Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: give bees a warm welcome

June 13, 2008

Each spring I eagerly anticipate the first sighting of brightly coloured blossoms in the garden. After months of seeing nothing but brown foliage and mounds of white snow in the yard, those first flowering fruit trees truly give me a thrill. Later in the year and, quite undeservedly, I feel immensely proud of my gardening skill after a bountiful harvest. It’s so easy to forget that planting and watering are important but not the most essential tasks required to grow fruit and vegetables.

It’s the honeybees that really deserve the credit for the success of our gardens. Without these fuzzy little creatures buzzing from flower to flower, the pollination process that permits plants to propagate wouldn’t take place. It takes an entire colony of honeybees (about 30,000 bees on average) to pollinate an acre of fruit trees; as a result of the need to have many bees in one place at one time, commercial beekeeping has become a thriving industry with an estimated contribution of more than $1 billion per year to the Canadian economy. In fact, seed companies, large-scale fruit operations and vegetable farmers who need to ensure that their crops are pollinated commonly contract migratory beekeepers.

Of course, bees don’t realize that we need them so badly. For them, pollination is merely a side effect of their real job. Their mission is to gather nectar to take back to their hive where it’s used to make honey, which will be stored until winter when food is scarce. (The summer diet for bees consists of nectar, which provides energy, and pollen, which provides protein.)

Modern beekeeping encourages bees to live in high concentrations in commercial hives where they produce more honey than they need to nourish themselves. The extra golden, sticky production is harvested and sold to us in tubs and jars to slather over warm, buttery toast or to add flavour to sweet as well as savory recipes.

Gardeners are concerned about something called Colony Collapse Disorder, a mystery ailment that has plagued beekeepers in the United States since 2006 and is now playing havoc with Canadian bees, too. This little understood phenomena has sparked concern among scientists, farmers, orchard owners and vintners alike.

Want to learn more? Read these recent articles about the problem: