No green thumb? Don’t fret, the buzz is you can still help the bees

A yellow-banded bumblebee. photo by Maureen Strickland

by Maureen Strickland

MANITOULIN—Pollinator gardens and No Mow May are popular ways to help bees but the click of a camera or a messy garden can also make a difference.

“There is a misconception that just the honey bees are in trouble but we need to know how we can help the native bees,” says Ted Smith, adding that native bees do a better job of pollinating plants.

Mr. Smith, also known as Farmer Ted, practices ethical and ecological farming on Union Road in Western Manitoulin.

On his farm Mr. Smith makes a concerted effort to use practices like minimal tilling, leaving strips of vegetation between rows and growing bee friendly plants to help native bees thrive.

Mr. Smith notes this is working since he has many native bees on his farm.

One of Mr. Smith’s summer goals is to see how many native bumble bees he can identify. There could be up to 19 different types of native bees on Manitoulin Island.

A North American program called Bumble Bee Watch encourages just this sort of identification activity.

Anyone can participate by snapping a photo of their backyard bees and then uploading the picture through the Bumble Bee Watch website. The final identification is made by bee experts.

Bee photography tips include parking yourself by an open flower and waiting for the bees to come to you.

“Taking photos of the bees from different angles also helps to identify them,” said Mr. Smith, who is also a photographer.

Wildlife Preservation Canada is one of the Canadian partners in bumble bee watch. Sarah MacKell is the lead biologist with their native pollinator initiative.

“Bee experts cannot be everywhere. They often study a very local area, so people taking photos of bees can make a real impact,” said Ms. MacKell noting that, “there are no reports from Manitoulin Island to Bumble Bee Watch.”

Manitoulin Island has a bee that is of special concern, said Ms. MacKell, the yellow-banded bumble bee, Bombus terricola to be exact.

By participating in Bumble Bee Watch, gaps in information about the yellow-banded bumble bee, along with other native bees, are filled. 

This information can lead to decisions by governments and researchers to do more to protect the bees and help them thrive. 

Besides taking photos, Seija Deschenes, project coordinator at Manitoulin Streams, says another way to help the bees if you don’t have a green thumb is to hold off cleaning and raking your yards until well into June.

Ms. MacKell agrees. “Messy gardening helps bees.”

Because native bees nest in the ground leaving patches of bare soil, tall grass and brush piles helps native bees find nesting and overwintering sites.

For more information on Bumble Bee Watch and to start uploading bee photos go to

For more information about the yellow-banded bumble bee go to