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Hinton Community Garden builds supports for native bee species

Masha Scheele

The Hinton Community Garden Society taught locals how to build simple bumble bee boxes on July 28 in an effort to help support native bee species.

Bumble bee boxes are different than the more popular bee hotels with all it’s different shapes and burrows for insects to take over.

Bumble bee boxes are simply square boxes with a hole on one side, and filled with cotton, thread, or leaf debris. 

Vice-president of the society, Brittany Taylor, said the event was a way for the society to talk to locals about native bee species.

Bumble bees are also a native species to Alberta, and because they’re easy to spot, they’re an easy species to start saving the bees.

“Bumble bees are really good pollinators, they pollinate tomatoes and squash, and blueberries a lot better because those flowers have a closed anther: the male part of the flower. They go on the flower and just buzz and shake the pollen out,” she said. “Honey bees can’t do that.” 

A common misconception is that the honey bee is the species in need of saving, while native species are often forgotten about, she explained.

“One big thing is that people often think honey bees are a native species, but they’re actually an introduced species,” said Taylor.

Honey bees were brought over to North America when the Europeans made their way across the ocean. 

In their quest for sweetener, an easy solution was bringing the honey bees with them. There are around four thousand species of bees throughout North America, explained Taylor.

“It’s more than just like the black and yellow jacket bees, there’s green bees out there,” she said.

While honey bees aren’t a native species, they don’t have a huge effect on native bees unless they’re around in vast numbers, she explained.

“The part where it becomes a grey area is when people start bringing them to Crown land and backyards in really really high numbers. Because they’re competing for the same food sources,” said Taylor.

Too many honey bees can create a problem, but Taylor said overall she doesn’t want to discourage people from beekeeping.

She suggested considering the pros and cons of keeping honey bees and deciding what the intent is of keeping them. She believes that in a population the size of Hinton, there is no reason to be concerned about having too many honey bees.

“But if you want to promote native bees, then bringing in honey bees is not the right way to go about it,” she said.

The greenhouse was offered to keep honey bees, but after discussion amongst board members, they decided promoting native bees was a better option for them.

Taylor hopes attendees left the event with more admiration for native bees and the skills to make their own bee box. 

The bee boxes built during the event won’t be put out until next spring when new bumble bee queens are in search of a home. 

Bumble bees tend to prefer abandoned mouse holes or burrows in the ground and Taylor considers it a victory if a bumble bee picks one of their boxes to live. 

In town, bumble bees are more likely to use the boxes as there are less natural burrows than in a forest where bee boxes would be their last option.

Some trial and error goes into making the boxes perfect for the bees, including trying different materials inside.

“It’s important when you have the bee boxes, to monitor for diseases and stuff,” she added.

Parasites can take over bee hives, causing more harm for bee populations than good. Taylor hopes this event got people to start thinking about how to make their backyards better suited for bees.

“Bee boxes are just a start, but think about planting more native plants in your garden. Promote naturalization of your yard. Removing exotic species and bringing in natives,” she said.

And if bee lovers really want to get into it, they can join bee watch with the native bee council, she concluded.