Our Friend the Bee

As vital figures in the growth of our agriculture, it should come as no surprise that bees are a welcome factor on Alberta farms that promote a healthy ecosystem within our province and our country. In fact, we have discussed in past articles how beekeeping itself has become a growing industry in Alberta. With a decline in bee populations worldwide, farmers and landowners with a vested interested in vegetation might like to know how to best keep bees on their property. Mark Wonneck, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada ecologist, wrote a pamphlet titled Native Pollinators and Agriculture in Canada that highlights three strategies to encourage bee populations where we need them the most.

Save What You’ve Got

Farmers are encouraged to keep a close eye on where bees are congregating within their crops, especially canola. When producing flowering crop, farmers should watch their field margins, in and around corrals and buildings, along the roadsides, pasture lands, areas around wetlands, and even within their flower gardens to observe where bee activity is highest. The majority of bees make their nests in untouched soil, dead trees, abandoned rodent tunnels, and any crevice or protected dry area. Once it’s been established where bees are making their homes, it’s our job to protect these areas. Bees don’t travel far from their nests to find food, so it’s important to protect these habitats. Sometimes, the best action to take is “thoughtful neglect”, as just leaving them be might be the best way to let them prosper!

Create New Habitat

According to Wonneck’s pamphlet, there are three steps to follow: site selection, habitat design, and planting and establishment. For site selection, choose an area within 300m of crops that are dependant on pollinators with good nesting possibilities, such as facing south to receive the most sunlight and accommodating plants that encourage pollinator activity. When employing a crop rotation, keep plants and vegetation that can sustain a pollinator population regardless of what’s currently growing in the field. Choose various plants that flower throughout the spring, summer, and fall to provide bees with regular food sources. Keep these plants in close proximity to one another to give bees the most opportunity to use these plants to the fullest, and include potential shelter around these sites, such as rock piles, stumps, and dry undisturbed soil. Lastly, you must plant and establish the habitat. Clear the site of weeds and other invasive plants and encourage healthy plant growth, and visit your local nursery to select the seedlings you wish to plant. The first two years are when the habitat you’ve designed is most fragile; weed control is the largest battle, and planting your seedlings in weed-free soil and mulch will do them good in the long run.

Manage to Benefit Pollinators

It’s important to figure out how to both protect your local bees while also your crops against pests and weeds. Understanding how and when to use pesticides is important to promoting a successful crop yield and a helpful bee population. There are a few strategies to keeping bee habitats safe from pesticides, such as using coniferous trees as a barrier against drifting pesticides, or spraying in the early morning and late evening—bees don’t usually start to stir until the temperature is above 10℃ and retreat when the temperature drops. When possible, refrain from spraying when crops are flowering, as this is when bees do the most foraging.

Without the bee, we’ll see a steady decline not just within our agricultural production, but also within our ecosystems. Both bees and our farmers help keep our Alberta land bountiful, but Hansen Land Co. can help you get the land that you need. If you’re interested in buying or selling land-based assets, contact us at 1.888.652.7212.