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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Bee Smarts for Food Security

In recent years, there’s been a lot of news about bees dying and the threat to global food crops. Is this a real threat in Canada?

A whopping 90%  of plants that produce food need to be pollinated. Who are the pollinators? Any insect or animal that carries pollen from one plant to another. That includes bees, wasps, flies and, yes, even mosquitoes. Bats and hummingbirds are pollinators too.

William Husby is a BC entomologist – an insect expert to the lay person. He says that in Canada, like other countries, there has been a drastic decrease in the number of pollinators. A recent study in Germany reported a 75% decline in flying insectsHusby says this is likely the case in Canada as whole, too, although in more natural areas with a greater variety of plants, the decline can be much less.

According to Husby, biodiversity is key. Natural environments with  many types of plants are the best ones to support pollinators. The lack of plants in cities is one challenge to keeping pollinators alive and doing their good work. Another problem is large-scale agriculture because it depends on pesticides, particularly bee-killing neonicotinoids.

Copyright W.Husby
What can each of us do to help pollinators? Well, the good news is that you don’t have to have a bee hive in your back yard. In fact, you don’t even need to have a yard. There are about 450 different types of bees that are native to BC, and they don’t live in hives.

Native bees fly alone and will find your blooms wherever they are. And native bees are more efficient pollinators than honey bees, which are not native. A single native bee can pollinate as much as half an entire honeybee hive, according to Husby. “When it’s raining, native bees keep pollinating while honeybees are back at the hive with their feet up, sitting in front of the fire.”

Tips to help bees and other pollinators

·   Keep it naturalDon’t plant lawns. Instead, use the space to create beauty and attract pollinators.

·    Use your balconyYou don’t need a lot of space. Bees and other pollinators will find your balcony blooms.

·    Plant for early and late bloomsFree seed catalogues online or in print will tell you when flowers bloom. You can have colour and attract insects and hummingbirds from early spring to late fall and even into winter. One good source is West Coast SeedsIf you plant vegetables, let some go to flower. Insects love kale flowers!

·   Plant native varieties.Many plants labelled “nativars” have been altered from the original, wild plant, so they may produce less nectar. As well, changes like double flowers may keep pollinators from reaching the nectar. 

     Linda Gilkeson, BC gardener, author and speaker, encourages us to plant “the least  
   manipulated flowers.” (To receive Linda’s email with great gardening tips, email her at info@lindagilkeson.ca.)

·   Avoid pesticides and never use neonicotinoidsLearn about and use plants that act as natural pest controls. Husby extols the benefits of cilantro. It attracts helpful insects like wasps that control caterpillars. West Coast Seeds has a good page on helpfulinsects and what to plant to attract them.

   Create resting places for pollinatorsNative bees make homes in stems of plants and under rotten wood. They hibernate in winter and use the nests for baby bees in warmer weather. Other insect pollinators do the same.

·   Buy locally grown foodLocal farms are smaller, and so they aren’t as likely to use the quantity of pesticides used in large-scale agriculture. Visit your local farmers’ market or check the supermarket produce stickers.

    Note: Many grocery stores have taken to putting up large signs that boast local produce. You may find that there is, in fact, no local produce under the sign!)

Copyright W.Husby
If we want to eat in the future, we need pollinators! Taking care of them takes care of our food supply.

Article Written By: Burnaby Food First Member Joyce Cameron

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