Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Happy Pollinator Week! Do You Have Thyme for Bees?

I’ve just come from a tour of Western Canada promoting my book, Victory Gardens for Bees, and I’m happy to bring back some really good news. All across Canada people are committing to using the book as a “Canada food guide for bees” and boosting the bee forage in their neighborhood. I took back some valuable lessons learned from observing bees from Kelowna to Winnipeg.
1)   Bees and cats love catmint!

Purple catmint cultivars (i.e. Nepeta fassennii) are essential plants for bees. They are hardy and the flowers pump out the nectar bees need for the energy and they collect white pollen from the flowers to feed to their brood.  These perennial plants are an example of flowers in the mint family that do not spread too quickly, but provide important long-blooming resources for bees.

DIY tip: A trio of great bee plants is catnip, perennial sage (ie Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’), and bee balm.

2) You can help provide a rosy future for bees.
Wild roses and hardy dog rose cultivars provide important sources of pollen for bees in May and June. All kinds of species swim around in the pollen in those wild and old-fashioned roses like the fragrant roses my grandmothers grew in their gardens in Saskatchewan. Edmonton is a city of roses, with bumblebees loading up on pollen from the beautiful deep fuchsia blossoms of the Assiniboine rose.
DIY Tip: A trio of great bee shrubs includes roses, raspberries, and potentilla.

3)   Thyme is a great alternative to grass.

The Devonian gardens outside Edmonton is an Alberta bee oasis, with carpets of flowering thyme covered with many species of bees. This drought tolerant ground cover is a great way to start removing some of the area on the edges of your lawn to gradually add in more forage for bees. Edging your perennial beds with different species of thyme is a good way to create “bee paths” through your garden.

DIY tip: Combine thyme with a low-growing sedum and wild strawberries for a fantastic edging trio. 

4)   Lawns need to shrink and flowerbeds need to grow.

Our love affair with turf needs to end. So much time, energy, water, and pesticides go into lawn-proud landscapes. We really need to replace that with our pride in flowerbeds. The Communities in Bloom program is a very good example of a positive movement towards planting more flowers for bees.
DIY Tip: Make a sign for your garden that says you’re growing organic blooms for bees.

5) Plant lupins for bumblebees! 

Research the native lupins for your area and give bumblebees a break by providing them with a flower that they love with plenty of brick red pollen for their brood.

6) We need pollinator protection legislation.

 In Saskatoon I met an exterminator who wants to provide ecologically friendly solutions to pest control. He has a family and loves nature and wants to do the least amount of harm possible. As mosquitoes, tent caterpillars and ticks invade the prairies, and European chafer beetles infest lawns in Great Vancouver consumers are told to use an arsenal of pesticides and herbicides including neonicatinoids which kill bees and other pollinators and accumulate in plants, soil, and water. Furthermore, since there are no laws regarding the labeling of plants that have been treated with neonics, people are in danger of buying plants to feed the bees that poison them instead.

We need to work together to come up with legislation that protects pollinators from the toxic pesticides that kill and poison bees, butterflies and other insects. We need to invest in research in Integrated Pest Management to come up with solutions

DIY Tip: Support businesses like Sage Garden Greenhouses in Winnipeg that proudly declare themselves neonic free. Many businesses selling your local native plants do not put pesticides on their stock. Choose bee-feeding native plants in the aster family such as blanket flower, prairie coneflower and coreopsis.

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