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News Maryland Baltimore City

Bee conscious of what you plant

As Nathan Reid wandered around his Canton neighborhood, he saw threats everywhere.

Empty tree wells, weedy window boxes and flowers that bloomed and died before the end of summer — unkind conditions for the fuzzy, buzzing set.

"I want homeowners to become more conscientious gardeners," he told a room full of his neighbors Sunday afternoon. "Honeybees depend on it."

The honeybee enthusiast — or honeybee steward, as he prefers to be called — gathered about 30 people in the basement of a church to emphasize the need to save the insects, which not only produce honey, but also pollinate plants and help in the growing of close to a third of the world's crops.

Habitat loss is one reason the bees' survival is threatened, and if enough city dwellers did their part on their little patches or containers of earth, perhaps the bees would have a better shot at food-generating lives, he said.

Grow native perennials and fruit trees that attract bees, avoid annuals that don't bloom over sustained periods and keep away from anything treated with pesticides, Reid, 26, told the crowd. He went on to add that native varieties of plants would add beauty to the community and require less water than non-native plants.

Those who are really ambitious could also tackle the empty lots and tree wells in the community, he said. Then, if all goes according to Reid's match-making plans, neighborhood cultivators could hook up with beekeepers who would supply pollinators to local gardens. Another possible side benefit: a jar of honey. He calls this his Urban Honeybee Project.

Some of those who attended the seminar said they wanted to see what they could do to help save bees, in the news lately because colonies have been collapsing due to pests, pesticides, urban creep and other yet unexplained reasons.

"I'm helping, but not as much as I should," said Kristin Bailey, who has lived in Canton for more than seven years and grows flowers and vegetable in her yard. "I didn't think about my front yard. I have annuals and maybe one perennial."

After listening to Reid, she said she'd investigate which perennials are appropriate for Baltimore and the bees.

Jill Collier, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than five years, also wanted to know what she could do for bees. She said her whole block is filled with fruit trees and perennials that she now believes may be benefiting more than her view.

"I wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing," she said.

That's what Reid was hoping for when he decided to take his message to the community. He hung fliers in shops to advertise, luring almost four times the number who signed up for the last Backyard Beekeeping class taught at the Community College of Baltimore County. Two other classes were canceled for lack of enrollment.

Reid studied bees at the University of Maryland, College Park, and has worked as a lab assistant and apiary technician, though he's had had a series of day jobs including one as a table games dealer. Mainly he learned about bees from his father, Steve Reid. The elder Reid lives in Catonsville and provides property where his son keeps bees.

City and county regulations require certain setbacks for those who want to keep bees on their properties, and the younger Reid said he's willing to help his neighbors navigate the rules and learn the ropes. The efforts will help him earn his master bee keeping certification, in addition to supporting his interest, he said.

Certification comes from the Eastern Apicultural Society of North America, the nation's largest noncommercial beekeeping organization, which lists about a dozen master beekeepers in the state and about 145 across the country.

The group and Reid warn the nation could feel a real sting from bees — if they disappear.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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