As honeybee populations have recently been in decline worldwide, their importance in our agricultural systems is becoming more fully understood.
The honeybees’ most vital contribution to the world, and to us, is pollination. More than half of all fruits, vegetables and nuts rely completely on honeybees - or in other words, one in three mouthfuls of food we consume wouldn’t exist at all if it wasn’t for bees! Therefore, the recent threats to honeybee health have sparked renewed funding for their research and protection, along with an increased desire to know how we, the public, can help save the bees.
Honeybees actually pollinate as a result of their search for food - visiting flowers in search of sticky, sweet nectar and nutritious pollen to feed themselves and their hive, the honeybees will unintentionally transfer the male seed (pollen) of one flower onto the next. A honeybee can travel up to 5kms in one direction in search of food - and when she finds a good source she will communicate this with the other bees in her hive through the amazing bee dance. While searching for nectar, which will be deposited into the hive and turned into honey, the honeybee becomes covered in the fine powder of pollen. As she moves from flower to flower, the pollen falls off her body into other flowers and the miracle of pollination occurs. This gathering field duty is the final phase in the life of the honeybee, who will eventually wear the wings off her body from over-exertion - her entire lifetime of 6-7 weeks culminating in the production of just one single teaspoon of honey.
In recent years the declining numbers of honeybees worldwide has meant more people are looking to do their part in helping ‘save the bees’. There are several things experts agree on, which can be done at the household level to help support healthy wild bee populations in your neighborhood.
Firstly, limiting your household use of chemicals and pesticides is a great place to start, and will ensure that your garden is not adding any harmful substances to your surrounding ecosystems. Secondly, purchasing organic fruits and veggies, where possible, ensures that your food was produced without the use of harmful sprays.
Lastly, planting a Bee Friendly Garden, or simply adding a few bee-friendly plants to your existing green space is a great way to support local pollinators and perhaps even enhance the aromas and colors of your backyard at the same time!
There are several things we can keep in mind when we do our spring gardening which will ensure pollinators have a healthy environment to visit. Bees need good sources of nectar and pollen, as well as access to fresh water. Providing a bird bath or saucer with fresh water for honeybees is a great idea - just make sure there is a lip or object they can safely land on and drink from without a risk of drowning. An old dinner plate with a thin layer of water and some larger stones in it works perfectly! Secondly, we want to select plants which are attractive to bees and perhaps those which bloom early or late in the season to provide food when there is less natural foliage available. Some good examples are Salvia, Lavender, Goldenrod, Sage, and Thyme - or in general plants with blue, purple, and yellow flowers in high abundance. The more flowers the merrier as far as the honeybee is concerned! It also doesn’t hurt to ask your nursery or garden shop if their seedlings are grown with or without Neonicotinoids, a pesticide which has recently been proven harmful to bees in a Health Canada study. One last thing to consider when planting your bee friendly garden, would be getting your very own backyard beehive. Check with your local council to see if your zoning allows bees and then reach out to your local beekeeping club to get yourself started! For information about beekeeping, pollination, and bee-friendly gardening, visit Planet Bee Honey Farm in Vernon, BC where you can also pick up a packet of bee-friendly flowers or herbs right in store.