Thursday, September 19, 2019

Victory Gardens for Bees in Regina!

You’re invited to my talk in Regina, Saskatchewan!!!
Oct 1, 6:30 pm, Regina Public Library Central Branch

Keep them Buzzing: Smart Gardening for Native Bees
It’s more important than ever to get smarter about what we plant to provide native bees with food and nesting material. Lori will share some top tips for growing hardy plants that support several species of bees in your garden. She will show examples of garden projects that will inspire you to create your own oasis for our essential pollinators. Lori will also have copies of her book for sale for $25 each.
Lori Weidenhammer, aka Madame Beespeaker, is a performance-based interdisciplinary artist and educator living in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is originally from a tiny hamlet called Cactus Lake, Saskatchewan. It is in this place, bordered by wheat fields and wild prairie, that she first became enchanted with bees. She is the author of an award-winning book called Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to Saving the Bees published by Douglas and MacIntyre. Lori works with students of all ages on eating locally and gardening for pollinators. On occasion, she likes to dress up in silly costumes and talk to bees.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Ephemeral Nature of Goldenrod

Today I was drawn toward a clump of blossoming Canada goldenrod, glowing bright yellow in the afternoon sun. It was about four feet tall and teeming with insects. There were all kinds of flies, wasps, and bees climbing over the flowers in a feeding frenzy. As I leaned over to get a closer look at the bumblebees, I noticed a subtle herbal aroma. Burying my nose in a cluster of flowers, careful not to get stung, I inhaled its sweet and slightly medicinal scent. Most of the goldenrod I’ve visited in the city is already past its best, the colour faded to dull straw, and the nectar tapped out. These blooms were fresh and vibrant. It’s like I found a secret pocket of high summer on this east Vancouver boulevard. I took a few shots with my camera, but I knew it would fail to capture the dreamlike quality of what I had witnessed.
August in Vancouver is a bittersweet time of the year, when summer seems to be fully arriving and threatening to leave at the same time.  It’s the time when the number of bees and variety of insect species starts to ebb and dwindle as fall approaches. So much of my daily routine is built around exploring the relationships among insects and flowers, that lack of insect floral activity leaves me anxious. Working in the garden helps me internalize this transition into fall. As I begin to harvest spent lavender flowers and the seedpods from nodding onion, I gradually come to terms with the changing of the seasons and the sharp notes of dried plant material that signal the coming cold. Seasons are dynamic in nature, gardens are always in a state of flux, so one must internalize this reality as well. Some days I want to have the superpowers to play with time and to hold onto summer just a bit longer.

August seems to be a particular month when I ritually grieve some personal losses. Last fall, I lost my father, and this month we are taking his ashes home to Saskatchewan. We’ll be seeking a stage of closure to the long process of saying good-bye. There have been other recent losses this summer, and I find myself in a tangle of the weeds of grief. As a part of the healing process, I have been immersing myself in natural settings whenever I can. Being a prairie person, I’m a bit suspicious of forests, but my friend has a cabin on the Sunshine Coast surrounded by some pretty nice looking trees. There are lots of stately Douglas fir and big-leaf maples that ripple and dance in the coastal breezes. On afternoon in early July I stood in a ray of sunlight and watched a tiny object flutter down from the forest canopy. Thinking it was a delicate wind-borne seed, I bent over to examine it. It was the mottled wing of a butterfly. A bird had likely made a meal of the body and clipped off the wings. It was evidence of the cycle of loss and regeneration, gently evoking the bittersweet comfort of the natural order of things.

Grieving is something that happens in private and in public. As social animals, we need to share the experience as a form of affirmation and finding ways to slowly fill the space that our loved one has left in our lives. And our father left a very big space in our hearts. Sharing grief defines grief, gives it the shape and form, the finite qualities we need to see so that we can ultimately let it go. There is a phenology of grief. As we pass through the seasons, memories connected to that time of the year surface, reminding us of the deep connections this person has in our history. As we move into late summer, I am reminded of all the times we celebrated the season by taking photos in fields with the swath and the bales against a deep blue prairie sky. Of course there were family photo ops with crocuses and pussy willows every spring and snowsuits and snow drifts in the winter.

Dad taught me to get outside, take my camera and let my body enjoy the natural sensory delights that surround me. He taught me to connect with people, be fully present with them on everyday activities and special occasions. He taught me to take pictures of the full range of gifts life presents, even if it’s in the metaphorical sense of storing images in your memory rather than on a hard drive. Some images burn themselves onto our heart’s memory even when there is no photographic record. There was an evening in my childhood in deep winter when I lay my snowsuit on my wooden sled, looking up at the stars and thinking how very lucky I was to live in this quiet, beautiful world. There are no photos or videos of this experience, just a really powerful and lasting memory. I can easily recall the fuggy scent of our dog Lunar drooling on me in the front seat of dad’s gas truck, the prickly texture of the sunflower stems in mom’s garden, and finding a white arrow point in the soft sand at the mouth of a gopher hole. These recollections I keep in my heart’s pocket and take them out when I need inspiration and consolation. As we head home to Saskatchewan in another celebrate of dad’s life, we are inspired by him to make every day a celebration of life itself.

I spent many hours in peaceful solitude on the prairie during my childhood, gathering critters from the dugouts to put under a microscope, taking note of the phenology of wildflowers and watching the ground squirrels play hide and seek. But I also spent many hours in the silent company of my father, collecting interesting rocks, driving to ponds to see migrating sandhill cranes and snow geese, and exploring abandoned homesteads. Sometimes dad would just invite me to jump in the car and take me and Lunar on an adventure, without a word of explanation. He’d bring his camera and we’d go look for the horned owl that liked to perch in the window of an empty farmhouse. 

We’d take photos until the sun went over the horizon and we lost the light. I miss his companionship, and think about how he would enjoy the thrum of insects around the purple coneflowers and brown-eyed Susans in the gardens in mid August in Vancouver. In honor of my father, I will stay out until dusk and photograph the bees lay sleeping in their petals until I lose the light. I will walk home, thinking how lucky I am to live in this complex, beautiful world. I will celebrate the ephemeral nature of goldenrod.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Mapping Pollinator Hotspots in the Riley Park Community Garden

What a lovely event we had on a beautiful sunny Saturday with the bees a buzzin' in the community garden. Thanks to everyone who came out and brought such delicious food for the potluck and helps us map the garden! I brought my homemade scones, which I like to to spread with honey or jam and clotted cream.

Before lunch, we had fun looking for bees and wannabees in the garden. I worked with my youngest netter ever---not even three years old. He was so excited about catching bees, which we put into jars for a closer look. But what his favourite thing to do was let the bees go. So I taught him to take the lid off the jar and let the insect fly up and away. This is also a skill! Not many folks can remain calm enough to get the hand of it, but he is gifted. During lunch he kept asking me when we could start "bee-ing" again. So cute! This is my favourite part of what I do--connecting people to nature, especially ones with long lives of exploration ahead of them.

The Hot Spots

# 1  Goldenrod Corner

I made small labels for some of the key pollinator plants that are blooming right now in the garden and we walked around to check which ones were really busy at this time of day (1:30 pm to 3 pm).
Not surprising, the goldenrod on the southeast corner of the garden was probably the hottest spot for pollinator diversity, with many sizes of bees, flies, wasps and beetles in a nectar feeding frenzy. And of course, where there are a lot of insects, there are also those insects that feed on other insects, which is also a part of the healthy biodiversity of the garden.

Eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens)

 Long-horned beetle

Sweat Bee

Small Wasp

There are other plants blooming on Goldenrod Corner that help make this a pollinator hotspot: purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Agastache 'Heatwave' and potentilla. Furthermore, there is exposed soil under these plants where the mining bees are making their nests. It's also a warm and sunny spot, making the nectar flow at midday.

#2 Herb Garden

The herb garden and surrounding beds are also a hot spot, even in mid afternoon when they are in dappled shade. The big patch of pearly everlasting attracts small-ground nesting bees and syrphid flies. There were lots of bald-faced hornets hunting for prey on the lovage, and tiny insects on the flowering parsley. The oregano is very popular with many species of bees, including small leafcutter bees. The borage by the shed is popular with honey bees and bumble bees because it pumps our nectar every five minutes! The mint is also a popular one here.

 #3 Pollinator Border (Central Section)

At this time of the day the central section of the Southern Border is sun-warmed and very active with pollinators. Hummingbirds, bumblebees and honeybee are very attracted to many of the flowers here. The popular plants at this time of the year are the bee balms (Monarda), cat mint (Nepeta), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), tall verbena, fennel, sea holly, sedums, Balkan sage,  and white buddleja. The Persian cat mint on the corner of the beach garden also attracts many honey and bumblebees.

The east end of the pollinator border has persicaria, joe pye weed and snowberry, which are very important pollinator plants for this time of year.

#4 Three Sisters Bed

Bumblebees and hummingbirds love the scarlet runner beans and honeybees and bumblebees love the sunflowers and squash blossoms. A higher number of sunflowers would make this garden more attractive to many species of bees. They are heavy feeders and take lots of nutrients out of the soil. However, they do remediate the soil, taking out toxins.

#5 Medicine Wheel Garden

There are many great pollinator plants in this bed. The persicaria, fireweed, and yarrow are blooming now.

#6 The Espaliered Orchard

There is an eclectic mix of plants here that are blooming while the fruits are forming. The zinnias are and swamp milkweed are much loved by bees and butterflies. Moroccan toadflax is loved by bees that can stick their tongues right into the floral tubes containing nectar. Alyssum is very important for small species of beneficial wasps, flies and bees.

Closing Notes:

Most of the plants in the native gardens have already bloomed and are now producing fruit! I would love to see some native selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) planted around these wild strawberries, replacing the introduced clover. We also need to add some Coreospis grandiflora, native gumweed to the garden because they are the later-blooming native plants that support a wide variety of pollinators. A native clover called Dalea purpurea would also be a great addition.

Finally, another reminder not to plant frilly double flowers that lack nectar and pollen for pollinators who sleep in the flower and need a little sugar boost to get them out and flying again.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this workshop possible! Let's do this again.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Sleepy Agastache Bee

We had a lovely rain and now the sun is out, and that means the bee buns are out!!!!! I had fun visiting the Riley Park Community Garden in preparation for tomorrow's workshop to see who's been sleeping in the garden. This bumblebee is sleeping in the Agastache 'Heat Wave'.

In the garden, it's planted next to a potentilla plant and Canada goldenrod, which also support many beneficial insects. So this is one of the pollinator hotspots we'll be exploring tomorrow in the garden!

Bees also love to sleep on the flat surface of yarrow. With its tiny florets, it's easy for large or small bees to have a drink of nectar when they wake up and resume working.

The scarlet runner beans were also busy with bees, but this fella decided to sun himself for awhile, resting on a leaf. Putting logs and rocks in sunny spots in your garden helps bees and butterfly charge their "solar batteries" and provide lovely places for humans to take a closer look at the beauty of our native pollinators.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Singing the Praises of Midsummer Sedums

It's that time of the year in Vancouver when the midsummer sedums shine. If you have those low-growing drought tolerant ground covers in your garden they will be covered with an amazing variety of bees. You'll likely see more than one species of bumblebee sipping nectar from the small blossoms and using patches of these plants as a highway to travel from one foraging hotspot to another. We have patches of these sedum in the pollinator border and in the fruit tree orchard border where they function very well and look great.

When I took this photo of the ladybug, I didn't even notice there was also a tiny bee foraging in the blossoms too!

 You'll almost always see small leafcutter bees with their furry bellies in these sedum. And where there's a leafcutter bee, there's often cuckoo leafcutter bees alongside them too.

Here's another view of one of the species of tiny bees in the sedum. It's a little sweat bee, with bright yellow "pollen pants".

This yellow-flowering sedum is also attracting leafcutter bees too. Our native Sedum spathulifolium is a lovely choice for a spring-flowering succulent. I also recommend interplanting different varieties of thyme that bloom at slightly different times and attract similar species of bees, creating a positive synergy of bee-supporting habitat. Bees also like to nest in the soil around these plants in the nooks and crannies of the low-growing patchwork. These plants also work well in container gardens.

The taller late-blooming sedums are also an important part of a pollinator garden, supporting late season butterflies and bees. Low maintenance, well-behaved and good food for bees--sedums are something to sing about.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Curry for Bees!

Bees surprise me all the time and today I learned that bees love curry! What I mean is, long-horned female bees seem to love the flowers of the curry plant (Helichrysum italicum). This plant is named for its scent, not its actual use in curry dishes. It's native to the Mediterranean where the plant is used in cuisine, but I've never had much luck cooking with it. The scent seems to disappear when the leaves are heated. Apparently it is used in the perfume industry to "fix" scent. The leaves are pretty and silvery and as you can see, the blossoms are a lovely yellow color. And these Melissodes bees were tucking in!

I'd pretty much given up on it as a bee plant, but these ladies proved me wrong and you'll find it in an herb plot at the Riley Park Community Garden.

You can see how the flowers resemble the centres of this thread-leaved coreopsis, another Melissodes fave.

It also looks like these pearly everlasting blossoms, another plant that Melissodes bees love to feed on. Does this mean we'll see the same insects that like these plants on the curry plants as well? We'll have to look for hover flies like this on the curry blossoms.

This wasp is nectaring on the pearly everlasting. Will we also see this species on the curry plant? Tune in on Saturday for the answers to these questions and more!