Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ontario Bee Roost

Creating protected habitat for a diversity of species of living creatures has become our key goal as gardeners. This goal was created for us, actually, because as we began to diversify the plantings in the gardens (and omitted all artificial inputs), the gardens began to attract new wildlife. A cascade of new wildlife in fact.

Among the buzzing, humming, spinning, creeping and eating creatures in the garden, the most obvious at any moment are the bees and wasps. They are most evident, I guess, because they are so busily pollinating what must be every single flower here.

Infrequently we see an official European honey bee or two, representatives of the pollinators at risk from Colony Collapse Disorder, CCD. These are the bees that, because they are community dwellers, can be used to pollinate food crops: their hives can simply be moved to where they can be put to work.

The majority of our bees are their 'wild' and solitary cousins, which are not necessarily so reliable, though they are similarly important to the process of plant reproduction. These native pollinators do not depend on the presence of a single hive in which they can sleep, eat and reproduce. Instead they find suitable habitat- old stumps with worm and woodpecker holes, hollow stems, rotting logs- on the fly.

And so the collapse of honey bee populations means that protecting and encouraging these native pollinators is all the more urgent (see for example Pollination Canada's website The Ontario Meadow flower garden (and the new meadow we are working on) have plenty of suitable food for pollinators, flowering from early Spring right through to the late Fall. But not much in the way of roosting, resting and reproducing spaces.

And so on the Civic Holiday weekend (which should now be called Bee Holiday Weekend) we salvaged some lumber from an empty lot, and created our first Ontario Bee Roost. It is constructed of untreated and well-weathered sections of 2x4s, parts of a log from a maple tree around the corner that was cut down two weeks ago, and some nails. The roosts themselves are 8" sections of this lumber and log which have 5/16th holes drilled 4"-6" deep into them. The entire structure is capped off with a piece of found plywood, quite luckily exactly the right size for a roof. It is at the back of the meadow, facing southeast, and about 6' from a drinking spot set up for insects-it is a low footed birdbath filled with pebbles and rocks.

This is an experiment, and it will be some time before we know whether or not any creature will take shelter here. In the spring we will provide some clay in case mason bees show up, who will use it to build cells for pollen and larvae. In the mean time, we'll wait.

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