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Toronto launches #KissesforBees at city hall

Toronto is buzzing about bees. A new art installation popped up at city hall Friday — a giant pair of red lips with milkweed plants inside of them. The idea is to attract native bee pollinators and promote education around the importance of protecting these buzzing critters.

The City of Toronto, along with Burt’s Bees, Wildlife Preservation Canada, and Live Green Toronto, were at Nathan Philips Square to reveal the art installation and promote bee pollination in the city. “Some people don’t realize how important bees are, but like we heard today, every three mouthfuls of food is pollinated by bees and without them we aren’t eating,” Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon said. “It is important that we plant pollinator gardens and educate people on the importance of bees.”

Sustainable T.O. executed the design of the art installation on behalf of Burt’s Bees and it took a large team to complete the project. “Burt’s Bees created the conceptual image and I worked with a fabricator to produce what we see here,” Environmental Designer at Sustainable T.O. Joel Anderson said. “There is an internal skeleton that supports the design and there are hundreds of hexagonal tubes that formed the shape. Then holes were carved into the installation to put the plants in.”

Pollinators such as bees need native plants to thrive and the entire plant ecosystem depends on bees to grow food and flowers. “There are 15-20 species of bumblebees that are native to Ontario and are currently endangered. There are many species of bees that are crashing and we are trying to stop it. Pollinators are important so that plants can have sex. This is one of the most critical elements of our ecosystem and a lot of plants rely on bees,” Executive Director of Wildlife Preservation Canada Randal Heide said. “Monarch butterflies will also benefit from the milkweed. Unfortunately, farmers hate milkweed and use pesticides to kill it, but disseminate monarch butterflies. In the cities, we have banned these pesticides and we have green spaces. Cities are probably a safer place for bees and butterflies.”

The art installation is a part of a larger campaign that Burt’s Bees is running to promote pollination in Toronto. They have launched the #kissesforbees campaign and for every lipstick sold, their partner Wildlife Preservation Canada will plant 100 wildflowers. The art installation will be featured until the end of June and will then be a part of the pride parade in July.

After that, the perennial milkweed plants will be donated to the David Suzuki Foundation who will distribute them to locations around Toronto to help further promote bee pollination for years to come.

What’s the buzz on bee pollination?

When was the last time you saw a bumble bee? These magnificent yellow and black critters are supposed to fly from plant to plant, pollinating them and allowing these flowers to grow into fruitful crops; but, something has happened. The bees are slowly disappearing — and with them the world’s hope of becoming sustainable.

Broccoli, cantaloupes, cucumbers, pumpkins, blueberries, watermelons, almonds, apples, and cherries are few of many fruits and vegetables that rely on bee pollination to grow. When bees drink nectar from a flower, they brush against the stamens (the male reproductive organ of a flower) and pollen sticks to the hairs on the bee’s body. The bee then transfers the pollen to the stigma (female reproductive organ) of the next flower it visits and fertilization occurs, which creates a fruit with seeds.

Unfortunately, bee populations have been decimated due to genetically modified crops and increased amounts of pesticides used on foods. According to Honeylove, an American urban beekeeper’s non-profit, there were over five million bee colonies after WWII. There are less than half that amount today.

There is also a common misconception that the honey industry actually helps the bees, but this is not the case. Instead, large commercial honey brands use corn syrup to feed the bees instead of letting them keep their honey, and it results in sick colonies that have a lower rate of survival. Honey is also an essential food source for bees to survive in the wintertime and replacing this vital resource with a sugar substitute like corn syrup does not provide bees with nutrients and vitamins they need to pollinate properly. Instead, there are rising occurrences of bee colonies dying off entirely from a corn syrup diet because it lacks the enzymes and nutrients found in honey. If society leaves the bees in their current situation, the insect may go extinct and many of our essential foods will die off permanently with them.

So, what can people do about it? First of all, try planting some bee-friendly plants, vegetables, and fruits in your garden. Bee populations vary depending on their region, and the best way to ensure bees flourish is to plant native plants. Bees thrive with open native blooms where they can access the nectar and carry pollen easily from flower to flower.

bees milkweed
Common milkweed is another affordable and local plant in Ontario.

Second of all, build and hang a bee hotel near the garden. Simply nail together a box with one open side, and fill with blocks of wood or logs that have small holes drilled into them. This provides tunnels for the bees to nest in and wind-protection on the other side. Join a local beekeeper’s group to learn more about bees in your particular region.

Bees plants
Bees love Anise Hyssop Flowers and they are local to Ontario!

Ontario’s ecosystem really does depend on the buzzing creatures — with the world claiming a sustainable future, let’s not forget about these small and easily ignored insects. Not many people enjoy having a buzzing sound in their ear, but without it, the world is so much bleaker.

When was the last time you saw a bee? Let us know in the comments below!