A woman recently called me about the state of bees in Pitt Meadows.
Her unease is centered around the fact that our local agricultural industry has become increasingly focussed around monocultures of high-bush blueberries and cranberries, and that once the pollination season is over for these two crops, there is little pollen and nectar around for the bees to forage on.
Another compounding factor here is that much of the wild brush that was traditionally found around farms has been cleared away right to the edge of ditches in order to maximize growing space.
This means that many native plants that once provided natural forage, such as pussy willow, Nootka rose, chokecherry, hardhack and red elderberry are no longer available to fill the gaps before and after the commercial crop pollination.
I also had a chat with local beekeeper Wolfgang Schoenbach and he confirmed that this is a concern with local apiculture, and that even the secondary cranberry crop provides little nectar for honeybees.
His approach to this problem was to diversify the plant material in his own garden to include such bee-friendly trees as black locust, pussy willows and linden.
He also mentioned that the intensive weed control common to many farms has also led to a decline in plants, such as dandelion and clover, that the bees like to feed on.
Another good example is the invasive Japanese knotweed, which is understandably being eradicated, but in the meantime provides excellent bee forage that makes a tasty honey.
Schoenbach also grows Dutch white clover as a cover crop in some of his fields, specifically for the bees, as it blooms later in the season and fixes its own nitrogen, thus reducing fertilizer costs.
Residents of Pitt Meadows can also help out by making sure they have flowering shrubs and perennials in their gardens in bloom before and after the blueberry and cranberry pollination season.
Some excellent early bloomers include winter heather, the weeping pussy willow, Skimmia japonica (particularly the male plants, which have larger blossoms), English daisies, Leopard’s Bane, wallflower, sweet violet, forget-me-nots and Oregon grape, which are also native.
Some summer-blooming perennials to provide forage after the commercial pollination season include sneezeweed, purple coneflower, milkweed, asters, Joe-Pye weed, black-eyed Susans, golden rod and blanket flower.
There are also many ornamental shrubs which provide excellent bee forage and look great in the garden – these include California lilac, various spireas (Spiraea ‘Goldflame’, ‘Snowmound’, ‘Magic Carpet’), bluebeard, English lavender, non-invasive butterfly bush and bog rosemary.
Another important bee-friendly tip is to avoid the use of permissible organic pesticides (such as insecticidal soap or Trounce) on plants, while bees are foraging, as these products work on contact and are not selective in their killing action.
That original concern is a valid one, so we need to provide our local bee colonies with ample forage throughout their active life cycle – so please, feed the bees.
– Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author