As the climate of the Earth changes, bees and pollinators are under increasing threats from urbanization and development, heavy chemical and neonicotinoid pesticide use and shifting weather patterns that create increased temperatures, droughts, fires, floods and hurricanes—all contributing to habitat loss.
While most of us are aware of honeybees being decimated by colony collapse disorder, many of us are not aware that native wild bees are also in peril globally. Honeybees have humans managing and caring for them while wild bees are left to fend for themselves. Many wild bee species are facing extinction along with butterflies, moths, birds, frogs, toads, snakes and more.
Bees, both wild and honeybees, pollinate 90% of our food worldwide. If bees disappear completely, human beings will ultimately follow. I don’t know about you but that seems absolutely daunting and simply overwhelming to comprehend. What can we do? What can you do?
As an environmental artist and educator, I felt completely at a loss on how to contribute to saving bees when I first heard about colony collapse disorder. Suddenly, creating eco art seemed like an abstract way of approaching an alarming and very real issue. I realized that creating artwork was not the answer; I wanted to do something tangible that would really make a difference.
So, in 2015, we bought a run-down farm on Salt Spring Island and I began to grow flowers for bees. We had no experience in farming, we had no plan, just a deep calling to do something to create change, even if it was just in our small corner of the Earth. As our first tiny gardens have expanded with each year, we have become the stewards of a flower, bee and pollinator haven that is also home to many different kinds of butterflies, moths, insects, birds, frogs, toads, snakes and small mammals.
As I learned to grow hundreds of different kinds of flowers, and while studying to become a Master Organic Gardener, I felt an increasing urgency to share my knowledge. After all, I had witnessed our farm transform and become a magical place buzzing with flying creatures and humming with other earthbound critters.
Because of my background as an environmental artist and educator, I have always believed that healing the Earth begins with one person at a time, joining others to create a network of awareness and healing. So, I began to teach workshops and leading tours through our flower farm. I shared the importance of growing flowers for bees for habitat. I also shared why it’s important to buy locally grown flowers instead of conventional ones that are grown thousands of miles away—many of which are filled with pesticides and chemicals.
As I shared flower growing and seed harvesting tips, many people asked me how they could grow a bee garden like ours. Most believed they couldn’t because they live in the city, but I knew that wasn’t true. As I pondered their questions during quiet moments working alone amongst the flowers, I began to imagine what it would be like if everyone planted a bee garden and added their unique floral thread to a garden of global healing that we create together. I knew that I could help people learn how to grow bee gardens, and so, the dream of Bee Garden School was born.
The deeper beauty and bonus of growing a bee pollinator garden is you’re not only providing habitat for bees and pollinators, your bee garden is also sequestering carbon! All plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and store it in the soil. Almost all carbon in the atmosphere passes through plants during photosynthesis, a process that turns sunlight, carbon and water into sugars and carbohydrates. The plant roots release this carbon-rich sugar into the soil as nutrients. And during their lifetime, plants create oxygen! Nature is truly the master of the most amazing and delicate systems.
According to the book, Carbon Farming Solutions just 1/10 of an acre of plants can offset carbon for one year for one adult! That’s a patch 50’ x 94’ or 4700 square feet. Not all of us have that much space to dedicate to growing a garden, especially if we live in apartments in the city. Cities are one of the most important places to grow flowers for bees and pollinators who have suffered a nearly complete loss of natural habitat. Also cities produce a lot of carbon dioxide, so your city garden can help to clean the air as well as feed bees and pollinators and provide you with beautiful flowers to enjoy!
Bee gardens filled with flowers, herbs and flowering vegetables can be planted on rooftop decks, balconies, sundecks, terraces, along sidewalks, in planters, in empty fields and lots, in yards, in suburbs, and in the country—turn lawns into wildflower havens! A bee garden can be planted almost anywhere there is soil, water and sunlight—and there are flowers and plants that love shade and partial sun as well.
A typical apartment balcony is about 4’x10’. That might seem small but by using railing planters, hanging baskets and pots on the deck surface it’s possible to plant approximately 47 square feet of garden that will feed bees, provide beauty and a connection to nature, plus sequester 1/100 of an acre of carbon. That may not seem like a lot but imagine if everyone in your apartment building, or your city block, planted a similar garden. And then multiply that by many more blocks, neighbourhoods, cities, provinces, states and countries and suddenly you have a mosaic of healing that truly can create change for the Earth and all her Beings. Best of all, you will reconnect to Nature through the absolute magic of planting seeds and watching them bloom into the most beautiful and amazing flowers and food for you and the bees and pollinators.
So, yes, you can make a difference right from your own home! Even planting a small garden in pots on your balcony will make a difference—especially if thousands of us join together in planting for the bees, for pollinators, for the future.
If you decide to grow a bee garden, and you’re buying your plant starts from big box stores it’s important to ask them where the plants are from and how they were grown. Many of these plant starts are commercially grown from seeds treated with neonicotinoids, an insecticide. Neonicotinoids are systemic, meaning they will be in all parts of the plant from roots to leaves to blooms, and will continue to affect the plant for its entire life and may also remain in the soil. The nectar and pollen from these plants can kill pollinators outright, or damage their immune systems and mess up their navigational abilities, they can also sicken the hive once the nectar and pollen are carried to it. Seeds from plants treated with neonicotinoids also kill birds that eat them. The best way to start plants is to buy organically grown seeds and start them yourself or buy plant starts from someone that doesn’t use harmful chemicals.
Additionally, please never use herbicides like RoundUp in your garden. These herbicides have been used to kill weeds, but weeds are really just plants growing in the ‘wrong’ place. These herbicides kill pollinators, birds and can also harm you. There are other methods to take care of plants you don’t want growing in certain areas. Better yet, let the dandelions grow in your lawn—bees and pollinators love them, and they are delicious in a salad!
If you want to join the movement for making a difference to our planet and her inhabitants, please join us in Bee Garden School. You will learn how to grow pollinator flowers—from seed to bloom, and create your very own pollinator haven. Let your energy and your flowers become a floral thread in a garden network of healing.