Thunder Bay will soon be home to a new program to recognize bee-friendly gardeners.

A city bee-keepers group will award a "bee-friendly" designation to gardens that are free of pesticides and full of bright flowers. The goal of the campaign is to discourage the use of pesticides — some of which are linked to declining bee populations.

 The group's secretary, Beth Stewart, said it's similar to a program in Boulder, Colo.

"It is such a big program in that city that they just have little green flags that they're able to put in people's yards and everybody in the city knows and identifies that little green flag with the bee-friendly program,” she said.

Stewart said her group is considering giving out lawn signs proclaiming gardens that are "bee-friendly." But they'll also look for other elements that make a garden bee-friendly.  

"Any flowers that are brightly coloured, in particular things like the daisies and golden rods and maybe kind of a wild area where the wildflowers can grow,” she said.

Avoiding pesticide use

The campaign will begin next year. The group first thought of the idea several years ago, when it was looking for ways to encourage people to consider pollinators when planting their gardens.

The issue has recently taken on a sense of urgency with increasing reports implicating some pesticides in the decline of bee populations, she noted.

Wild Bees

Neonicotinoids are neuro-active pesticides that cause bees to become disoriented and uncoordinated, and can cause them to develop tremors and other neurological problems that often lead to their deaths. (Toby Talbot, File/AP)

Stewart called neonicotinoid insecticides "the DDT of the 21st century."

"I think it's important for people to recognize that the bees are in trouble, particularly the honey bees, not just here but across North America," Stewart said.

"Sixty per cent of the food you eat is pollinated by a honey bee or another kind of bee, so it's important that we do what we can to try and turn the tide and try and save our bees.  So this would be a very important program to everybody, not just the people in the country who have bees, but the people in the city who have gardens — for example, vegetable gardens.  Saving the pollinators is very important for them as well." 

A bee-friendly garden includes “flowers that bees like better than others, but … any flowers planted in groupings, [and] flowers that are brightly coloured [will do],” Stewart said.

"We're also looking at gardens that might have the odd wild flower included in them and … the odd weed doesn't hurt either.  Bees don't discriminate between your planted flowers and the weeds.  They like everything as long as it's got colour and as long as it's got what they need.”

The biggest factor for a bee-friendly garden is keeping it pesticide-free, she said.