The Buzz about Bees

Bees have been the talk of the town but what exactly is all the buzz? Honey Bee, Bumble Bee, Mining Bee, Hairy Belly Bee, Wasp? Our food depends on pollination to ensure fruits and vegetable seeds can be fertile and continue the food supply. There are other pollinators but bees are under specific stress that makes your efforts even more important. 

First thing! EVENT TIME


Awareness has been growing about the challenges faced by native and managed bee populations in recent years. To increase awareness about pollinators and the importance of conserving their habitat, EALT has run an active Protecting Pollinators program since 2016. As part of this program, we give presentations to community groups and offer workshops on how to build bee hotels to support native bees. Currently, we can’t host these large gatherings, but we can still reach out to our community to tell you how you can help the bees!


About 75% of all flowering plants rely on animal pollinators and over 200,000 species of animals act as pollinators. Of those, about 1,000 are hummingbirds, bats, and small mammals. The rest are insects such as beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, and moths.

Bees are the primary pollinators. However, about 200,000 invertebrate species, (bees, moths, butterflies, beetles, and flies)serve as pollinators, as well as about 1,000 species of vertebrates (birds, mammals and reptiles).In the U.S., the annual benefit of managed honey bees to consumers is estimated at nearly $20 billion. The services provided by native pollinators contribute to the productivity of crops as well as to the survival and reproduction of many native plants.

Bees are the best documented pollinators in natural and agricultural landscapes. A wide range of plants in the Aster and Rose Families, blueberry crops, and tomatoes are just a few plants that benefit from bee pollinators. Most of us are familiar with the colonies of honey bees that have been the workhorses of agricultural pollination for years in Canada. They were imported from Europe almost 400 years ago and continue to be managed for honey production and pollination services.

There are over 800 species of native ground and twig nesting bees in Canada. Most of these bee species live a solitary life; a minority are social and form colonies or nest in aggregations. Native bees visit and pollinate many crops; in many cases they are better at transferring pollen than honey bees. Our native bees can be encouraged to do more to support agricultural endeavours if their needs for nesting habitat are met and if suitable sources of nectar, pollen, and water are provided. Bees come in a variety of body shapes and sizes, and even have tongues of different lengths. Native bees visit the widest range of flowers and crops of any pollinator group.

Bumble bees (Bombus spp.) form small colonies, usually underground making use of old rodent burrows or dense thatches. They are generalists, feeding on a wide range of plant types from May to September and are important pollinators of tomatoes and blueberries.

Sweat bees (family Halictidae) are medium to small-sized, slender bees that commonly nest underground. Various species are solitary while others form loose colonies, nesting side-by-side. Other common solitary bees include carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica), which nest by chewing into wood; mining bees (Andrena spp.), which nest underground and are common in the spring; leaf-cutter bees (Megachile spp.), which prefer dead trees or branches for their nest sites; and mason bees (Osmia spp.), which utilize cavities they find in stems and dead wood that they fill with mud.


Where Do Pollinators (Bees) Go in the Winter?

As the summer season ends and the cooler weather approaches, once magnificent and colourful flowers begin to wither and wilt, while previously buzzing gardens become stems of silence. But where do the pollinators go? Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and birds all display a variety of amazing and unique strategies in order to survive the cold weather and overcome the harsh climate of the approaching winter.

As the winter temperatures start to freeze the air, honey bees form special clusters inside their hives to keep warm. Worker honey bees huddle around their queen and vibrate their wings and bodies in a “shivering” behaviour in order to generate heat inside the hive. This behaviour is amazingly carried out all winter, and uses up a lot of the bees’ energy. In order to fuel this heated huddle, honey bees use their stored honey as a main source of food in order to stay energized and keep the queen and the hive at an optimal temperature throughout the winter!

Bumble bees take a different approach, and only new queens survive the winter, while the rest of the colony dies off. In the fall, male bumble bees mate with future queens from different colonies, and these future queens spend the entire winter underground or in holes in soft wood that are safe and dry. Queen bumble bees are impressively large in size, and must consume as much nectar and pollen as possible in order to build up crucial fat reserves before entering a dormant phase in overwintering sites. In the following spring, queens will emerge and find perfect nesting sites to start brand new colonies of their own!

For native solitary bees, it is common for females to lay eggs in underground nests (mining bees, sweat bees, polyester bees), or in sealed and insulated cavities above ground (leaf cutting bees, mason bees). These eggs then hatch and survive the winter as dormant adults waiting to emerge in the spring, or as developing pupae kept safe and warm inside nests. Once the weather is warm enough, emerged females will find their own independent nesting sites and lay the next generation of eggs!


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Creating a yard that is a buzzing paradise for honey bees

Creating a yard that is a buzzing paradise for honey bees and native pollinators will support biodiversity and help pollinate urban gardens. Here’s a few tips to a bee-utiful garden:

– Incorporate plants that are native to your area in your yard. Native bees and other native pollinators have evolved with native plants. By providing native plants, you’ll get the most diversity of pollinators and resilient gardens.

– When getting plants, avoid plants that have been treated with pesticides (ask at your garden centre) and avoid plants that are invasive in your region (check your local invasive species council online). While plants that are invasive might provide nectar and pollen, they invade other areas and reduce native plant cover. Check your local invasive species council online for plants to avoid.

– Choose a variety of flower shapes, sizes, and colours. Pick plants that bloom at different times, from early spring to fall so that pollinators have food all season.

– Embrace some ‘wildness’ in your garden—rock piles, bare soil, old stems, and rotting wood can provide nesting and resting sites for many pollinators.


Local Clubs, Groups, Native Plant Resources

The Edmonton Native Plant Group is an informal group of people in the Edmonton area who like to grow native plants and promote their use in gardening and landscaping to a wider public. We take part in a number of projects, in cooperation with the appropriate municipal authorities, which aim to enrich the natural flora of various parks and natural areas.

ENPG members raise native plants at the City of Edmonton’s Oldman Creek Nursery and maintain a demonstration native bed at the John Janzen Nature Centre, and the Muttart Conservatory. Volunteers also care for certain parts of City of Edmonton parks as Partners in Parks.

Clark Ecoscience and Sustainability Ltd. (CES) was founded in 2010. CES maximizes ecosystem services through native ecosystem conservation, restoration and rebuilding projects for citizens, industry, government, and non-profits.

CES started as an idea that Michael had while working on a picker truck. He took a look around and decided he wanted to learn more about changes in the environment, after hearing about climate change and biodiversity loss. It was at the University of Alberta where he learned about biology, geology, organic and inorganic chemistry, and finally ecology. While studying ecology, Michael began a second focus on sustainability – working with people to ensure today’s resources are available for future generations. It was in this work that he had the idea to merge sustainability and ecology together and thus Clark Ecoscience and Sustainability was born.



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