Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

The buzz on beekeeping

Laura Langston
Photography by

To bee or not to bee: that is the question. It's easier to keep bees than you might think -- even for urban gardeners.

Bees are not attracted to double blooms-they're all show and little pollen. They prefer heirloom varieties instead. Long-tongued bumblebees go for flowers with deep corollas and hidden nectar spurs, such as larkspur, columbine, snapdragon, bergamot, delphinium, mint and members of the tomato family. Short-tongued bees, such as honeybees, prefer small, shallow flowers from the brassica or cabbage family, the umbelliferae or carrot family and the compositae or sunflower family.

Surefire nectar sources include pussywillow, apple and plum blossoms, crocus, dandelion, alder, poplar, maple and willow tree blossoms. Equally prized are blooms from blueberries, raspberries and cranberries, as well as sweet white alyssum, candytuft, dill, goldenrod, buckwheat, clover, Canada thistle and, yes, even purple loosestrife.

Bee populations, both feral and commercial, are falling around the world. As a result, commercial growers can no longer rely on fly-by pollination and have to bring in hives to ensure a crop. In New Brunswick alone, the number of beehives rented to blueberry growers has quadrupled since 1990.

"Issues with pollination and bee declines have reached global proportions," says Dr. Peter Kevan, professor of Environmental Biology at the University of Guelph and the head of the newly formed Declining Pollination Task Force.

There are a number of reasons. Over the last two decades, mites have infested some honeybee hives. That, in turn, has made large-scale commercial beekeeping more labour-intensive and expensive, as hives need to be treated regularly to keep mites at bay. Feral hives are destroyed by mite infestations.

But the main cause of the decline is habitat destruction, says Paul van Westendorp, B.C.'s provincial apiculturist. Feral bees are running out of sufficient flowering plant populations. "We tend to be freaks at controlling our environment. A little undisturbed material in the garden or a patch of wild vegetation encourages pollinators."

Honeybee Centre, 7480 176 St., Surrey, B.C. V3S 8E7; 604/575-2337.
Hive-keeper supplies, classes and workshops are available. The centre also answers questions; rents out some of its 300 hives for pollination purposes; helps with moving hives and feeding bees in early spring; offers grower services; houses hives permanently or temporarily; and, of course, sells honey.

For information on beekeeping, lists of local associations and provincial bee regulations, contact the Canadian Honey Council, 234-5149 Country Hills Blvd., Calgary, Alta. T3A 5K8; 403/208-7141.


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