By Emily White, Featherfields
Bumblebees are important native pollinators in temperate regions (i.e. most of Canada and the U.S). In North America, we haven't paid much interest to bumblebees until very recently. The collapse of commercial honeybee colonies has raised awareness about how much we rely on bees for the pollination of our crops. Not only do they provide us with fruits and vegetables, bumblebees have also evolved with native flowering plants and through pollination provide many wild birds and mammals with food and shelter.
Overshadowed by the press coverage of honeybees, however, is the decline of important pollinators such as native bees in Canada. Two native bumblebee species that used to be the most common bees in Ontario seem to be in massive decline, and may be extinct in some of their habitats already.
Currently, the suspected threats to wild bumblebees are:
1) Habitat Loss (i.e. places to nest and the right flowers to feed from)
2) Widespread Pesticide Use
3) Introduction of Disease from Managed Bees
4) Climate Change
Bumblebees belong to the genus Bombus, in the family Apidae (bees).They are different from other bees because they are large, fuzzy and carry pollen in 'pollen baskets' on their hind legs. There are approximately 250 species of bumblebees globally and about 50 are found in North America. Bumblebees feed only on pollen and nectar and thus are not the insects that bother you during picnics. While female bumblebees can sting, they are quite docile and will only sting if their colony is disturbed or they are cornered.
Bumblebees are extremely important foragers. Unlike honeybees, they are able to forage under cold, rainy and cloudy conditions. This makes them excellent pollinators of native plants and a variety of crops. Some crops which bumblebees can pollinate include tomatoes, peppers, raspberry, blueberry, apples, strawberries, melons, squashes, soybeans, sunflower, cotton, peaches, cranberries and many more.
Plant native flowers. These flowers help feed your bees and are uniquely adapted to your region. Try to use native flowers to which local bees are especially adapted. Featherfields carries a fantastic line of Native Canadian Wildflower Seeds by Nature’s Garden.
Bees tend to prefer pink, purple, and yellow flowers and gardeners should plant for sequential bloom, from spring through to autumn.
-Crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, and wild lilac provide enticing spring blooms.
-Bees feast on bee balm, cosmos, Echinacea, snapdragons foxglove, and hosta in the summer.
-For fall, zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel and goldenrod are late bloomers that will tempt foragers.
Use heirloom varieties, which tend to have more fragrance, pollen and nectar.
Avoid using herbicides or pesticides in the garden. They not only can be toxic to bees but also are best not introduced to people or pets that visit your garden. Birds, ladybugs, spiders, and praying mantises will naturally keep pest populations in check.
Create a “bee bath.” Bees need a place to get fresh, clean water. A bird bath that is cleaned regularly is a good source. You may want to add stones for the bees to land on while drinking. Featherfields has a beautiful selection of birdbaths to choose from.
Leave grass, hay and old logs to provide nesting habitat.
More and more gardeners are anxious to do their part to help the bees. In return, the bees will pollinate your flowers, providing a bountiful harvest of fruits, seeds and vegetables as well as the joy of watching them up close.
The Honeybee Conservancy
Save the Bumblebees