Leafcutter bees were perhaps one of the more unusual purchases at this year’s Canada’s Farm Progress Show.
The Backyard Pollinator intrigued many.
“There’s a need for pollinators in people’s back yards,” said Jed Williams, who sells the bees. “There’s a feel-good about having bees in your yard at the current time because there’s a lot of media hype about bees dying off, which is mostly to do with honey bees and our bees are a leafcutter bee.”
Leafcutters are small and less aggressive than other bees.
Williams and his wife, Kathy, got into the hobby market a couple of years ago when the market for the excess larvae from their commercial bee and alfalfa seed operation crashed. The wholesale seed market also crashed.
“It went from about $130 per (kilogram) to $10 per kilo,” Williams said.
“The Backyard Pollinator has been really good in that people will talk to you about backyard pollinator and then you can introduce them also to our seed sales.
Direct marketing has kept us viable in a time where we would have had to either diversify into something else or go broke.”
The Williamses cut down commercial blocks of larvae to fit into small wooden huts, or bee barns. Two sheltered workshops, Handi-Works in Nipawin and Futuristic Industries in Humboldt, make the pine and cedar houses, respectively.
Customers can buy the bees with a house, or even just take the cardboard box home, open it up and stick the block on a window.
Each unit contains 70 to 100 female bees, compared to the blue huts found in farm fields that contain 80,000 to 100,000 bees.
“But because they are a super pollinator there’s probably enough bees to pollinate your strawberries, raspberries, dandelions and whatever other little flower grows in your yard,” Williams said.
The bees live for about four to six weeks as adults and the rest of the year as larvae. They will overwinter if kept above 0 C but under 15 degrees, although Williams left some out over winter by mistake and they survived -40 C.
“When you see your block is completely full of leaf material, take it in,” he advised. This happens usually around the first frost.
“Generally from May long weekend to September first it can be out and then for the rest of the time it will be in cold storage. Throw it in the fridge. Throw it in the root cellar. Throw it in the semi-heated garage,” he said.
The bees are available online at backyardpollinator.ca and on Facebook.