Climate change and habitat loss have disrupted the routine of our migrant birds and bees. Despite the challenges, there are nests to build, hives to feed and flowers to pollinate.
And there’s no denying the buzz: our precious bees also need some love and affection. With some careful landscape consideration, you can easily create an all-inclusive backyard that’s both bird and bee-friendly.
To make one pound of honey, bees must visit more than two million flowers. One beehive (colony population: 80,000) must fly nearly 80,500 km, with each bee visiting 50 to 100 flowers during one ‘collection flight’ from the hive.
Here are a few things you can do in your yard to assist our flying neighbours:
Pollinator-friendly plants like bee balm, Russian sage, butterfly bush, dianthus, coneflower and pasques (prairie crocus) add a fragrant and vibrant texture to a backyard (or balcony in a pinch). Visit your local garden centre or Fernlea’s online greenhouse for ideas. Bees love blue, purple and yellow blooms, so you can negotiate with your preferences. Flat and single-petal flowers like the Black-eyed Susan are the easiest for bees to navigate. Perennials do the dirty work for you—plant them once and they will return the favour year after year.
Take advantage of Fernlea’s online greenhouse for ideas, tips and container garden recipes. By joining their free garden club, you can sign up for an email alert for fresh plant shipments to your area.
For a safe and easy shopping experience during this time, many garden retailers are offering curbside pick-up or delivery. Visit your local garden centre’s Facebook page first for photos of plants, updates and availability.
Every gardener will have a nemesis — it’s wild out there! Natural pest protection is a responsible way to find common ground. Certain herbs, ladybugs and burning sage can ward off a few of the invaders.
For little two-legged invaders, teach children to appreciate the work of the humble bumble. They are docile and more interested in collecting their daily pollen than stinging humans.
If you’re new to the scene, it’s all about location. Hanging feeders in an area safe from curious cats and away from reflective windows that could result in fatal collisions is paramount.
Despite advertising and good ol’ fashioned folklore, using red food colouring or dye is not advisable. The feeders are generally made of red components that immediately attract hummingbirds.
The no-fail recipe for the solution is simple: one-part sugar, four parts boiled water. Be sure to let the formula cool before filling your feeder and wash it frequently (with hot water and eco-friendly soap or vinegar), especially during summer. Due to the sticky nature of the solution, you may need a toothpick, brush or Q-tip to unclog the feeding portals. The hummingbirds will become accustomed to your feeder, so, mark their arrival in the spring on your calendar!
Hummingbirds also love the tubular Foxglove, Trumpet Vine, Columbine and Butterfly Weed.
The housing market
Mason bees do not use traditional hives. They resourcefully choose holes pre-drilled by beetles or woodpeckers to lay their eggs. The typical bundles of bamboo tubes or drilled holes that make up a mason bee house or hive provide a place for wild bees to collect pollen and reproduce. You can purchase ready-made mason bee houses, but why not make one?
Birdhouse offerings run parallel with our real estate listings. Some are fixer-uppers while others have great curb appeal but lack square footage and function. The adage ‘there’s a house for everyone,’ is applicable to birds too — though they often choose their homes by the size of the entrance hole.
While barn swallows and robins prefer a shelf design, Eastern bluebirds are very particular. Size matters! Purple martins love condo/apartment-style living while a nuthatch will search for an unfinished house. It’s all about amenities — is there a birdbath nearby? Milkweed?
The land of milkweed and honey
If you plant milkweed, you’ll make both the Monarch butterfly and American Goldfinch happy.Goldfinches use milkweed fiber to line their nests. While sunflowers are cherished, birds love their trees: elderberry, sumac, dogwood and oak provide fruit, acorns, insects and some desirable nesting cavities if there’s no room at the inn.
Once you’ve tended to the birds and bees, it’s playtime! Sit back, relax and do some birdwatching.