Why Pesticide Free Gardens Matter: Honeybees and Me

Seneca honey jar

I was attending a conference at the Seneca College campus during a quiet study week this past October. Over lunch attendees were given the opportunity to take a tour of a sustainability area which includes composting, a hydroponic fish/growing area, a garden with indigenous plants and beehives. Fittingly this small corner of campus is located outside the new Odeyto Centre on campus.

colourful flowers in garden
dragon flowers, sweet william and rudbeckia in my front garden, summer 2019

Newnham campus beehives were established in 2018 after a successful introduction at the Seneca King Campus in 2017. Our conference kits included a small jar of honey which is produced from these hives and sold at Seneca cafeterias and farmer’s markets.

My own small garden includes many pollinator-friendly plants such as anise hyssop, dahlias, cosmos, chives, rudbeckias and zinnias. Although all of these flowers are wonderful, bees most frequently visited my snapdragons this past summer. I could see and hear them and managed to capture some photos as well. So why were snapdragons so popular with bees?

  • According to the University of Minnesota Department of Horticultural Sciences Display and Trial Garden site, Plants for Pollinators, the highly-scented head of a snapdragon flower can only be opened by the weight of heavier insects like bees.
  • Purdue research shows that: “When the bee brushes against the lobes of the flower, it picks up the flower’s scent. The bee then carries the scent back to hive, attracting more bees to the plant.”
  • Beekeeper.com indicates that honeybees can travel up to 3.75 miles or 6 km to find pollen.
snapdragons and local honey on table
my snapdragons and local honey

So why is this significant? I calculated that my home and garden lie within an easy flying distance for honeybees! My small jar of honey may actually have originated from bees visiting the flowers in my very own garden. A year before visiting bees must have liked what they found there and told their friends to come visit as I hadn’t planted a single snapdragon last summer. All the plants reseeded themselves from the previous summer. They had been pollinated by bees.

This was a deeply moving circle of life moment for me. The fact that I had maintained a pesticide-free pollinator friendly garden may have made a real difference for honeybees in my area. In return, they pollinated the beautiful flowers to provide more seeds for my garden the following summer.

My perspective on how much my small garden can impact life around me has shifted. Small things like planting an organic garden can make a big difference.

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