sugar maple, Eastern hemlock, Staghorn sumac, Black cherry, Black willow, Red maple
Like us, bees need a reliable source of water to live and thrive. Conventional back yard water in ponds, birdbaths, and rain barrels are often difficult for bees to access because they need something to land on. For a very low cost or free you can make a bee bath.
Instructions: Line a shallow bowl, tray or plate with rocks, then add water. Do not submerge tops of rocks in water as bees will need these as a landing surface. Place the bee bath at ground level. Replenish the water supply every morning. Interestingly enough, if you place the bee bath near plants that are challenged by aphids, the bees will work on correcting the infestation.
Even bees need a temporary resting place from time to time. Solitary bees – or native bees – nest in tunnels in the ground, but you can make their work easier by building a bee hotel. Bee hotels can be simple or creative – Fairmont Royal York in Toronto has a rooftop bee hotel that’s designed to resemble the CN Tower! Building a bee hotel is easy and low cost or free depending on what materials you have at home.
- Gather hollow stems (bamboo works perfectly). Make sure they are at least 20 cm in length
- OR – Gather large branches, wood scraps, etc and drill holes 20 cm deep with a 1 cm opening
- Arrange bundled stems, branches or wood stacks into a wood box or empty milk carton with the top cut off. Another option is to place your materials inside stacked wooden pallets. This is your bee hotel! Place it off the ground in a sunny area, and wait for solitary bees to enjoy their new resting place.
Become a beekeeper
The more people who are interested in responsible beekeeping, the better chance we have at supporting and sustaining the bee population as a whole. The Two Row Times, Six Nations Health Services and the Our Sustenance program present a free workshop on beekeeping basics tonight, Wednesday June 17 from 6pm – 8 pm. Join us at Our Sustenance Greenhouse, 2676 4th Line Road, for a talk on beekeeping and to see a hive in action. Call 519-445-4779 to register.