As May ended, the town of Bay Bulls, located about twenty minutes outside of Newfoundland’s capital city had a bit of unusual request for residents: pardon your weeds and feed the bees. Dads and lawn boys throughout Bay Bulls must have rejoiced with the town’s rhyming announcement because it meant keeping the lawnmower in the shed and letting dandelions on your lawn grow in hopes of attracting bees and providing them with a free meal and some Newfoundland hospitality after a long winter.
Ashley Wakeham, the Assistant Town Clerk for Bay Bulls said that this campaign stemmed from a Facebook post by local business Pat’s Plants and Gardens. “One of our Councillors Joan Luby suggested we should send this out to our residents and let them know that the Council is okay with leaving some weeds on their lawns for a few extra weeks and that we would join them,” she said via email.
Wakeham said the response from the people in Bay Bulls has been positive despite the poor weather and cold temperatures hitting the Avalon Peninsula. “We have residents calling to ask if it would be ok to mow now or later. It seems to have caught on, the weather hasn’t been great but we do see an increase in flower-covered lawns.”
At this time, no other towns in the province have adopted this campaign and Wakeham understands that other municipalities have rules and regulations prohibiting “unsightly” lawns but thought it would be nice to see even designated green spaces in other towns and cities in order to feed the bees. “This really is the right thing to do right now,” she said. “With the global state of the bee population, it is extremely important to ensure our bees stay healthy and can thrive here on the island.”
What’s the big deal about saving bees? In an article from 2014, the BBC painted a pretty grim picture of a world without bees. Bees are important because they pollinate 70 of the near 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world’s population. If bees were to suddenly become extinct it is highly possible that we could also lose the plants that bees pollinate which if you can remember your Elementary school science lessons on food chains would, in turn, also affect the animals that eat those plants disrupting the whole damn ecosystem. Alternatively, if animals, nature and saving the planet isn’t your thing, not having bees, the plants they pollinate and the animals that eat those plants would end up leaving your supermarket pretty bare.
According to an article on VOCM, Newfoundland’s bee population is one of only three in the world that has not dwindled in recent years. According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeeping Association’s website, this may be in part because of our province’s “uniquely gentle breed of honeybee well adapted to our northern climate.” These bees that forage Newfoundland’s rugged terrain acting as the primary source of pollination for our blueberry and cranberry crops and creating unique varieties of honey have attracted national and international attention.
According to an article from CBC, one reason that the bee population in Newfoundland is largely unaffected seems to be that the province lacks massive corn and soybean farms and has a short growing season, which means we hardly use neonic pesticides, which have been known to greatly affect bee populations throughout Canada, North America, and the world.
Dr. Tom Chapman, Chair of the Environmental Science Interdisciplinary Graduate Program with the Department of Biology at Memorial University said via email that new bees are rarely brought into the province, which means that it helps keep disease out. “If [a] disease were to emerge in any one part of our province it is unlikely to move far; colonies are not being moved long distances among crops and hobbyists are far enough from each other that disease transfer is unlikely,” he said. Dr. Chapman noted, “Understandably, bee-people are keen to keep our province disease free.”
According to Dr. Chapman, there are a number of other challenges associated with raising bees excluding pesticides. “Getting them through the winter is one, the other is natural nectar sources,” he said. “I think that is [why the town of Bay Bulls] wanted people not to mow their grass early in our summer; dandelions pop up just in time as a sugar source for bee colonies to aid them in recovering from the winter. So knocking the heads off dandelions while you mow your grass robs the local colonies of an early food source. Later in the summer, the bees will have many more options.”
There have also been widespread national and international campaigns to save bees. You might recall the ads from last year in which Honey Nut Cheerios was encouraging people to #BringBacktheBees and offered a free packet of seeds in order to create new places for pollinators. In Canada, Honey Nut Cheerios collaborated with Vesey’s Seeds out of Prince Edward Island, as well as Indigo to provide seeds, books and general awareness to the cause.