Toronto’s population of pollinators is in for a freebie: a complimentary stay at a “bee hotel,” thanks to Toronto firm Sustainable.
Built primarily from recycled materials, these bee billets target solitary pollinator bees, which, as their name suggests, do not live communally like honey bees but still play an important role in the pollination process.
The firm’s designs have nabbed a prize in the Homegrown Design Challenge.
The contest is connected to the David Suzuki Foundation’s Homegrown National Park Project, which is trying to crowd-source a green passage along the old Garrison Creek course.
One of the brains behind the project, environmental designer Joel Anderson, showed one of the units currently stationed at Fort York — tent-shaped constructions built out of wooden pallets connected to each other with hinges. The shingles on the roof were found through Kijiji.
“There’s very strict requirements for having a beehive on your property, whereas this is not a hive — it’s just kind of a resting place for those solitary bees,” said Anderson, who together with team member Jamie Kwan did the research, design and construction, collaborating with the Pollinator Partnership, a non-profit organization devoted to protecting and promoting pollinators and pollinators’ ecosystems.
The Fort York models are dubbed “Bee Barracks” to suit the martial setting of the fort.
The two Fort York structures are currently empty but would be filled with the kind of materials solitary bees find inviting, such as hollow stems, bundles of sticks tied with twine and pieces of logs with holes drilled into them.
Solitary bees are not used for the production of honey, but their domesticated cousins have been dying at an alarming rate.
The provincial government announced Monday that it is considering restricting use of neonicotinoid pesticides, thought by some to be negatively affecting bees.
Because of the crucial role bees play in pollination, the project is trying to give the flying insects a boost.
“They’re dying off at a fairly rapid pace, and so raising awareness and kind of doing whatever we can to help the species thrive is the goal of the project,” Anderson said.
Toni Beckmann, president of the Durham Region Beekeepers’ Association, explains that providing a good food source of native plants goes together with offering the bees a desirable habitat.
“It’s wonderful that people are really starting to think about pollinators as opposed to just honey bees,” said Beckmann.
But she says there are all kinds of solitary bees and they require a variety of homes. Beckmann is also skeptical that different species of solitary bees will want to live side-by-side.
But Anderson likens the bees’ living arrangements to condo life. “They’re all close to each other, but they really have no relationship.”
The term “Bee Hotel” was coined from an initial installation they were hired to set up about a month ago on the roof of the Fairmont Royal York hotel — an L-shaped wooden structure full of shelves for the nesting material. Its profile even mimics Toronto’s skyline.
Since their first unit, they’ve installed several others around the Toronto area and even one in Guelph. While they’re not selling these bee dorms to the general public, their winning submission was presented as a do-it-yourself project. Anderson says people can gather the materials in their own neighborhood and backyard.
He says it’s too early to say yet whether bees have moved in, but over the next month or so they’ll probably start checking in on their “hotels.”
“It’s not the one single solution,” Anderson said, “but if everyone contributes and everyone, you know, does their part, then this is one aspect” of helping pollinators thrive.