Bees are dying.
It is a difficult concept, and the truth of it appears unfounded in our everyday experience. After all, bees are all around us—honey is still commercially available, and so is the produce that they pollinate. How then, are bees dying?
But bees are dying. In fact, on January 10th, 2017, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service added the first bumblebee species, the rusty-patched bumble bee, to the endangered species list. The rusty patched bumblebee was once a common sight in Eastern United States, Ontario, and Quebec, but the species is “now balancing precariously on the brink of extinction.”
How do we deal with the large and abstract implications of endangered and extinction? The initial response is always a refusal and a dismissal. After all, a single person cannot alone save a species.
Bees are endangered because of colony collapse disorder, which is caused by habitat destruction, pesticides, etc, etc. These are problems that exist beyond the control of a single person.
But I find that tackling the problem of dead bees is more tangible once you break the problem down to the local, or even to the household.
What can a person do that is minimal effort, but makes a big difference?
For one, plant more flowers!
Contrary to popular belief, cities are not the enemies of bees. Actually, cities have the potential to be the most bee-friendly places on earth! While the countryside is dominated by commercial agriculture (corn monoculture and pesticides galore) cities are actually surprising spheres of biodiversity! Houses and their seasonal landscaping provides urban bees with a consistent food source, as are office buildings and public parks. Rooftops especially are spaces of possibility, for example, the Fort York Hotel, 401 Richmond, Sky Garden, and now Faculty Club!
These are incredible local spaces within very tangible neighborhoods. Local efforts like these show that nature and the urban are not, in fact, mortal enemies.
One of UofT BEES‘s goals for the next academic year is to make the campus more pollinator friendly, and so, on June 22nd, we teamed up with Dig In! Campus Agriculture, Urban Harvest, and Young Urban Farmers to bring six planters filled with edible flowers to the roof of Faculty Club (where three of our hives are located). A pollinator garden in the sky!
These flowers were not planted for consumption, although many are medicinal and culinary herbs. But we emphasize the edible nature of these plants in order to open a conversation about food across species.
Food for one species is simultaneously food for another, like apples or honey. The choice of edible flowers is an attempt to show that literal “food” could be beautiful landscaping. The dual utility of these edible, pollinator-friendly flowers challenges us to rethink how we could approach garden design. By choosing flowers that are pollinator-friendly and native to Southern Ontario, we are catering to pollinators that work so hard to bring us the food we eat. Planting flowers, I think, is a very real solution to dying bees.
But it is important to note, before you run out and buy pots and pots of lavender, be sure that you ask questions about the flower’s origin. UofT BEES greatly appreciate the work of Urban Harvest, precisely because they are a business that focuses on organic seeds and seedlings. All of the flowers grown in the planters came from organic, non-neonicotinoid, and pesticides free, seeds. The focus on organic seeds is not a hippy preoccupation. It is very important to the conversation on dying bees. Yes, flowers grown in greenhouses (sprayed with pesticides? Are the seeds coated in neonicotinoids?) is just as pretty as an organic flower, and much cheaper. But the organic flower is a guaranteed safe food source for bees and humans alike.
In making this project possible, we would also like to thank Dig-In! for helping us along the way, generously providing seedlings, soil, time, and their expertise. We could not have realized this project without their help.
As well we would like to thank Young Urban Farmers for their very generous donation of the six planters. It meant a lot for a local organization to believe in, and support, our cause.
Thank you Faculty Club for allowing us to make use of the rooftop space in so many ways!
And finally, we would like to thank the volunteers for coming out and taking the time to help out. Without them, we could not have carried six heavy planters up three stories, nor found the motivation to continue with the project.
-Corals Zheng, Sustainability Officer, UofT BEES.