Spare the dandelions, save the bees

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You might be sick of the bright yellow flowers all over your lawn, but the president of the PEI Beekeeper’s Association hopes you will leave the dandelions alone.

Bees need dandelions and people need bees, David MacNearny explains.

“Dandelions are important for the local ecosystem because they are the first source of pollen and nectar for bees at this time of year,” he said. “Honeybees need pollen for protein to raise young, so to build a bee population they need protein.”

Dandelions are a pollinator’s best friend because they grow nearly everywhere and flower from spring until fall. A blueberry grower, MacNearny knows the importance of bees as do most farmers. Two thirds of the food we eat – most of the fruits and vegetables  – is pollinated by bees.

“Our diets would be a lot less varied and a lot less interesting without bees.” 

Honeybees are a managed domesticated species. MacNearny provides Island farmers with honeybee hives to help their crops thrive. He follows a carefully choreographed ritual before working with the bees on his Morell blueberry farm: first he zips and velcros himself into a white suit with a screened hood, then he stuffs some grass and twigs into a small tin smoker.

Why use smoke?  “It calms them down," he explains.

On the left is a wooden frame from a bee hive buzzing with bees. On the right is a smoker used to calm bees down.

MacNearny pulls a wooden frame from one buzzing hive and points to some bring orange pollen. This pollen, he says, comes from dandelions. He can tell by the colour. A lighter-coloured pollen is from his blueberry plants.

Early in the year the bees get mostly tree pollens from alders and maples. After that, they really need the pollen from the dandelions.

"It’s the first readily abundant food supply to build a bee population in the spring,” he says.

So how do we protect bees while keeping the curb appeal of our lawns? MacNearny recommends mowing less often and leaving a part of the lawn un-mowed so the bees can have a "dandelion cafeteria."

“Ideally," he said, "an un-manicured lawn would have an abundance of dandelions and other food sources for bees.”

The Government of Prince Edward Island actively supports the protection of our bee population and recognizes its importance to many agriculture crops. The department supports the honey bee industry through hive inspections, extension education, import control through the Bee Health Regulations of the Animal Health and Protection Act and the Queen Bee Replacement Project.

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