It can be a sweet hobby for back­yard en­thu­si­asts

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - FRONT PAGE - COLLEEN ZACHARIAS GAR­DEN­ING

THIS time of year, even a swath of dan­de­lions stretch­ing the en­tire length of a me­dian strip might be a wel­come sight to win­ter-weary gar­den­ers. Then again, maybe not.

But to a bee, bid­ing its time in a win­ter shel­ter with a rapidly dwin­dling sup­ply of food, dan­de­lions would be the next best thing to a gar­den full of nec­tar and pol­len­pro­duc­ing plants.

Gar­den­ers and bees have al­ways en­joyed a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship. In fact, the one is de­pen­dent on the other. Do your plans, for ex­am­ple, call for in­creased fruit or veg­etable pro­duc­tion this year? By trans­fer­ring pollen from flower to flower, bees fer­til­ize plants, which re­sults in seed for­ma­tion, es­sen­tial to fruit set.

These are not the best of times for bees. Decades of ram­pant chemical and pes­ti­cide use have threat­ened their habi­tat; the nasty Var­roa mite is spread­ing dis­ease while colony col­lapse dis­or­der is a worst-case sce­nario for some bee­keep­ing op­er­a­tions that have suf­fered the mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of all of their worker bees.

Charles Pol­cyn, ar­ti­sanal hon­ey­maker and pres­i­dent of the Red River Api­arists’ As­so­ci­a­tion, calls it a triple threat but has an im­por­tant mes­sage for gar­den­ers: Plant a va­ri­ety of flow­er­ing or­na­men­tals with bloom times that span the grow­ing sea­son from early spring to late fall and re­duce pes­ti­cide use. “Fully onethird of our food sup­ply is de­pen­dent on pol­li­na­tion,” said Pol­cyn who, in ad­di­tion to his honey-mak­ing hobby over the past 40 years, has ad­vo­cated un­suc­cess­fully be­fore city coun­cil in favour of ur­ban/sub­ur­ban bee­keep­ing.

Pol­cyn, a na­tive of Fort Garry and owner of Scott’s Hill Api­ary, main­tains 30 healthy hives in the White­mouth area. An elec­tric fence de­ters ma­raud­ing bears who, given the chance, would feast on a din­ner of bees sooner than the stores of honey or su­gar wa­ter that sus­tain bees in their hives un­til win­ter fi­nally breaks. Dan­de­lions, wil­low trees and spring-bloom­ing crocus all pro­vide an early source of pollen for hun­gry bees who will exit the hives at the first sign of spring.

James Camp­bell, also an ac­tive mem­ber of the Red River Api­arists’ As­so­ci­a­tion, lives on a five-acre par­cel of land be­tween Stonewall and Stony Moun­tain. Like Pol­cyn, he has been keep­ing bees for 38 years and has more cus­tomers for his jars of Stone­field Honey than he can sat­isfy. He de­scribes his bee­keep­ing oper­a­tion as small and yet his goal is to have a quar­ter mil­lion bees or 60,000 bees per hive, ready for July 1.

Camp­bell has also been very for­tu­nate with a healthy sur­vival rate of his bee colonies and cred­its this to the num­ber of dif­fer­ent op­tions for pollen sources avail­able on his property and in the neigh­bour­ing area. “I have a lot of wild­flow­ers and trees on my property,” said Camp­bell, “and an al­falfa field that is a quar­ter of a mile away. Boon­stra Berry Farms is about a half-mile north. The bees go wild when the straw­ber­ries and rasp­ber­ries are bloom­ing.”

Bees are able to travel long dis­tances in search of for­age. Camp­bell checks reg­u­larly to see what kind of pollen his bees are bring­ing back to the hives. “The colour of the pollen dif­fers depend­ing on the types of flow­ers the bees are vis­it­ing,” said Camp­bell. “Early in the spring­time, bees visit wild cro­cuses and re­turn with white pollen. Later on in the sum­mer when the Cal­i­for­nia pop­pies are in bloom, the pollen they col­lect is very dark, al­most black.”

Camp­bell feels op­ti­mistic about a healthy fu­ture for bees. “I think that people can help with the sit­u­a­tion,” said Camp­bell, adding that is one of the rea­sons bee­keep­ers to­day are ad­vo­cat­ing for back­yard bee­keep­ing. “More and more people are in­ter­ested in grow­ing their own food, whether that is in a small plot in their gar­den or in a container on the ve­ran­dah and bees are in­te­gral to the suc­cess of what we grow.”

Wade into the de­bate on ur­ban bee­keep­ing and the le­gal sta­tus of bees and re­ac­tions will range from alarm about dan­gers to pub­lic safety to property con­cerns and the po­ten­tial for neigh­bourly dis­putes. In Win­nipeg, it is a de­bate that still rages on while other ur­ban cen­tres such as Van­cou­ver, Cal­gary and Toronto are buzzing with back­yard and rooftop bee pop­u­la­tions. City or­di­nances and nui­sance laws to­gether with a boom­ing in­ter­est in hob­by­ist bee­keep­ing cour­ses such as the one of­fered at the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba strive to en­sure do-it-yourself bee­keep­ing equates to re­spon­si­ble man­age­ment.

Who will be the next gen­er­a­tion of bee­keep­ers? Ex­empt from the city’s by­law re­stric­tions on ur­ban bee­keep­ing, the Univer­sity of Win­nipeg, un­der the guid­ance of 30-some­thing Melissa Dupuis, is home to two ac­tive hives on the cam­pus roof. “Seven stu­dent vol­un­teers joined me last sum­mer in tak­ing care of the hives and ex­tract­ing the honey,” said Dupuis, a U of W staff mem­ber who lives in an apart­ment in the city but also main­tains a hobby bee oper­a­tion in St. Nor­bert.

While some of the stu­dents will grad­u­ate this year, Dupuis ex­pects most will con­tinue on for this sum­mer. “They are all gen­er­ally con­cerned with our en­vi­ron­ment and our in­ter­ac­tion with na­ture,” said Dupuis who ac­knowl­edged much of the surg­ing in­ter­est in ur­ban bee­keep­ing stems from con­cern for food se­cu­rity and the de­sire for more lo­cally grown food.

Chris Kirouac, of Bee Project Api­aries, is part of the new gen­er­a­tion of bee­keep­ers ad­vo­cat­ing for ur­ban bee­keep­ing. With close to 50 hives in the St. Nor­bert area, he urges gar­den­ers to con­sider an at­ti­tu­di­nal change to­ward the use of pes­ti­cides.

“Spray­ing for pests,” said Kirouac, “hurts a lot of na­tive pol­li­na­tors — bees, but­ter­flies and birds. What is bad for the bum­ble­bee is bad for the hon­ey­bee as well be­cause we can’t ma­nip­u­late the bum­ble­bee pop­u­la­tion com­mer­cially in the way that we can for the hon­ey­bee.”

What can gar­den­ers or land­less farm­ers do to pro­tect the hum­ble bee?

Camp­bell stresses the im­por­tance of pro­vid­ing fresh wa­ter in ad­di­tion to pollinator-friendly plants and re­duced use of in­sec­ti­cides that are lethal to bees. “Start out small,” rec­om­mended Camp­bell, “and cre­ate a wel­come habi­tat by pro­vid­ing pro­tected ar­eas for vis­it­ing bees. This can be as sim­ple as a small pile of leaves or soil for nest­ing or a bird bath or small dish with fresh wa­ter. No one has ever been both­ered by my bees be­cause ei­ther they are look­ing for pollen or a fresh wa­ter source.”

A com­mon buzz­word these days is ma­son bees. Typ­i­cally this term de­scribes soli­tary bees, the lone rangers of the bee world. Al­though they dif­fer from com­mu­nal bees, such as hon­ey­bees or bum­ble­bees, and do not pro­duce honey, they are pol­li­na­tion work­horses. Brock Wolfe, who builds a range of crea­ture habi­tats in his St. Nor­bert work­shop, be­gan build­ing ma­son bee houses in re­sponse to re­quests by gar­den­ers for a way to en­cour­age bees to linger longer in their gar­dens.

Sim­i­lar to a bird house, ma­son bee houses pri­mar­ily con­sist of a piece of wood with a se­ries of tiny drilled holes mea­sur­ing ¼ inch or .63 cm in di­am­e­ter.

“If you put these houses in your gar­den next to your veg­eta­bles, peren­ni­als or fruit trees that you want pol­li­nated,” said Wolfe, co-owner of Brae­crest De­signs, a peren­nial pres­ence at the St. Nor­bert Farm­ers Mar­ket, “then you are draw­ing in the bees and pro­vid­ing them with a source of habi­tat to lay their eggs. The re­sult is a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship be­tween the bees and the gar­dener be­cause both ben­e­fit.”

Ac­cord­ing to Dr. David Suzuki, cul­ti­vat­ing soli­tary bees in your gar­den can nearly triple the yields of fruits and veg­eta­bles in a sin­gle sea­son.

Bee habi­tats can be aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing ho­tels or a prac­ti­cal use of scrap ma­te­ri­als. Dave Nickarz, a handy­man who lives with his part­ner, Laura Rawluk, in the Spence Street neigh­bour­hood, drilled eight or 10 holes in pieces of dis­carded wood, cre­ated an awning of sorts for a bit of shade by adding a piece of cedar fence board, and mounted three bee houses on his fence this sum­mer.

“It is the eas­i­est thing you can do to pro­vide habi­tat for pol­li­na­tors,” said Nickarz.

At­tracted to bold, vi­va­cious colour? So are bees. Pollen col­lected from sum­mer-bloom­ing flow­ers such as this bril­liant or­ange Cal­i­for­nia Poppy is dark, al­most black in colour. Sea­sonal bee gar­den­ing en­sures a steady sup­ply for bees. In spring­time early bloomers such as lilac, even dan­de­lions, will help to at­tract bees to your gar­den. In­set, pumpkin plants have both male and fe­male flow­ers. Bees pol­li­nate this pumpkin

flower by trans­fer­ring pollen grains from the male flower to the fe­male flower.


James Camp­bell, a bee­keeper in Stonewall, shares his knowl­edge with grand­chil­dren, Jes­sica, Danielle, and Emily, some of whom may be the next gen­er­a­tion of

bee­keep­ers. Be­low, Busy bees are hard at work on bee frames.

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