Edmonton conservation group gives bees refuge in wooden hotels
Solitary bees live in and lay eggs in trees, unlike honeybees that live in hives
Calling all foodies, gardeners, nature lovers and proponents of pollinators: bee hotels are up for grabs from the Edmonton and Area Land Trust so Edmontonians can help preserve the bee population.
The land trust built small, wooden hotels and gave some to community gardens. They also put the hotels in the Muttart Conservatory, John Janzen Nature Centre and the Edmonton zoo.
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Alana Tollenaar, an intern with the land trust and Bachelor of Science student at the University of Alberta, explained the project at the zoo at the Garden Festival Sunday.
"In the city, it's harder for bees to find a place to live," Tollenaar said. "So the bee hotels are actually meant to combat this issue by giving them another place to go and lay their eggs."
They're built for solitary bees, which are smaller than "social" honeybees. Solitary bees don't live in hives and typically don't sting because there's no queen bee to protect.
They make up about 80 per cent of the bee population, Tollenaar said.
Biologist Margaret Reine, advisor for Edmonton and Area Land Trust, has had a bee hotel at her home for two years.
"They're able to reproduce and have more young when there's bee hotels available because it's providing a habitat and a home for them to be able to nest," she said.
The hotels, about 2½ feet tall and eight inches wide, have wooden blocks inside. Tunnels or tubes are drilled into the wood, which is where bees can lay their eggs.
The eggs stay inside for the winter and hatch in the spring.
Reine said urban construction and development aren't the only reasons bee populations are at risk.
The use of pesticides called neonicotinoids is also to blame. A lot of flower and vegetable seeds contain them.
"We should be asking the greenhouses and the people selling these plants to be buying them from people that are not using neonicotinoids," Reine said.
"The more consumers ask for that and demand that these plants do not have that in it, the more people will realize they've got to quit using it or people aren't going to buy it."
She recommended checking the labels on garden products to see if they contain neonicotinoids. Key words to look out for are imidacloprid, acetamiprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam.
Most of Europe is on board with banning the group of pesticides, and Reine said she thinks Health Canada should follow suit.
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The existence of solitary bees is fundamental, as they're more efficient at pollinating than honeybees, Tollenaar said. They encourage the growth of various foods, from peas to apple trees.
"Food — I like to eat, everyone likes to eat," Tollenaar said. "That's basically the main reason that we need pollinators. They pollinate over one-third of our food in the world."
People hoping to build their own bee hotel can find blueprints on the Edmonton and Area Land Trust website. The group also hosts building workshops and sells bee hotels for $30.