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Local expert weighs in on the lack of honey bees this spring

What you can do in your backyard to enhance their environment
Mason Bee Box Ladner
The City of Delta launched a Mason Bee Box program in 2011 at several locations including Rotary Park in Ladner.

Some adverse weather has led to fewer bees this spring, but there are plenty of ways to attract them to your garden and help them flourish.

That’s the advice of local expert Paul Van Westendorp who happens to be a provincial apiarist for the Government of BC.

Bees and other pollinating insects are important for the pollination of plants and food crops that produce fruits, seeds and forage for animal feed. They also play a key role in maintaining a healthy environment. 

“The lack of bees is a complex and diverse answer that is not necessarily local. It’s very broad,” explained the Tsawwassen resident. “If we limit ourselves just to the honey bees for now there’s been a significant increase of winter mortality. It was at first a cool and uncooperative spring, then suddenly we almost had a heat wave and now it’s cooler again. The arrival of warmer conditions do play a key role when some of these pollinators emerge from their winter sleep if you will. Sometimes these releases are delayed.”

More colour and less pruning in your backyard will enhance the environment for honey bees and help them return.

“The biggest and easiest thing for people to do is change their landscaping practices. Instead of just for the convenience of plunking down an evergreen tree that will never attract bees, create a garden that has a variety of floral sources that bees can feed on, not just for one little two or four week period but throughout the season,” he said. “The old saying goes in real estate is location, location, location. In this case, it’s planted, planted, planted and the bees will come.

“Lovely floral sources are a dinner table for the bees and they are also enjoyable to look at. In a month’s time you will probably say what is this fuss all about is because there are plenty of bees when the weather has changed.”

The province has created a website that provides information on what are ideal perennials, such as lupine and lavender, to attract wild pollinators.

Van Westendorp does have high praise for the efforts to enhance the bee population in his hometown. 

Last September Delta was declared a “Bee City,” one of just six communities in B.C. and 43 in the country to earn the distinction.

Delta’s zoning bylaw permits beekeeping as an accessory use to single-family and duplex dwellings, and for education purposes in public areas.

A Mason Bee Box program was implemented at a number of city parks back in 2011. The new Douglas J. Husband Discovery Centre includes fruit trees and bee hives, highlighting the importance of pollinators to the agricultural community.

More pollinator-friendly plants are being added to city parks while Delta’s Pesticide Use Bylaw prohibits cosmetic use. Landscaping practices are also an ongoing discussion.

Van Westendorp said society needs to appreciate natural landscape more, not look at its value or if it’s in the way of a quicker route to the grocery store.

“We have a collective societal on the landscape that is far more severe than we are selves like to admit,” he said. “By in large, particularly in modern agriculture, when we have plants of all kinds on the periphery of cultivated fields, they are not of an economical value so we kind of dismiss them of being worthless. We tend to kill them. We use herbicides, we mow them we root them off. They often the nesting habit and environment which all kinds of smaller creatures live.

“Much of our activity is often different towards reduced biodiversity rather than enhanced biodiversity. We of course, with many of us of urbanites, prefer the convenience of roads, highways and big parking lots to get us the minimal amount of steps to get into the Walmart. As of result we sacrifice a huge amount of land for our convenience.”