What’s the buzz about bees?

beekeeper standing by boxes of bees. The Centre for Food is visible in the background
Photo by Durham College

A beekeeper tending to the bees at the Centre for Food apiary in Whitby

Spring is on its way, bringing sunny, blue skies and budding flowers. With the warmth and lush greenery growing, the bees and other pollinators will come out to gather nectar and pollen. Due to things like pesticides, non-native plants, and loss of habitats, the number of bees are depleting but humans can help them.

Recently, Whitby took a buzzing leap in bee conservation by becoming a “bee city.” By joining Bee City Canada, Whitby has agreed to create and improve pollinator gardens in 55 parks and promote bee safety through educating people through social media.

“Our goal is to connect and engage communities to protect pollinators,” Shelly Candel explained. Candel is the founder and director of Bee City Canada.

Candel said there are three main components that go into the commitment of being a bee community – habitat, education and celebration. “It’s important that we celebrate pollinators (and) all that they provide for us,” Candel explains, “because they are a part of nature and nature provides everything for us.”

There are 300,000 pollinating species in the world, according to Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. The bee, however, is the best pollinator. According to ontarioparks.com, there are 400 different species of bees in Ontario alone.

“90% of plants on the planet have flowers,” Candel said. “Of the plants that have flowers, about 75% of them require pollinators.”

Bees and other pollinators pick up pollen as they gather food and other resources from flowers, then transfer the pollen to other flowers, aiding in their reproduction.

 “It’s a love story that’s been going on for 125 million years,” said Candel.

Pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food, according to pollinator.org.

But the number of bees are declining. Although scientists can’t pinpoint the exact reason, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has some ideas on why: declining diversity in plants, reduced habitation from agriculture and urban land development, the growth of non-native plants, disease, the use of pesticides, air pollution and climate change.

A lot of these are related to humans.

Last year, The Centre for Food (CFF) at the Durham College Whitby campus took a step into the world of bee conservation.

In 2017, it built its first apiary. Students helped build the grounds for the apiary in the summer.

“Last year, the bees established themselves in the hives,” associate dean for CFF, Tony Doyle, explained. “This year, we can expect to get our first batch of honey so we can start using [it] in our restaurant, the food we develop in the lab, in our post-secondary programs and in our pantry as well.”

The students will learn about taking care of the bees through a beekeeper who visits once every week.

“We’ve been looking forward to having the bees on campus and they’ve always been part of our vision and were so glad we made it a reality last year,” said Doyle.

Beekeepers and bee lovers buzzing with interest about bees can join the Durham Region Beekeepers Association. President Adam Bayard said yearly memberships are $20 and they provide expensive tools for new beekeepers. They also have an extensive library about beekeeping and experienced beekeepers can help newer members “get ahead of learning curves.”

There are many ways other people can join in on the bee swarm and help protect pollinators: plant a garden with native plants, buy food and honey from local farmer’s markets, refrain from using pesticides on gardens and lawns, and reduce the amount of times you cut your lawn.

According to Shelly Candel, with Bee City Canada, weeds such as dandelions in lawns are good for pollinators. “My perception of what green grass is (has) changed, she said. Candel describes weedless green grass as a “desert” to bees.

“How do we change people’s mindset about what beauty is?” Candel asked.