Friday, May 17, 2019

Operation Bumble Bee Nest Relocation

 What a beautiful evening to go rescue some baby bumble bees! As I wait at this bus stop on Main Street, I'm thinking about what a fun mission my friend Sarah Johnson and I have taken on: relocating a bumble nest from an apartment balcony and moving them to our back yard. The owner of the balcony put out a call for help on Instagram. She had opened up a piece of sod rolled up in a plastic tarp and found some buzzing critters. From the photo, I could tell that a bumble bee queen had made her nest in the cavity formed inside the sod and there were already a small group of female worker bees busy gathering pollen to feed to their baby sisters. How exciting!

Sarah and I put our heads together and came up with a plan. She suggested we move the bees at night because all the workers are home asleep, so no one would get lost because they were out foraging. Alexandria Farmer (a bumble bee nesting specialist who currently works at Mount Royal University as a senior lab instructor) had advised her to bring a big Rubbermaid container and some duct tape. I rounded up a couple of beekeeping suits, so we wouldn't get stung. I asked "M" if I could come earlier in the afternoon to photograph the bees. She graciously gave me permission to access to the balcony. With "M" and her wee dog safely behind the door,  I gingerly unwrapped the tarp and saw a lovely little nest of Bombus mixtus bees. As you can see, they are tending the wax pots where the queen lays her eggs and the workers feed the larvae pollen. They are also making a wax roof over the cavity for extra protection. One worker was digging, perhaps to make the cavity a bit larger. Bumblebee nests can only grow as large as the cavity the queen has chosen to nest in. (This is why they don't tend to last to long if they nest in small bird houses. They simply outgrow the space.)

I took several photographs and then two of the bees suddenly flew up at me. I brushed them off, but they did not sting. Still, I got the message, so I closed up the tarp and headed back inside.

I had imagined we would need to cut the bees out of the larger piece of sod to put it in a wooden bumble bee nesting box, but Sarah suggested a much simpler solution. I went home to fetch the bee suits and returned after sunset to meet Sarah at "M"'s house.  And here we are, dressed in our gear.

As you can see, the appropriate footwear is very important in these situations!

Sarah took a look at the size of the turf and suggested we simply lift it into the plastic container. On the count of three we heaved it into the box. It was very awkward and heavy, but no bees flew out at all, so the nests Sarah brought were not needed, and the bee suits were total overkill. Bombus mixtus are known for their gentle temperament. Sarah taped up the container, and we barely even heard a buzz coming from the nest.

 We carried the box to the truck of Sarah's car and bid adieu to "M" who can now enjoy her balcony with her pup and not worry about getting stung or disturbing the flight path of the bees.

 By now it was very dark and I couldn't find a flashlight with working batteries, so Sarah had to use the flashlight on her cell phone to carry the box with the help of my husband to a stump under our lilac tree in the back yard. We removed the lid so they could acclimatize to their new home. In the morning, each bee would take an orientation flight to be able to find her way back to the nest. They didn't have to fly far, as the black cap raspberries are blooming just a few feet away from their new home. Peter fashioned a roof for the box to keep off the rain.

We asked "M" what name we should give to the bumblebees. She is a fan of the mystic and herbalist Hildegard von Bingen, so we have named them the Bingen Bumbles. Here's one of the workers gathering pollen from the black raspberry flowers. I checked on the nest and the workers have continued to make the little wax roof. I'm so happy we could adopt this lovely nest! And we'll have more berries than ever this summer!!!!

Sarah Johnson is working on a PHD studying bumble bees in British Columbia at Simon Fraser University. You can follower her adventures on Instagram @manysarahs. She's also got a fantastic Twitter feed @manysarahs . You can also follow my adventures and misadventures on Instagram @beespeaker.

If you listened to my interview on North by Northwest on CBC radio, I mentioned some great plants to grow for PNW native bees: salal, kinnikinnik, Oregon grape, nodding onion, chives, garlic chives, anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and Persion cat mint (Nepeta cultivars). For more info on plants for bees check out my book Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to Saving the Bees.

I’ll be giving a talk for Salmonberry Days on Tuesday, May 28 at 7:30 pm at the Dunbar Community Centre in Vancouver (4747 Dunbar Street). There’s a $5 drop-in fee for those people who aren’t members of the Dunbar Garden Club and I’ll have some books on hand for sale for $25 (cash only). Please spread the word and check out the other awesome events at the festival!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Post Cards From Oregon Day 2

It was very restorative to spend time in my host's garden admiring the spring blooms and chasing bees with my camera. These are the blossoms of a fruit-bearing quince. I never saw bees in them, but there was almost constantly and hummingbird feeding in the flowers and then zipping up to the evergreen tree that loomed above. I wondered if there might be a nest up there.

These plum blossoms were very popular with bees. On the first sunny day, there were tiny mining bee males lekking around the blossoms.

 The gardening seminar I was speaking at was called "Fertilize your Mind". Awesome title!

I got shivers when I saw this beautiful sign outside the door of the room I was speaking in. My surname means "willow" in German, so this plant figures in my lineage.

This signage was so inspiring! It seemed so appropriate to be celebrating gardening in this context.

And anyone who's had to soothe a teething baby, you know how brilliant this willow rattle idea is!

This is a plant I don't have much experience with, but I'm very intrigued to get to know it.

This is the view from the casino.

The building itself is dedicated to the people that fought to have their nation officially recognized by the American government. I found this very moving. There is a mini-museum in the foyer which describes the values of the Coquille Nation.

This is the installation outside the cedar room.


There were display tables created by local businesses and community groups.

 And free seed catalogues!!!!!

Attended a wonderful talk by Emily Stimac on themed herb gardens. Definitely have to visit The Thyme Garden some day. And Rich Little enlightened us on the truth behind several gardening myths.

It was lovely to meet so many passionate gardeners!!!

Here's hoping the language and dialogue around the local native plants will reawaken, flourish, and thrive.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Post Cards from Southern Oregon: Day 1

It's bee a few days since I got back to a trip to Oregon to do a couple of bee gardening talks, and I'm still on a high for meeting such warm, generous people and seeing some gorgeous scenery and of course, beeyoootiful Oregon bees! Not realizing how remote the community I was going to was, I probably could have simplified my travel plans, but anyway, let's say it involved planes, trains and automobiles! Anyway, I was happy to have a lovely Master Gardener with insider knowledge take me to the Bandon Fish Market where I saw my first Oregon bumblebee of the season noshing on the nectar of a pink flowering rosemary bush right outside the door of the fish and chip shop!

Bandon is a quaint fishing village that reminded me of Steveston, south of Vancouver, BC. There are lots of cute shops and I spent some time shopping in the local bookstore/gift shop Winter River Books and Gallery stocking up on souvenirs and guides to Oregon flora and fauna. I also bought a "bee themed" tea towel.

Of course, the inside joke is not one of those insects is a bee. They are all bee-mimicking flies! Well the illustrator has done such a great job depicting the flies I had to buy it!

I love the idea of having a picnic shelter for inclement days. You can look out at the water and scarf down your ling cod when the chip shop is packed to the gills with hungry locals and tourists.

One of my favorite parts of traveling is getting a secret peek into people's gardens, so I was thrilled to see these lovely starts in the gardener's porch. Isn't this a sweet spot?!

I was also introduced to an invasive species of allium. These are three-cornered leeks (Allium triquetrum) from Europe. Apparently some local foragers had discovered them and were harvesting them from this vacant lot.

Which is a good thing, because look at how they've taken over this site. We were wondering if they feed any bees. There is also a terrible problem with scotch broom and gorse here, much like Vancouver Island. (So don't plant three-cornered leeks on the Island!)

 The gardeners had brought some of their beloved succulents up from their yard in California.

I also got a peek at the Bandon Good Earth Community Garden.

It seems cinder blocks are popular for making raised beds here because of how much rain they get.

The willows were blooming their hearts out here. And we are talking a HUGE volume of bee forage in this area.

This is a variety of Ceanothus that was growing by the community garden. I love these tiny leaves!
After my tour, I went to my motel and had a lovely meal in Coos Bay looking over at the water. Two  rainbows appeared as an end brackets to my lovely day in southern coastal Oregon.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Magnolia Mating Madness!

As I was coming back from a visit to Camosun bog, I noticed several male bees flying around the blossoms of a pink star magnolia tree, so I stopped to take a closer look.

The blossoms had a spicy floral scent that reminded me of lilies. Usually it's so hard to photograph these little male mining bees, but this time there were several who stopped to sun themselves on the petals. Maybe they were as entranced by the fragrance of the flowers as I was!

The males are thinner and more delicate than the females. They have longer antennae and cute yellow markings on the part of their face called the "clypeus".

As soon as a female arrives on the petal, all the males head straight to her. Male bees hover around the blossoms waiting to pounce on females. This behavior is called lekking. The fastest males with the best endurance win the genetic race.

Next thing you know, the bees are makin' whoopee!

. . . And more whoopee. Or should I say "whoopbee"?!

The strange this is I never see bees foraging in magnolia, and the females don't seem to be going into the flowers for pollen or nectar, so this is a bit of a mystery.

Mining or ground nesting bees  often nest right under their preferred food source. Have you seen bees foraging in magnolia?

Those little sideways eyebrows on the female bee tell us it is a species of Andrena bees.

I noticed some little yellow spots on the petals. This looks suspiciously like bee poop. Maybe that's why the males were pausing on the flowers! Not as romantic as I thought!

Does that look like bee poo to you? You can also see how the light reflects from the petals, creating a sparkling effect. It's likely nice and warm on the petals, which is another reason the males like to sun themselves on the surface.

This male was sunning himself on the ground, waiting for the females to come down and enter their nests. He's got his own lekking technique.

The ground underneath the tree was scrappy and sandy. Apparently it's just what these bees like!

And here you can see the tumulus around the nest hole where the soil has been excavated. I see them as miniature Bugs Bunny holes.

So the next time you stop to smell the magnolias, look for bees makin' whoopee and poopin' on the petals! And watch where you step, because there might be bees underfoot.