Dec 142017

Seeds, bee houses and more: Tips for what to put under the Christmas tree

If you have someone on your Christmas list who would rather spend time in the garden than head to the mall, who prefers nature books to the latest novel, and who wants to support conservation and environmental education, you might be looking for some gift ideas this holiday season. The good news is that there are some wonderful options. Better still, most have a local flavour.

Seed Packages

In its ongoing effort to promote the creation of pollinator gardens throughout Peterborough and the Kawarthas, the Peterborough Pollinators has undertaken a special seed project called “Rewilding Our Gardens”. They have prepared gift bags containing seven seed envelopes of pollinator-friendly plants: Bee Balm, Borage, Bachelor Buttons, Calendula, Cosmos, Mexican Sunflower, and Zucchini Squash. The package also includes a beautifully illustrated story guide, along with planting instructions. Each plant has a story to tell, whether it is ecological, spiritual, medicinal or culinary. Bee Balm, for example, can be used to make a wonderful potpourri, thanks to its Earl Grey tea aroma. It is also a magnet for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Zucchini blossoms attract squash bees, the males of which crawl inside the flowers in the afternoon and fall fast asleep!

Last year, the Pollinators produced a beautiful calendar, which also served as a pollinator garden and backyard nature information resource. This year’s seed project is more of a direct action phase, by making it easy and inexpensive for people who have never planted a pollinator garden before. The seeds can also be used to enhance an existing garden. We can all make a difference in reversing the decline in many pollinator populations by growing plants that provide the pollen and nectar on which these species depend. In fact, cities are becoming places of refuge for pollinators, with urban gardens supporting healthy pollinator populations.

Planting a pollinator garden is a wonderful way to get children interested in nature and conservation. These gardens also enrich family life as parents and children alike discover the fascinating and beautiful insects that come to visit. Pollinator gardens also contribute to a sense of community in neighbourhoods, as people can come from all sorts of backgrounds but still find common ground over what’s happening in their garden.

Peterborough Pollinators is looking forward to hearing the stories that come from people’s experiences with planting these seeds and making their own gardens, be it in a schoolyard, in pots on the deck or balcony or as part of an existing perennial or vegetable garden. The seed packages are available in Peterborough at the GreenUP Store, Kawartha Local Marketplace, Avant-Garden Shop and Bluestreak Records. You can also purchase them in Lakefield at Happenstance Books and Yarn. At only about $12 per bag, this is a great stocking stuffer. It is also affordable for students and for kids wondering what to buy their mom or dad.

Bee houses

Another way to support our declining pollinator populations is to provide nesting sites for native solitary bees, all of which are important pollinators. There are about 300 species in Ontario alone. These bees have been here for thousands of years – well before the first settlers brought over the European honey bee. They are called “solitary” bees, because they live on their own and don’t form colonies with a queen and workers like honey bees and bumble bees. Most nest in small tunnels in the ground, but some choose the hollow stems of dead plants or holes in wood. Many species are very small and not easily recognizable as bees. Each female builds her own nest, collects her own nectar and pollen and lays her own eggs. She will then usually use mud or leaves to build walls and divide the tunnel into a series of sealed cells. Each cell contains an egg, along with a deposit of pollen for food. And, no, solitary bees are not aggressive. Even if you were to grab one and squeeze, you would barely feel the sting.

Because solitary bees don’t travel more than 500 metres between their nesting site and food sources, an important part of supporting our local pollinator population is to ensure that they have a place to nest. Stem- and hole-nesting bees will readily use an artificial bee house – or “bee B&B” if you want to be cute about it. A variety of bee houses can be found at Avant-Garden Shop on Sherbrooke Street, just west of George, and at Kawartha Local Marketplace at 165 King Street in downtown Peterborough. The bee houses at Kawartha Local are built by Three Sisters, a social enterprise founded by three Peterborough women who are passionate about native gardens and plants. They are made of reclaimed wood and finished with a natural, non-toxic stain to ensure a safe and long-lasting nesting site. Three Sisters has created a selection of houses to choose from, each of which accommodates different species or combinations of species of solitary bees.


If you would prefer to make a donation in someone’s name this holiday season, consider Peterborough GreenUp. They are raising money for the construction of a new Children’s Education Facility in 2018. Your donation will also ensure that GreenUP’s renowned environmental programs will continue for years to come. With any donation of $30 or more, you will receive a puppet to give to the little nature lover on your list!

You might also consider donating money to groups such as Kawartha Land Trust, which is in the business of protecting habitat. Pressure on habitat in the Kawarthas is expected to increase exponentially with the completion of Highway 407 to Highway 115 by 2020.

Camp Kawartha, too, is an excellent organization to keep in mind. Both the Camp and Environment Centre, which is located on Pioneer Road, depend largely on contributions from individuals and businesses to provide their award-winning outdoor education and environmental programming. As a teacher, I took my students to Camp Kawartha for over 20 years and, even now, they often tell me that it was one of the most memorable experiences of their school years.


In just the past few years, a number of excellent books on pollinators and pollinator gardening have been published. Some of my favourites include “Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies and Other Pollinators” by Rhonda Fleming Hayes, “The Bee Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity” by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn, “100 Plants to Feed the Bees: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive” by the Xerces Society, “Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants” by Heather Holm and “The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees” by Joseph Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril.

You will also find lots of pollinator games and activities for children in “The Big Book of Nature Activities: A Year-round Guide to Outdoor Learning”, which I co-authored with Jacob Rodenburg. The book also contains instructions for building bee houses and creating your own pollinator garden. If you are new to the Kawarthas or new to nature observation, you might also be interested in my 2012 book entitled “Nature’s Year: Changing Seasons in Central and Eastern Ontario”. The book is an almanac of key events occurring in nature each month – often in your own backyard – and covers birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, invertebrates, plants, fungi, weather and the night sky. My goal in writing the book was to help people to become more attentive to and appreciative of the many wonders of the natural world that surround us in this exceptional region of Ontario. Both of these books are available at the GreenUp Store and Avant-Garden Shop. You will also find “The Big Book of Nature Activities” at Chapters, Kawartha Local Marketplace, Hunter Street Books and Happenstance in Lakefield.