Could we have had a more perfect long weekend than the one that just ended with Victoria Day? If you weren't at a cottage or campground, you may have spent time in your backyard, as I did, working in the garden. My husband and I planted vegetables, filled containers with flowers and divided and moved perennials. And we paid special attention to attracting pollinators by planting lavender, chives and bee balm.
The recent decline of honey bee populations has been getting a lot of attention since they're critical to our food supply; the widely-quoted statistic is that one third of what we eat depends on crops pollinated by bees. A condition called colony collapse disorder has resulted in a steep decline in the numbers of bees available to perform this critical function. But other pollinators are threatened as well by loss of habitat, pesticide use and climate change.
If you thought this problem wouldn't be on the radar in a city like ours, you'd be wrong. It turns out that we share our urban environment with over 350 species of bees. Toronto has just become Canada's first bee city, which means it has made a commitment to protect bees and other pollinators and their habitats, and to educate citizens about the importance of doing the same.
Bees of Toronto, a recent publication in the City of Toronto's terrific Biodiversity Series, is a great place to start learning about our native species and how we can support them. Copies are available in library branches.
Here are some resources if you'd like to learn how to attract wild bees to your garden or balcony:
- Create a Bee-Friendly Garden, from The David Suzuki Foundation, has information about how to create "homes" and provide food for bees
- Friends of the Earth's Let It Bee program suggests practical ways to establish and improve bee habitats in backyards and balconies. Check out resources like their list (PDF) of bee-friendly native plants.
Urban beekeeping has become very popular. If you'd like to learn more about it, here are some resources:
- at the Toronto Botanical Garden you can enroll in beekeeping courses and work toward a Certificate in Urban Beekeeping
- the Urban Bee Network provides links to information about courses as well as issues of concern to urban beekeepers, such as by-laws and permits
My colleague Jeannette has prepared a reading list (PDF) about bees.
Here are a few books about bees available in library branches:
If you're interested in beekeeping:
Finally, if you'd like to introduce young people to this subject, my colleague Kate's recent post about bees features books for children.