Depending on where you live in Canada, the snow may already be melting, revealing early signs of spring. If you’re an avid gardener, you might already be thinking about what plants you want to add to your property this year. While it’s always nice to choose plants for their aesthetics, it’s even more important to select ones that will provide valuable resources to bees and other types of wildlife in your yard. If you’re not sure which plants work best, our Bumble Bee Recovery Program has put together a wonderful poster, with examples of native plants that will help support declining bumble bees, like the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee. Click here for our “Flower Patch for the Rusty Patched” poster!
While a lot of the work that we do in the Bumble Bee Recovery Program is made possible by just a few individuals (including our permanent and seasonal staff), we couldn’t do it without the help of a lot of extraordinary volunteers. Today, we’d like to introduce you to Maura, a community science volunteer from our program at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park in Alberta. Maura is here to talk to you about her experiences in pollinator conservation, and to provide some tips on how you can make a difference in the lives of native bees.
Making a difference in the lives of native bees
– By Maura Hamill
Over the last few years, I have changed the focus of my gardening from planting the latest and greatest cultivars to creating a space that is welcoming to native bees, bugs, and birds. Part of this change motivated me to participate in bumble bee monitoring surveys led by Wildlife Preservation Canada (WPC) at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park near Cochrane, Alberta. Volunteering with WPC’s community science monitoring project has provided me with an opportunity to learn more about native bees and the threats they are facing. It has also shown me that even as one person, through my own actions, I can make a real difference in the health of our important native pollinators– like our bumble bees!
Here are some of the ways that you can get involved in pollinator recovery and conservation initiatives. There are others, of course, but these are the ones I have enjoyed so far!
1. Volunteer – become a community scientist!
For the last two summers, I have been a volunteer community scientist helping survey for bumble bees at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park in Alberta. As volunteers, we catch bees in the field, take pictures of them, and submit those pictures to the Bumble Bee Watch website where we can use region-specific identification tools (they are user-friendly!) to identify our bumble bee submission to species! Through these surveys, I have learned so much about native bees and their habitats, and I have had a rare opportunity to connect to nature and meet some really great people who share similar interests with me.
2. Turn your property into a pollinator heaven!
In recent years, I began introducing more native annuals and perennials to my yard in an effort to provide more nutrients for the wildlife who call it home. Native plants are important because they have a higher nutritional value for wildlife than do the hybridized ornamental plants commonly available at garden centres. Hybridized plants have been altered from their native state to, for example, create double petals or completely different colours from native plants, and can rarely provide flower-visiting fauna with the resources they require—for example, bees can’t always find nutritional nectar and/or pollen in these kinds of plants. While these hybridized plants sure do delight gardeners, they rarely generate the same enthusiasm in bees!
But don’t worry, adding native plants doesn’t mean you need to redo your entire yard! Planting a few native plants, or even adding a few pots with native plants here and there, that provide food over the entire growing season, can have a huge impact on the health of the pollinators in your area. A quick online search of “native plants for bees” will provide a wealth of information about suitable plants, and most local garden centres (not the big chains!) will have knowledgeable staff who can help guide you in the right direction. WPC has a great resource to check out too—click here for their “Flower Patch for the Rusty Patched Guide”!
But converting your property to a pollinator heaven doesn’t end with providing the right food resources. Bees, other insects, and most other wildlife like things a little wild and unkempt, because it provides them with valuable nesting and overwintering spaces. Resisting the urge to clean up every leaf and stick in your yard, especially early in the spring when insects are still sleeping, and late in the fall when they begin to hibernate, is part of helping them maintain healthy populations. Don’t forget to leave some bare dirt for insects who nest in the ground, and please don’t use pesticides or other chemicals in your yard—they kill all the insects around, including the beneficial ones, and harm birds and other wildlife in the area.
WPC has some great online resources geared toward building nests for bees—you can check out their building plans for bumble bees and solitary bees by clicking here!
3. Document the bees who visit your yard!
It is a joy to simply watch the bees buzzing around outside, and I have become accustomed to taking pictures of the ones who come to visit my yard. Bumble bees, especially, are very gentle and don’t mind you getting up close with a camera. By capturing photos of these bees, and uploading them to online community science platforms like Bumble Bee Watch, you’ll not only identify who’s who in your yard, but you’ll be contributing incredibly important data that researchers and conservation practitioners across North American can use to design better pollinator protection strategies.
4. Educate yourself and become a bee activist!
When I tell someone about the volunteer work I do with bees, they immediately assume I am a beekeeper or that the work I do relates to honey bees. Honey bees, while not native to North America, are actually more well-known to the public than are our native bees. Sparking up conversations with others allows me to educate them about native bees and demonstrate how and why we need to help these species. Although you may not start out intending to be a bee activist, once you start down the road of learning about these fascinating creatures, standing up for native bees will become second nature.
Now that spring is nearing, I can’t wait to start gardening and start seeing queen bees emerging from their long winter sleep and setting out in search of nutritional floral resources that will feed them and their future brood. I know once you start learning more about native bees, you will be as excited as I am!
Our team loves to hear stories about how our program initiatives have impacted the lives of our volunteers. If you would like to hear another story from one of our most dedicated volunteers in Ontario, read her blog here. If you have participated in one of our programs and are interested in sharing your experience, let us know at email@example.com.
We hope through reading this, you have found a way in which you too can become a fellow bumbler and help our native bees!
– Bumble Bee Recovery Team