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How to help the bees - naturally

It's that time of year again when the summer buzzing bees seem to be lethargic and without energy. As gardeners, we always want to help out where we can, but knowing the right methods is very important. To support bee populations without relying on sugar water, it's better to focus on creating a bee-friendly environment by planting various nectar-rich flowers, avoiding pesticides, providing nesting sites, and promoting natural forage options for bees. These practices are more sustainable and aligned with bees' raw diet and behaviour.

A large bee on a white New England Aster Plant
Bee on New England Aster

The lifespan of bees in Ontario, Canada, can vary depending on the bee species. Here are some general guidelines for the lifespans of different types of bees commonly found in Ontario:

  • Honeybees (Apis mellifera): The lifespan of a worker honeybee during the summer months is typically around 4 to 6 weeks. Worker bees that are born in the spring and early summer often have shorter lives due to the intense activity during this period. However, honeybees born in the late summer or early fall may live longer, often through the winter months.

  • Bumblebees (Bombus spp.): Bumblebee lifespans can vary depending on the species and the role within the colony. Worker bumblebees generally live for several weeks to a few months. Queens can live longer, with some surviving through the winter to establish new colonies in the spring.

  • Solitary Bees: Many species of solitary bees are native to Ontario. The lifespan of solitary bees can vary widely, with some species living only a few weeks and others surviving for several months. Solitary bees typically do not form colonies like honeybees or bumblebees.

It's important to note that the lifespan of bees can also be influenced by environmental factors, including weather conditions, food availability, and the presence of pesticides or other stressors. Additionally, the lifespan of individual bees within a colony can vary based on their role (e.g., workers, queens, drones) and the time of year.

Three Bees on Three coreopsis plants
Bees on Native Flowers

Helping bee populations without resorting to sugar water involves creating a more bee-friendly environment and taking steps to support their natural needs. Here are some ways to do that:

  1. Plant Bee-Friendly Flowers: Grow various native flowers, herbs, and shrubs in your garden or on your property. Choose plants that provide nectar and pollen for bees. Some good options include lavender, bee balm, coneflowers, sunflowers, and native wildflowers. Ensure you have flowers blooming throughout the spring, summer, and fall to provide continuous food sources for bees.

  2. Avoid Pesticides: Minimize or eliminate chemical pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides in your garden. These chemicals can harm bees and other pollinators. Instead, use natural and organic methods for pest control.

  3. Provide Nesting Sites: Different bee species have various nesting preferences. Some nest in the ground, while others prefer hollow stems or wood. Create habitat diversity by leaving some areas of your garden or yard untouched or providing bee houses and nesting materials like twigs and hollow reeds.

  4. Avoid Disturbance: If you notice a bee nest or solitary bee holes in the ground, avoid disturbing them. Bees can be defensive when they feel threatened. Provide space for them to carry out their natural behaviours.

  5. Support Local Beekeepers: Buying honey and other bee products from local beekeepers can help support bee populations indirectly by supporting the beekeeping industry. Look for honey that is produced sustainably and ethically.

  6. Educate Yourself and Others: Learn more about the importance of bees and pollinators in our ecosystem and share this information with friends and family. Raising awareness can lead to more people taking steps to protect bees.

  7. Get Involved in Conservation Efforts: Support or participate in local conservation organizations or initiatives focused on bee and pollinator protection. These groups often work on projects to improve bee habitats and raise awareness.

  8. Reduce Lawn Area: Lawns provide little to no benefit to bees and other wildlife. Consider reducing the size of your lawn and replacing it with bee-friendly plants and wildflowers.

  9. Support Organic Agriculture: Choose to buy organic produce when possible, as organic farming practices tend to be more friendly to bees and pollinators.

  10. Advocate for Bee-Friendly Policies: Get involved in advocacy efforts to promote bee-friendly policies and regulations in your community, such as restrictions on pesticide use and the protection of natural habitats.

By taking these steps, you can contribute to the well-being of bee populations and help create a more hospitable environment for these essential pollinators.

a dead bee on a pavement
Dead Bee - With permission Pixabay

Sugar water, when used responsibly and in certain situations, can be a helpful tool for beekeepers and individuals looking to provide temporary nourishment to bees. However, it's essential to use sugar water appropriately and avoid over-reliance on it because there are potential downsides and risks associated with feeding bees sugar water:

  • Lack of Nutritional Diversity: Sugar water lacks the nutritional diversity and complexity of natural nectar from flowers. Bees need a range of nutrients and trace elements that may not be present in sugar water alone. Prolonged sugar water feeding without access to natural forage can result in poor bee health.

  • Diluted Bee Diet: When bees primarily consume sugar water, it dilutes the quality of their honey, potentially affecting the honey's flavour and nutritional value.

  • Risk of Disease Spread: Sugar water feeding stations can attract bees from different colonies. This congregation of bees increases the risk of disease transmission between colonies.

  • Reduced Foraging: If bees have easy access to sugar water, they may become less motivated to forage for natural nectar and pollen. This can lead to a reduced contribution to pollination and ecological disruption.

  • Potential Aggression: Concentrated sugar water can attract other insects, such as wasps and ants. This can lead to conflicts at feeding stations and potentially harm the bees.

Given these potential drawbacks, using sugar water sparingly and primarily as a last resort or emergency measure, such as when bee colonies struggle due to a lack of natural forage or during extreme weather conditions, is essential. Beekeepers may use sugar water as a supplementary feeding method, especially during winter, when bees may need additional food stores to survive.

To support bee populations without relying on sugar water, it's better to focus on creating a bee-friendly environment by planting various nectar-rich flowers, avoiding pesticides, providing nesting sites, and promoting natural forage options for bees. These practices are more sustainable and aligned with bees' raw diet and behaviour.


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