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It’s BEE Time

By Bethany Helaine Pöltl 

The sun is shining, the air is warming, and the orchards are coming to life. Spring is back in Ontario! A sure signal is the abundance of beautiful blossoms and their fragrances in the air.  Our orchards are beginning to burst with colours from soft whites to deep pinks. The whites will become plums, apples, and pears while the pinks will turn into peaches and cherries. Each blossom has the potential to become a nutritious and delicious fruit. For this to happen, the blossoms need to be pollinated. This leads us to our amazing pollination work force- bees!

Bees are incredible. Worldwide, there are approximately 16,000 species of bees. In Ontario, 400 species have been studied. At the beginning of spring, native solitary bees begin to emerge from their wintering habitats. These solitary bees are not aggressive, and unless you try to disturb them, they will simply go about their business collecting food while pollinating for us. 

We also have our social bee colonies, like the more familiar honey bee. A common practice for orchards is to bring in honey bees. They are transported with boxes that are placed in the orchards during the blossom phase. When the blossoms begin to close in preparation for the fruit stage, the bee boxes are moved to other orchards and fields to continue the pollination. This is a unique routine that many may not be aware happens each spring.

Bee Box in Orchard (Photo Credit: Bethany Pöltl)

Our bees are struggling. When I refer to “the bees” as “our bees”, I mean globally. We must realize how important a role they play, including how they help with food provision and feeding our increasing human population. Excessive use of agricultural chemicals, higher temperatures associated with climate change, farming practices, and mono-cropping have been identified as reasons as to why populations of bees and other pollinators are declining worldwide. The scientific community considers neonicotinoids, insecticides which are absorbed by plants, to be mainly responsible for the collapse of bee colonies and the massive dying off of these colonies over the past few years. In April 2018, the EU agreed to a ban on all outdoor uses of the neonicotinoid insecticides imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin. However the policy law has loopholes so not all countries are adhering to the ban. As of 2020, the EPA has allowed five types of neonicotinoid insecticides to be used. In March of this year, Health Canada announced that there would be restrictions placed on neonicotinoids, but not a complete ban

What can we do to help support our bees and their contribution to sustainable development? The United Nations designated May 20th, 2018 as the first World Bee Day. This day was established to bring awareness to the need to protect bees and other natural pollinators. The goal of the day was to strengthen measures to help protect and reestablish bee and pollinator populations. Many initiatives and changes have to come from “up top” through policies and governments. 

But we, as individuals, can also do our part. We can plant native plants and promote bee and pollinator habitat establishment. We can avoid the use of pesticides and insecticides in our own gardens. We can support and promote sustainable agricultural practices through the products we purchase. We can become vocally involved in our local government, speaking and encouraging decision-making. Often people think that they alone cannot make a difference, However, each individual’s effort could make a huge difference together. Just like how each individual bee’s work added together builds a hive, which yields their food and raises their young, we need to come together and make that difference for us and for our bees!

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