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Bees put more than honey on our tables

Lorraine Graves   Oct-23-2017

Richmond's pollinator pasture (or wildflower meadow) in the Bridgeport Industrial Park, which is accessible from the Bath Slough Trail.

Photo courtesy City of Richmond

Just how much all of us depend on pollination was vividly driven home to us this fall.

We normally harvest up to 500 pounds (227 Kg) of apples from our backyard Gravenstein tree. This year the yield was less than 10 lbs (4.5 Kg) because the spring had been too wet for the bees to do their job.



According to the City of Richmond, “Pollinator populations worldwide have seen rapid decline over the past few decades. Without the assistance of pollinators, most plants cannot produce fruits and seeds. The decline in pollinator population poses a significant threat to eco-systems and food sources worldwide.”

According to The Genetic Literacy Project, a 2000 Cornell University study by Roger Morse and Nicholas Calderone says of the winged creatures’ contribution to agriculture in the US, “The economic benefit of bees adds up to $15 billion.”

The city knows how important bees are to all food growers, whether backyard enthusiasts like us or true farmers in the ALR. Bees can fly a long way to find pollen so anything that nurtures these little critters anywhere in Richmond, is a boon for all food production.

Years ago, we put up a Mason bee house, in the hopes of increasing pollination so we would get the increased fruit and better-shaped fruit that comes from multiple bee visits to fruit blossoms. That year, our apple tree soared from its usual 300 lb production up to 500 and almost fell over. As long as we had mason bees, all of our yard’s fruit production; raspberries, cherries, currants, plums, and grapes was up by that proportion. Unbeknownst to us, a construction worker removed our bee house years later and our fruit production dropped.

Mason bees are less hampered by rain than honey bees. Their houses are easy to put up and maintain. These native bees are far too busy pollinating to sting and look more like swarms of small houseflies each spring than the classic bee appearance.

As well, you can search for instructions to burrow a wee box for bumble bees to use as a burrow. These gentle giants are also excellent pollinators, amongst a host of possibilities.

If you see leaves in your garden with neat circles and semicircles about the size of a quarter cut out of them, that’s a good thing. You have leaf-cutter bees, wild bees who build a nest with each piece of leaf, put in some pollen then lay an egg that will hatch come spring. They too are such great pollinators that some blueberry farmers rely on them instead of renting honey bees hives for their fields.

Honey is a by-product. The honey bees’ main job is to pollinate crops. Farmers contract with keepers to truck in their hives while fields are in bloom. Without the pollinators, the flowers would wither and drop, offering no fruit.

The city received 2017 Pollinator Advocate Award for Canada for their bee husbandry.

The City of Richmond leads by example. It planted a wildflower meadow, a 1000 foot pollinator pasture in the Bridgeport Industrial Park in 2015. It’s a greenway between IKEA and No. 5 Rd and is accessible by foot or bike along the Bath Slough Trail.

According to the city, “It is Richmond’s first dedicated wildflower meadow, created to attract a variety of native pollinators including bees and butterflies. The pasture has successfully transformed an underused greenway into a dynamic urban park, designed to incorporate ecological revitalization initiatives, public art and community engagement.

The public can do their part and solve a landscaping issue that’s becoming an increasing problem. As chafer beetles invade Richmond lawns, their grub is irresistible to foraging birds and animals like raccoons who dig up the lawns to snack on the chafer beetle larvae.

By sprinkling bee-friendly flower seeds on the disturbed soil, you’ll be giving up the battle with the grubs that only live in grass roots, saying good bye to the marauding beasts who dig up your front yard, while offering a haven to bees, a haven of flowers that outcompetes the weeds that invariably grow when your lawn is ripped up. It turns out, being bee friendly is beautiful.

“The City of Richmond is strongly committed to being a sustainable community, which includes preserving and protecting our local environment,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie. “The Pollinator Pasture enhances our natural ecology, while supporting pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, who are a critical and endangered part of our eco-system. We were pleased to work with our partners on this important initiative.”

Even our local Richmond Art Gallery got in on the act when they hosted ForAll is For Yourself, an exhibition by Cartiere and the chART Collective, that featured an installation of 10,000 bumblebees made from hand-made seed paper then exhibited on the gallery walls. Each bee, if planted, held the potential to produce a mini pollinator pasture.

According to Richmond-based master beekeeper, Brian Campbell one bite in three of the food you eat depends bees. If our backyard experience this summer in any indication, I heartily agree.

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