Tony Phillips doesn’t like to see totally green lawns; he prefers to see clover and bright flowers – even dandelions – popping up.
Phillips has been keeping honeybees for more than 40 years, and knows how important flowering plants are to the survival of bees.
“Dandelions are one of the first things they can make a living off of,” he said. “People plant flowers for bees, but the flowers are already there; we just have to change our attitude.
“White clover is excellent, and I’d like to see more of that.”
Phillips’ bees did well over the winter, with a survival rate of about 90 per cent, but those bees soon die. Winter bees die in March and April and summer bees take over the hive.
“The key thing to their survival is for them to raise their replacements faster than they die off,” said Phillips. “If they don’t, the colony collapses. They need pollen to raise their young.”
Phillips keeps about 140 hives, with some being stored indoors, at a temperature between 6 and 9 C, for the winter, and others left in an outdoor area that has southern exposure and trees on three sides. The bees survive by forming a cluster in the hive, taking turns going to the combs in the centre to eat honey.
“Winter bees have a different makeup than summer bees, said Gary Smeltzer, who has about 40 hives, in Shubenacadie and the Annapolis Valley. “Summer bees wear themselves out in six weeks.”
Because they have to continue to raise replacements, a good food source is vital to their survival.
Bee-plus students on the job
Nancy McLean, assistant professor at Dal AC, is leading a small group documenting flowers and bees across the Maritimes. They’re now in the third year of a three-year study, and Tony Phillips’ property is one of the areas they have been studying.
“Tony’s site is wonderful because it has so many flowering plants,” said McLean. “We’re trying to figure out what we need to do to support native bees. Their numbers are in decline, and we need bees to produce food. We don’t get things like berries unless plants are pollinated by bees.
“Native bees work in windier and colder conditions than honey bees do. They’ve evolved with our weather conditions.
“Last year we were surprised to find about half of the pollinators, when the blueberries were in bloom, were native pollinators.”
She noted there are several varieties of native bees, with bumble bees being the fuzziest. There are other insects that mimic bees to protect themselves from predators.
The research team will be checking each of the sites, in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, every two to three weeks throughout the spring and summer.
“Bees find a lot of plants by sight,” said McLean. “They seem to know when they see good quality food.”
She said adding white clover to a lawn is one of the best things people can do to help bees, as it has very high-quality nectar. Any plants in the rose family are also very good.
When adding ornamental plants, she suggests people use locally grown perennials, in order to avoid harmful chemicals.