Introducing Bee Friendly Farming
Kim Fellows for Seeds of Diversity Magazine, 2012
Pollination Canada, a project of Seeds of Diversity, is proud to announce its participation in Bee Friendly Farming® (BFF).
Bee Friendly Farmers are those who support bees on any scale of landscape: farms, ranches, businesses, school groups, gardens, beekeeping, local governments, non-profit organizations, on both private and public grounds. The BFF initiative encourages growers to improve the health of bees, just about our most important pollinators. If you self-certify as a Bee Friendly Farmer, you may display the BFF logo on your shingle, products, or services. Even if you are not considering self-certification now, you can use BFF resources to increase awareness and recognize the best management practices for both managed and native species of bees.
Why Bee Friendly Farming
The widely-reported disappearance of honeybees, colony collapse disorder (CCD), brought public attention to the issues facing both the honeybee industry and native pollinators. Hives that were lost to CCD generally faced nutritional stress due to a lack of access to a wide variety of plants that provide food, called forage. Another common factor in the decline of native bee populations is lack of habitat; that is, land available for them to make nests. This decline of forage and habitat is due to three main reasons: 1) increased urbanization, 2) agricultural practices such as monoculture (growing hundreds of acres of just one crop; for example, almonds), and 3) the use of chemical pesticides.
Every third bite of food or sip that meets your lips depends on pollination. Bees do the majority of the work, pollinating around 30% of the crops produced in the world. Crops aside, pollinators also enable up to 75% of the earth’s flowering species to propagate, ensuring natural diversity and providing food for much of our wildlife.
How Bee Friendly Farming works
Bees and plants have co-evolved to achieve the most efficient pollen transfer. Thus, the use of native plants to sustain native bee populations makes a lot of sense. Planting native species that provide nectar and pollen all season long, especially in early spring and late autumn, help ensure that bee populations thrive. Bee Friendly Farmers establish at least 12 varieties of native plants over the growing season. The Evergreen Native Plant database and the North American Native Plant Society database are two useful resources to find which native plants will bloom best for you.
Considering bee sensitivities to pesticide and other chemical applications is another step to bee recovery. Bee Friendly Farmers either don’t use chemicals or sparingly and prudently use them (e.g., spraying at night when bees are inactive). Pesticides and other chemicals do not have a proven record of being specific to their targets. For example, even the residue of chemically treated seeds (usually coloured pink) found in soil dust can be lethal to bees.
Becoming familiar with bee nesting habits and adjusting such agricultural practices as mowing and tilling allow native bee habitats to flourish. Bee Friendly Farmers minimize tillage, as 70% of native bees nest in the ground. Many Bee Friendly Farmers stagger cover crop mowing, so that the plants continue to provide bee forage before the plants produce unwanted seeds. As a gardener, if you can decrease your use of landscape fabric and mulch, you will increase the surface area available for bee nests. There are also lots of creative designs using natural materials to construct native bee nests (visit our website for ideas).
Bee Friendly Farmers allow at least 6% of their total acreage to provide clean water, nesting sites, and natural forage for native bees through the use of field edges, cover crops, hedge rows, fence rows, windbreaks, set-aside acres, road and canal berms, utility easements, and other features.
How to become a Bee Friendly Farmer
By completing the 10-part questionnaire at PFSPBees and paying a small annual fee, you can become a self-certified Bee Friendly Farmer and display the BFF logo. Or you can help by purchasing local produce bearing the BFF logo; plant bee-beneficial forage plants on your farm, in your garden, and on school grounds, parks, and other public lands; be aware of pollinators when applying pesticides (or better yet, do not use them); and invite beekeepers to place their hives on your land if you have safe bee forage. Beekeepers can also help in two other important ways; 1) by encouraging growers to participate in the BFF program, and 2) by becoming BFF-certified and displaying the BFF logo on their own websites.
BFF was launched in California in late 2009 by executive director and founder of Partners for Sustainable Pollination (PFSP), Kathy Kellison. Kathy established PFSP in an effort to improve the health of honeybees in pollination services, focused primarily on identifying, increasing, and enhancing bee forage in the US. BFF grew from the idea that to accomplish the PFSP goals would take more than the beekeepers, scientists, government agencies, growers, and other land managers involved. To sustain bee populations, citizens from all walks of life must help raise public awareness about pollinator habitat needs and encourage consumers and businesses to reward bee friendly growers and local beekeepers by purchasing farm products bearing the BFF logo.
Pollination Canada learned about the BFF program in October 2011 in Washington, DC, at the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) Conference, an annual gathering of scientists, pollinator experts, beekeepers, officials from all levels of government, and other interested persons from the US, Canada, and Mexico. There we met farmer Paul Kaiser, a passionate and articulate supporter of the BFF initiative and one of the first farmers in the US to certify. He is eager to see BFF expand in North America.
Paul runs a nine-acre Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation with his wife, Elizabeth, in Sebastopol, northern California. The goal of their property, Singing Frogs Farm, is to provide a variety of fresh
organic produce to their loyal customers and to sustain local populations of native bees, in addition to their own managed honeybees.
Paul created hedgerows of perennials amongst his crops, planting hundreds of native flora (up to 2,500) that flower in rotation, providing the necessary forage for native bees all year long. A large diversity of flora keeps bees strong and healthy, in the same way that a diversity of fresh fruit and vegetables helps keep humans healthy. Singing Frogs Farm is host to native bee nests installed by Paul and his family. He generally mows his cover crops in thirds or sections to allow for as much bee forage as possible from spring to winter. His no-till and no-tractor techniques cause very little ground disturbance, allowing the soil to be used for native bee habitats.
Paul won the 2010 Farmer Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award, sponsored by NAPPC and the National Association of Conservation Districts. The award is part of an international effort to promote awareness of pollinators, including birds, bees, bats, butterflies, and beetles.
BFF in Canada
Today, over 15 Canadian Bee Friendly Farmers have self-certified. One is Broadfork Farms, proudly owned by Shannon Jones and Bryan Dyck, who grow vegetables and some fruit, including melons, strawberries, apples, and low-bush blueberries, on two acres of their 15-acre property in River Hebert, Nova Scotia. Two hives of honeybees reside in a patch of thyme. Following the principles of biodynamics, Shannon and Bryan minimize their interference in the hives and do not use smoke on their bees. Gunther Hauk’s book Toward Saving the Honeybees is a favoured book on their shelf. These farmers avoid using pesticides on their produce and, aware of underground bee nests, they minimize tilling and tractor use.
Shannon and Bryan plant insectary strips (areas that attract beneficial insects) among their crops, which includes such self-seeding annuals as dill, fennel, and marigolds. Flanking their crops, hedgerows are natural unmown native areas near waterways, where they may introduce some perennials, such as lupine and globe thistle. Last year, Shannon was delighted to see three kinds of bees busy on one globe thistle. Permanent pathways of clover and buckwheat have been planned to weave through their land.
Shannon and Bryan are considering growing some crops for seed, providing their pollinators with forage. Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, wrote that “For bees, the flower is the fountain of life. For flowers, the bee is the messenger of love.” There may be more stories of love yet to emerge from Broadfork Farm, as they hope to host “weed-dating”, in which singles gather to help clear the farm of weeds.
We invite you to visit Pollination Canada’s website and browse our resources to help the bees, which in turn will help you and your own thriving crops and gardens.