If Eliese Watson has anything to say about it, the buzz this summer will be literal. It might even be coming from your backyard if you’re up for hosting ahive. (Just think of all that honey.)
Posted 20 May 2011 , by Julie Van Rosendaal, Calgary Herald, calgaryherald.com
Eliese Watson has become Calgary’s queen bee. It’s the inevitable result of her work over the last year and a half as an apiarist, educator, defender and protector of bees and advocate for urban beekeeping. Rather than focus on honey production for herself or for retail sale, her company, Apiaries and Bees for Communities (ABC), is dedicated to bringing small-scale, residential, hobby apiculture to the city.
Backyard beekeeping fits comfortably into the concept of permaculture, accessorizing urban gardens with natural pollinators that also produce food that is as local as you can get. But Wastson’s motivation goes beyond providing people with the ability to produce private stocks of honey. The bigger picture emphasizes the role bees play in our agricultural system, pollinating flowering plants like clover, thistle, wildflowers, canola and alfalfa. In some cases, these are significant crops in Alberta, and reduced pollination means a lower yield.
Through her work with ABC, Watson has come across Calgarians who have learned of the dramatic decline in bee populations over recent decades and who want to help. But, as with beehives, the more the merrier, so Watson has created The Community Pollinator Foundation, anot-for-profit group that offers a range of educational programming to help Calgarians identify local pollinators (bees in particular) and provide an opportunity to participate in their conservation.
Focused on public-participation research projects and education, the CPF promotes healthy, sustainable pollinator habitats by encouraging public action and initiating community-outreach projects. The group will set up six educational bee installations at the Calgary Zoo (the first is already a work in progress). Resonating Bodies is scheduled to debut in the Canadian Wilds exhibit this summer. Designed by Sarah Peebles, the installation allows zoo visitors to watch stingless bees at work in a man-made nesting site that is attached to resonating boards that amplify the sound of the bees.
Teaching people about bees also involves correcting misconceptions people have about the insects. Among the most common, Watson says, is the belief that bumblebees make the honey we consume. In fact, bumblebees make only enough honey to sustain themselves through the summer and fall. (They die in the winter.) Honeybees, on the other hand, create a surplus. They make as much honey as possible, continually preparing for the worst-case scenario over the winter, so there’s more than enough to share.
An understanding of the importance of bees triggered dozens of calls to ABC last summer from Calgarians with unwanted bumblebee hives in their yards. Rather than calling an exterminator, these people got in touch with Watson. This concern sparked the creation of the Bumblebee Rescue and Foster Parent Program, which began to rescue bumblebees from urban spaces. Rescued colonies are placed in man-made bee boxes and delivered to registered bumblebee foster parents within the same community. The hives and bee boxes are custom-made and painted in bright colours. They’re far from the typical stacks of white crates we generally associate with beekeeping. (Hives don’t have to be ugly, Watson says.)
The Bumblebee Rescue and Foster Parent Program has since morphed into a collaboration between the CPF and Robin Owen, an associate professor in the chemical and biological sciences department at Mount Royal University. The program now goes further than just rescuing bees. It is the first public, urban bumblebee research project in Canada, and raises awareness of bumblebee species and habitat, urban distribution and populations.
The research project is just part of what promises to be a busy summer for Watson. ABC will offer hands-on workshops all over the city in subjects as diverse as beekeeping, bug catching, cob-oven building, permaculture and how to plant a pollinator garden.
The season kicks off with a bang as the Community Pollinator Foundation hosts the first annual Mead & Honey Tasting Gala fundraiser. The shindig goes Saturday, May 21 at the Cantos Music Foundation, and includes music, mead tastings, tapas provided by local restaurants and food producers, speakers and informative pollinator displays. There will even be a series of hand-painted boxes done by local artists available at the silent auction.
For more information or to buy tickets for the upcoming gala, check out thepollinatorfoundation.org or backyardbees.ca.
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