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A lesson on bees before the Rotary Club spelling bee

by Susan Chan

It was a lesson in bees before the spelling bee.

Members of the Peterborough Junior Field Naturalists, led by Neil Fortin, and a representative of the Rotary Club of Peterborough’s Spelling Bee committee, Kim Zippel, met at the home of Susan Chan of Farms at Work in Selwyn this past Sunday for a nest-building bee.

The six elementary school children and their parents/grandparents spent the afternoon building simple nests for solitary bees out of the hollow stems of the invasive plant, Phragmites australis.

The activity began with a walk to the back of the property on snowshoes provided by Camp Kawartha to harvest the stems.

Zippel explained about the invasive nature of Phragmites australis in wetlands and about proper disposal of the seed heads. The crew of children and adults cut two large bundles of stems, many of them six to eight-feet long, and took them back to a workspace in the barn.

Children and adults teamed up to cut the stems into six to eight-inch lengths and then bound the stems into bundles using biodegradable binder twine from hay bales.

The result was a totally biodegradable “condo” for solitary bees.

This activity brought children together to raise awareness about the endangered Rusty-patched Bumble Bee and other solitary native bees, many of which nest in hollow or pithy plant stems and are responsible for much of the pollination of native plants and many agricultural crops.

However it also had another purpose: These junior naturalists managed to make more than 25 solitary bee nests, most of which will be available for sale to Rotary Club members and others to raise money for another bee – the Rotary Club Spelling Bee, happening in area schools for grades four to six (Junior Division) and seven and eight (Senior Division) on Saturday, May 10 at Fleming College.

You can learn more about the Spelling Bee on the Spelling Bee page of the Rotary Club of Peterborough’s website at

To purchase one of these solitary bee nests, contact Kim Zippel at For more information about the activities of the Peterborough Field Naturalists, contact

If you’d like to know more about native solitary bees, visit Farms at Work’s library at to access a copy of The Landowner’s Guide to Conserving Native Pollinators in Ontario or other useful publications.

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