Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gardens for Bumblebees

My good colleague, Maria Kasstan spoke to the Toronto Beekeepers' Cooperative last evening. She had just returned from attending the annual pollination symposium in Guelph. The City of Guelph, Ontario, it turns out, has a very active, city-wide pollinator awareness program. A rallying point for all of this activity is Pollination Guelph, sponsor of the symposium.

Now Guelph has for many decades been home to the Ontario Agricultural College and Guelph University. Lots of bee people work there, with plenty of interest in pollination biology. But that doesn't quite explain it all. An enthusiasm for pollination and pollinator-friendly gardens in Guelph seems to extend through the city council and many branches of city government as well.

Maria kindly gave us a capsule account of what she learned. Her talk was fascinating, especially for someone interested in bumblebees.

Bumblebees, in particular, were mentioned during the symposium, including news of the recent promising sighting of the Rusty-patched Bumblebee in Ontario's Pinery Provincial Park. Also discussed was the relationship between arctic bumblebees on Ellesmere Island and the flowers they visit. Apparently the corolla of the flower serves as a parabolic reflector to concentrate the sun's warming rays. So in that chilly climate, bumblebees visit the flower to keep warm, effecting pollination at the same time.

But the big topic of the day was how to develop gardens that serve as habitat not only for bumblebees, but for all insect pollinators. The City of Guelph, under its Healthy Landscapes program publishes lists of pollinator friendly plants to include in the garden. They cover bee, butterfly and hummingbird plants, sun and shade tolerant native plants, as well as trees and shrubs that provide pollinator resources.

The guidelines for pollinator gardens include:
  • plant plenty of nectar and pollen rich flowers
  • provide food sources (host plants) and overwintering places for eggs and pupae
  • provide water
  • avoid using pesticides and herbicides
  • provide sites and materials for nesting and overwintering
  • reduce your area of lawn grass

Because of monoculture and pesticide use, agricultural areas provide no comfort for bumblebees. So what we do in our cities and in our own gardens may be the best hope for bumblebee conservation.

[Photo by Jina Lee, CC License]

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