Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April with the Bees

Our honey bees are waiting for Spring with even more eager anticipation than I am. It's been a long winter for them. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do but try to stay warm.

No, those bees haven't been sleeping during the winter. They've been keeping the queen warm and slowly using up the food they stored last Fall. Will it last long enough, or won't it? If the food runs out before the early flowers bloom, they die.

April will bring those first few warm days when honey bee workers at last venture out again. Foragers will begin to explore the area around the hive, up to a kilometre or two away. They're desperate to find those early flowers - and they'll soon succeed. Pussy willow catkins are among the first, and then the maples. By the time dandelions appear and fruit trees start blooming, near the end of the month, the bees' food supply is assured.

The queen will start laying again in April and the hive will rapidly need loads of pollen for the hungry mouths of developing brood. No-one will be making much honey yet, but the hive will come alive and begin to thrive.

We beekeepers have to keep a close watch on events. We'll start by removing the winter wraps that protected the overwintering hive from chilling north winds. We'll clean out detritus from the bottom board, dry up any accumulated moisture and scrape out any mould that may have appeared.

We may have to supply some food in the early days, before the natural sources kick in. We'll also have to make sure the queen is laying well and that there is plenty of room for expansion of the colony. And we have to be vigilant for any sign that the parasitic Varroa mite may be increasing in numbers.

This beekeeper is especially interested in pollination, and will also be keeping an eye on native pollinators. The honey bees will be joined on April flowers by early species of solitary bees. Carpenter bees will be patrolling and cellophane bees will fly in feverish activity around their clusters of burrows in sandy ground.

No need to look after native bees. They can take very good care of themselves, thank you. But we do have to ensure there is lots of the natural habitat pollinators need to survive - flowering trees, shrubs and garden plants. Leave the old stalks and canes to overwinter in the garden. And do walk on the grass - those bare spots make great sites for burrows.

April is the month when a beekeeper's faith is restored. The bees resume their keystone role in our environment. And if we look after their needs, they will once again offer us a season of plenty.

[This article appeared first in the Carrot Green Roof April Newsletter]

Thursday, April 21, 2011

All Kinds of Flowers Suit Native Pollinators

Bumblebee male on Queen Anne's Lace,
an introduced species in North America.
Many wildflower enthusiasts suggest that native wildflowers are preferable forage for native pollinators. A recent study, however, fails to support this hypothesis, at least where species richness (diversity) is concerned.

The paper in question is:

Small scale additions of native plants fail to increase beneficial insect richness in urban gardens. by KEVIN C. MATTESON and GAIL A. LANGELLOTTO. Insect Conservation and Diversity (2011) 4, 89–98.

Here are their conclusions:

1. Despite increasing interest in gardening for wildlife, experiments testing the conservation value of garden alterations are scarce, particularly in heavily urbanised landscapes.

2. In this paper, we assess the ability of discrete additions of native wildflowers (70 plants of seven plant species added and subsequently monitored for 2 years) to augment species richness of beneficial insects including bees, butterflies and predatory wasps in New York City community gardens. We also evaluate the overall use of native and introduced flowers by these insect groups in the urban garden study sites.

3. Bayesian analyses failed to find a strong influence of the native plant additions on beneficial insect richness, after correcting for prior floral abundance.

4. In addition, butterflies and megachilid (leaf-cutter) bees were found to heavily utilise introduced ornamental and crop flowers in these gardens, even when native flowers were present.

5. Our results suggest that exotic garden plants are utilised by, and important in maintaining richness of, beneficial insects in urbanised landscapes. Furthermore, garden manipulations need to be more substantial than often recommended, if they are to significantly influence the richness of beneficial insects in urban gardens.

There is no question but that fostering the growth of native wildflowers provides for a more diverse habitat. And the study cited above does not demonstrate that there are no long term negative effects of foraging on introduced plants for beneficial insect diversity.

But in the short term, as most pollinator observers have noted, introduced and invasive flowering plants seem to be just as good for pollinators as the native species.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A New Anthem for Pollinators

Last June I posted the new lyrics to a song entitled 'We Need The Bumblebee.'

If you wonder how it sounds, now you can listen to the performance given by Maria Kasstan and 'The Raging Grannies,' on June 24th, 2010, in Toronto. This was the premiere performance, and the 'Grannies' had the audience at a 'Pollinator Cabaret' held at the Gladstone Hotel clapping time and singing along - they brought the house down. The event was held in celebration of International Pollinator Week.

 The melody is well known and the lyrics are posted HERE. We hope everyone will sing this one in public for Pollinator Week 2011.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Toronto Pollinator Projects-Get Involved

Pollinator Arts and Culture:

1) The Pollinators Festival. Saturday June 25th at Evergreen Brick Works. During and after farmers market. Contact: sabrinamalach@gmail.com

2) Resonating Bodies: a series of art, community and web-based projects which illuminates aspects of Canada's biodiversity through focusing on pollination ecology, with special attention paid to the intersection of native bees, habitat and coevolution of plants and pollinators of the Greater Toronto Area. Artist: Sarah Peebles. http://resonatingbodies.wordpress.com/.

Pollinator Gardens and Habitat:

1) The PACT Urban Peace Program’s “Grow to Learn” Urban

Agriculture Initiative has recently received funding from The Metcalf Foundation to scale up their pollinator gardens at high school gardens in Toronto’s west end. Contact: sabrinamalach@gmail.com

2) Scott MacIvor is a PhD student at York University where he is investigating the effect of landscape and urban complexity on the diversity and foraging ranges of cavity-nesting bees and pest controlling wasps in cities. Contact: jsmacivor@gmail.com

3) Clement Kent, author of "How to Make a Pollinator Garden", heads the Pollinator Gardens project in Toronto. Contact: clementk@yorku.ca

Pollinator Monitoring:

1) Dave Barr is a biologist and urban beekeeper leading citizen scientist volunteers in a pollinator monitoring program .He is author of "Pollinator Monitoring for Citizen Scientists," just published in eBook format." Contact at:  http://bumblebeewatch.blogspot.com/

2) Sheila Colla is our local bumble bee expert. She is working on a book called "The Bumble Bees of North America" and it will be published in 2012 by Princeton U. Press. Sheila needs photographs of bumble bees for the books so please keep you eyes out for these critters over the next three months and send Sheila your photos. Contact: scolla@yorku.ca

Thanks to Sabrina Malach for assembling this list.


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