Why do Bees Matter?
One out of every three bites of food that we eat is made possible by pollinators like honey bees. As the growers of most of our food, Canadian farmers know how much we all rely on these pollinators. Statistics Canada data shows the number of beekeepers and honey bee hives in our country is on the rise, but there are still a number of factors contributing to honey bee health issues.
That’s why we’ve launched Bees Matter, an initiative to restate agriculture’s commitment to honey bees and bring knowledge to the Canadian public about how they can get involved and help honey bees thrive.
An integrated relationship
Honey bees and flowering plants are natural partners. They have a mutually beneficial relationship, and both are stronger when together. While many benefit from this relationship, two groups in particular are invested in its continued success: beekeepers and farmers.
Two bees for the best of both worlds
Honey bees are raised by beekeepers all over Canada. In 2015, there were more than 720,000 colonies in Canada used for honey production or for pollination services. Honey bees are just one species of bee used in Canadian agriculture with some farms making use of the other species’ unique traits.
Preventing and reducing varroa mite infestations
The varroa mite is one of most important factors affecting honey bee colony health in Canada, and all beekeepers need to actively monitor their hives to ensure their honey bees stay healthy. What can be done to minimize the losses linked to the Varroa mite? These are some of the ways that the industry is combatting infestations.
A (more recent) history of the honey bee in Canada
In a previous article , we detailed how the honey bee did not originate in Europe but was slowly brought there (and eventually to Canada) for the production of honey.
Pollinator gardens across Canada
Though our Buzzing Gardens seed packets contain a selection of flowers recommended by biologists at Pollinator Partnership for gardens across the country, that doesn’t mean that our selection has to be the beginning and the end of yours!
Just like farmers, honey bees need to be able to feed their communities. One of their biggest challenges, though, is being able to find enough pollen to do it. To help them, we’ve launched the Buzzing Gardens program, dedicated to giving Canadians what they need to set up their own pollinator-friendly gardens.
By planting a Buzzing Garden, we can all help to improve the number and quality of honey bee food sources, and support them in feeding their hives.
About the Program
Statistics Canada data shows the number of honey bee hives in Canada is on the rise. They still face a number of health issues, however, and one of their major challenges is finding and collecting food. A third of their life is spent flying to find flowers with pollen they can bring back to their hive. Every honey bee contributes, and by pollinating such a diverse range of plants, they also contribute to the success of our communities. Though our crops and gardens provide food for them, we can also help increase the number of nutritious food sources at home!
Read more about how important honey bees are to our country in our Learning Centre.
Nutritious Seeds for Healthy Honey Bees
Supporting honey bee health means making sure that hives all over Canada are within flying distance of a wide variety of flowers that they can visit, giving them the nutrition they need to survive our cold, harsh winters. Through Buzzing Gardens, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
In partnership with farmers across the country, we’re giving Canadians what they need to plant their own pollinator garden, and for the second year in a row, we’re doing it for free!
Sign up to receive a packet of enough seeds to plant a 5 sq. ft. (0.45 m2) garden.*
In 2015—the first year of the program—we gave away more than 35,000 seed packets across Canada, which could plant 175,000 sq. ft. (16,260 m2) of pollinator-friendly gardens. That’s more than three and a half times the size of a football field!
*limit of one seed packet per household while supplies last
From honey bee to table.
In recent years, farmers and scientists have worked more closely with beekeepers to keep their hives healthy. Whether this has meant developing new products to benefit honey bees or changing the way they use current products to better protect honey bees, the results have been innovative and collaborative strategies to mitigate risk.
But farmers aren’t just protecting honey bees. They’re also providing honey bees with pollen. Canola, for example, is one of the best flowering plants for bees, with a balance of protein and amino acids necessary to support a healthy hive. In many cases, beekeepers and farmers have a mutually beneficial relationship in which the bees, like livestock, are brought to the farm in order to graze on the pollen of the farm.
A special selection.
In every seed packet, you’ll receive an assortment of five different seeds, specially selected to attract and nourish honey bees. These include:
With bright yellow flowers, the lance-leaved coreopsis is a low-growing perennial that thrives in the hot, late summer all across North America. The state flower of Florida, lance-leaved coreopsis isn’t just an attractive plant for honey bees, but also a food source for caterpillars. Lance-leaved coreopsis, like the New England aster, is from the family Asteraceae, named for their flowers’ star shape.
New England Aster
A highly varied species, the New England aster has more than 50 different cultivars with distinct colours, sizes and shapes. Every flower, however, has several long and straight petals that centre on a yellow floret. Flourishing in bright sunlight, the New England aster can grow to four feet tall and provide a generous amount of pollen for honey bees.
Dense Blazing Star
A tall, thickly flowering plant, the dense blazing star grows long spikes of clustered purple flowers. The dense blazing star grows wild across eastern Canada, but thrives in gardens across the country as an ornamental perennial that returns even after a harsh winter. With a tough stalk and numerous flowers, it’s an ideal plant to attract and foster pollinators.
From the same genus as the lance-leaf coreopsis, the golden tickseed has a unique and unmistakable blossom of rich red surrounded by bright yellow and surrounding a speckled floret at its centre. The deep red of the petals was once used as a dye by Southwestern Native Americans. Also called “calliopsis,” the plant thrives in both full sun and partial shade.
A perennial flower, sneezeweed is named for a historical medicinal use of its dried flowers to induce sneezing when inhaled. Its genus, however, is named for Helen of Troy and reflects its bright yellow blossoms. The sneezeweed is tolerant of drought, and enjoys full sun. When flowering, the tall stalks grow large spherical florets well-loved by butterflies and honey bees.
Honey bees are imported from England to Virginia for honey production, and soon spread north to Canada. Here, both wild colonies and farmed honey hives began to spread over the next two hundred years.
With World War II rationing in place, sugar becomes an expensive commodity and Canada’s hive numbers rise to an all-time high to fill the demand.
The war ends and with it, so does sugar rationing. The number of hives in Canada dwindle due to oversupply.
Though the number of hives grew with Canada’s population, honey bees brought from the United States arrive infected with the varroa mite and with the loss of nearly 200,000 colonies, the industry is devastated.
Honey bee numbers have stabilized and are now higher than they’ve ever been, according to Statistics Canada, because beekeepers continue to adapt their hive management practices.
Visit our Learning Centre for more information about the history of the honey bee in Canada, the varroa mite and the current challenges facing healthy hives.