There hasn’t been this much buzz around the Toronto Botanical Garden since it first opened to the public in 1956.
If one listens carefully amidst the flora, one might even bee-able to hear what it’s all about.
Tucked inside the garden lies a small colony of bees added this spring to allow visitors to connect to nature and the food chain, said Liz Hood, the botanical garden’s director of education.
“We wanted to raise the ecological literacy of Torontonians,” she said.
The program proved to be more popular than expected. It sold out within three weeks and there’s a waiting list for next year, said Hood.
The Urban Bee Keeping Series consists of six sessions that teaches the skills needed to build and maintain a beehive in a city setting. The sweetest session is when the participants get to harvest honey from the hives, bottling it for their own use or for sale by the botanical garden.
Behind their well-known role as honey producers is a family of species whose role merits more appreciation than is often given. Bees are pollinators and trees, flowers, fruits and nuts all rely on their special skills.
Hood said many people don’t realize that bees are a part of our entire ecosystem. Many green valleys in the city depend on bees for pollination. The Don and the Humber are two natural corridors supported by the bees.
Riding on those wings as a budding apiarist is Anna Silverstein, also a member of the Toronto Beekeepers Co-operative.
Her interest in the insects developed out of her love for honey and a fascination with hive behaviour.
“I took a course in university and I learned about different animal behaviours, but I found the bees the most exciting.”
However, in recent years, the bee population has been hit hard. Scientists are baffled by a condition referred to as colony collapse disorder.
It’s linked to chemicals that affect the bees neurological system, said Mylee Nordin, a staff member of the beekeepers co-operative.
“The bees can’t find their way back home leaving the Queen and the younger bees behind and if you have that imbalance the bees can’t sustain themselves,” she said.
While the exact causes remain a mystery many experts suspect industrial scale farming, disease, climate change and pesticide use could be contributing factors to their decline.
The plight of bees is one reason why the botanical garden introduced its first beekeeping and hive-building program. It also aims to provide urban dwellers interested in this archaic skill a venue to learn the trade.
“Beekeeping skills have gone out of fashion,” Hood said. “So we provide that training and opportunity in the city.”
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