New Homes for Plants & Bees
By Kathryn Pankowski
First, the plants: the James Bay Neighbourhood Association Gardening Committee will host the third annual Spring Plant Swap and Sale on Sat, May 5, 10-12 am at Irving Park on Menzies Street (new location, so don’t get confused!) This is a very jolly and informal event. The main purpose is to get surplus plants and garden tools out of the corners in which they are languishing and into the hands of those who want them.
There are 4 ways you can participate:
- Set up a table or tarp (you’ll have to bring it) and offer your own plants for sale or swap.
- Donate your surplus starts, plant divisions, tools, or whatever to the Gardening Committee table. All donations will be used to support James Bay community gardening projects. You can drop off donations on the day or contact me at the email below to make other arrangements.
- Come and shop – surely you need more plants.
- Come and ask your gardening questions (there will be lots of experienced local gardeners around) or just drop by to say ‘hi’ – we love company!
All in all, it’s a great –and inexpensive - way to pick up locally grown plants that are proven performers in our area.
And now, on to the new homes for bees: Regular readers will know that a group of neighbourhood volunteers are putting in a small pollinator-support bed in the Michigan Street boulevard beside Discovery Coffee. We’ve been doing a lot of research into what native bees (as opposed to honey bees) need to thrive. And what they need, as well as food, water, and fewer environmental toxins, is a place to live. Here’s a little of what we’ve learned about homes for bees:
Bumblebee colonies nest in underground chambers. They will modify existing rodent or other tunnels or excavate their own.
Other ground-dwelling bees, such as the leaf-cutters, like dry warm sandy soil with thin vegetation. Each bee builds its own small narrow nest tunnel.
Some solitary native bees tunnel into decaying wood or lay their eggs in hollow stems.
So we’re adding some weathered logs to the pollinator bed and also covering some areas of dry soil with low plants, such as creeping thyme, to make (we hope) desirable real estate for solitary wood- and ground-dwelling bees.
What can you do?
Minor changes in the way you manage your garden can create more desirable space for bee residences.
Add some weathered chunks of (untreated) wood. Leave a stump to decay naturally Don’t block bees from the ground with landscape fabric or an inches-thick layer of bark or gravel. Dig as little as possible.
Don’t overwater: bees, like us, take a dim view of leaking roofs, and native bees have evolved to relish our dry summers. If you have dry earth under a porch or eaves, leave it bare and dry. (Last week I spotted a Vosnesenky’s bumble bee exploring for a nest site here - in the dry earth sheltered by the back porch here.) Let part of your lawn go dry, especially if you have a sunny sloped area, but cut the grass fairly short. (I have a spot like this in my back garden and each year it ‘grows’ wee mounds of earth that the mining bees push out of their tunnels.) Or consider planting a drought-tolerant bed that needs little water in the summer.
What about all those giant “bee hotels” you see on the internet? My own take is that they are great educational devices, bringing bees up to eye level and making people more aware of them, but they aren’t the best place for bees to live. Packing so many residents so close together in an unnatural configuration can spread diseases or attract predators. It is better to just provide the kinds of places bees like to live and let them get on with it.
And a note: If anyone is worried that more bees means more stings, solitary native bees almost never sting. Bumble bees, which live in small colonies, may sting, but are much less likely to than wasps or honeybees.
Kathryn Pankowski is the James Bay Neighbourhood Association Neighbourhood Gardening Advocate: she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The JBNA would like to acknowledge the financial support of the City of Victoria for this initiative.