In recent years, the plight of honeybees has captured the world’s attention, as global bee populations have declined. These important pollinators are responsible for helping to produce 75 percent of all the food we consume, including fruits, nuts, vegetables, and herbs.
Governments are increasingly restricting the agricultural use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which may be responsible. However, helping the honeybees doesn’t have to happen strictly at a policy level—it can happen right in your backyard.
We spoke with Julie White, a board member for the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association and owner of the Long Point Honey Company, to find out how homeowners can make their yards bee-friendly.
Get over your fears
Bees are not only beneficial, they’re usually harmless. Unlike wasps, which can sting repeatedly, attacking means instant death for a bee. “It’s a last resort for them,” says White, who explains that bees will only sting if their young or honey is threatened.
Know your enemy
There are hundreds of bee species in Canada, which range in size and nesting patterns—but all are equally beneficial to plants. If you’re worried about wasps, they’re easy to identify; as carnivores, they’ll be the ones landing on your steak when you eat outside. Bees, on the other hand, only eat nectar and honey.
Bring all the bees to your yard
Rather than selecting hybrids or exotic species, opt for native or indigenous flowers. These plants are more likely to nourish pollinators, including butterflies. Equally important is choosing bee-friendly trees; willows, lindens, locusts, hawthorn, and fruit and nut trees are all good options.
With food should come water
Bees need water to survive, but birdbaths are often too deep. To prevent drowning, set up “bee baths” on your property. These shallow dishes of water should have an area where bees can stand, such as marbles, stones or a stick in the centre.
Avoid pesticides or herbicides
“Acres of wildflowers or lovely pollinator gardens won’t help bees if the flowers are loaded with bee-killing pesticides, especially systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids,” says White. And besides, some “weeds” are actually beneficial to pollinators. “Learn to love dandelions,” suggests White. “Those pesky yellow flowers are the first pollen and nectar of the season for winter-hungry bees.” Wait until other flowers have bloomed before you rip them out or mow your lawn.
Keep part of your property wild
Let native plants thrive on the edges of your property, such as on roadsides or around your driveway, as this is where bees harvest much of their nectar and pollen. Not only that, but bees also nest in the ground, including in sticks and dead wood. “Leaving parts of your property messy will provide a safe site for beneficial insects and pollinators,” says White. She also suggest reducing the amount you mow your lawn and avoiding mulch, which reduces access to ground nesting sites.
Get your community involved
Unfortunately, an unkempt yard—even in cottage country—can result in some sideways glances from neighbours. Be proactive in explaining what you’re trying to accomplish and ask if they would like to get involved. With the support of your neighbourhood, you can easily create nectar corridors for bees and other migrating pollinators like butterflies.