Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Little Lamb's Ear Dress

I feel very honored to be one of the women chosen to wear a Little Green Dress made especially for me by a fabulous artist Nicole Dextras. Nicole is making 28 dresses out of local plant materials for her Little Green Dress Projekt for the Earth Art show at VanDusen Gardens. My task was to find the plants to cover the entire dress. What would I choose for materials? For the bulk of the material, I chose Wooly Lamb's Ear or Stachys Byzantin because it's soft, silvery, and seductive. Kids love it and they are amazed when I tell them it used to be used as bandages. In fact, if you get stung by a bee, crush up some plantain, bung it on a big stachys leaf and tie it round the sting.

 I am also fascinated by the wooly carder bees that have claimed my Stachys plant. They are fascinating to watch, but up until today very camera shy. In order to source enough Stachys to cover a dress I asked permission to cut some leaves from the Moberly Community Herb Gardern. The Stachys does very well by this Moroccan Sea Holly and the thread-leaf coreopsis which are both bee magnets.

 I asked friends and colleagues if they had some Lamb's Ear and then I e-mailed a local garden club called Seed to Sky and hit the jackpot!!!! Bags of it landed on my steps. People rang my doorbell and gave me leaves and two people just said I could come to their garden and help myself. Well, I was so excited! Here's some Stachys planted next to rosemary under a tree, which reminds me that Stachys is a plant that does work in partial shade. As I was cutting plants I heard a loud high-pitched whine and what did I see?

For the second time this summer, I witnessed a bumble bee mating frenzy. I counted four (or was it five?) males clinging to this popular queen. She ran around and around and literally climbed the walls until she shook one of the males off and flew away with rest of them still hanging on for dear life.

This is a close-up of what the flowers look like. The weird thing is that the flowers seem to only bloom a few at a time.

 The first time I noticed this plant was at the Salt Spring Yoga Centre. It has a very calming presence on their beautiful grounds. Honey bees do like it too.

 But the male carder bees are anything but calm. They defend the plant from other bees while the females sip nectar and  quietly scratch away the fluff on their leaves for their nests. The males are larger than the females, which explains why I always thought they were two different species.

 Isn't she beautiful? I think her wings are starting to degrade. I'm glad she got lots of sunshine to lay her eggs and make her nest.

So Thursday I get to wear the Little Lamb's Wool Dress to the opening and then it will be on display at the gardens for the rest of the show while it dries and disintegrates. I hope you get a chance to get up to the gardens to see Nicole's amazing work and do check out her Little Green Dress blog and her artist blog.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jelly Belly Bees in Vancouver

 I perceive that we are in the middle of what beekeepers would call a high summer nectar flow. The honeybees are really ramping up their foraging and some late season native bees are also highly active. This is a tiny native bee in a thread leaf coreopsis flower at 9:45 am. It has a really big head in proportion to its body and I think it's scopa is located soley on the abdomen, making it a member of the megalachidae family. It was a very methodical bee, circling around from floret to floret sipping nectar, with a bit of wiggling up and down in the abdomen. I find that the megalachide tend to have very mobile abdomens, which makes sense as it is their means of gathering pollen. Megachilidae have been nicknamed "jelly belly" bees because of the bright patches of pollen on their bellies. In my little one foot diameter patch of coreopsis there were at least two of these bees.

You can see here her legs are quite thin-looking and not fluffy and coated with pollen as is the case with some small native bees. Her antennae are down and she is incredibly focused.

 I have been researching European wool carder bees, since they have moved in to my garden and monopolized the wooly lamb's ear plant (Stachys Byzantina). You can see it here in a dry, sunny spot behind my rhubarb.

 I watched the bees in the morning and when the plant was in the shade they hung out on the neighboring borage leaves to catch the sun, but as soon as the sun warmed the lamb's ear they were in like Flynn. Honey bees and bumble bees tend to go around and pollinate all the flowers on one plant but these carder bees would take a sip from one flower and then fly up over my roof and away. Males would hang out on the leaves and wait to defend their territory. They will bump other bees out of the flowers. Meanwhile the much smaller female bees were quietly rubbing the fur off the stems. You can see in this photo of the leaf patterns of fluff removal. You may even find this fluff in your mason bee condo.

The flowers of stachys are unassuming, but they are similar to this bee plant that's blooming now: dragonshead.

I noticed this lovely mass of creeping germander along a neighbor's sidewalk which has a similar morphology in the blossoms but lacks the fuzz on the foliage. I did see some wool carder bees in these plants too.

Here's another plant with purple flowers with bilateral symmetry of the about the same size as the stachys and germander: a sage I didn't save the name of. . . I bought it on a whim and the bumble bees and honey bees love it.

 After my daily bee-watching, I set off to the Kits Farmer's market in search of millet stems. I found some millet in this bouquet at Choices Market on 16th. It comes with a free honey bee!

This organic bouquet is from Bathtub Gardens in Pemberton which is the same flower stall that sells the millet stems at Kits Market! I rushed to the market, got there five minutes before it closed and bought some beautiful millet. Who did I happen to meet, but the lovely busy bee artist Holly Schmidt who was meeting with Alexander McNaughton to concoct their next tasting at the Burnaby Art Gallery as part of Holly's project: The Moveable Feast.

Why was I chasing down millet? Well, that's the story for my next blog post. Hint: It's to do with the current Earth Art Show at VanDusen Gardens.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

UBC Farm Bee-Themed Market

 Today we celebrated the bees at UBC which play an integral part of its eco-system. Here is the Queen Bee with UBC Farm worker bees Rosalind Sadowski, Nicky Grunfeld and Molly Knox.

 This cute bee is The UBC Farm Communications Coordinator Anelyse Weiler, who gave tours of the farm highlighting the activities revolving around bees. Anelyse has created a project to plant more bee forage on the farm to feed the honeybees and the native bees.

 Anelyse talked about the Medicinal Garden which is actually managed by the Dept. of Botany at UBC. It is affectionately known as the "scratch and sniff" garden. She said that lavender is good for sunburn, so I put some on my face tonight to sooth the bits that got a bit baked this morning.

 We went through the children's garden where the hummingbirds were very vocal, attracted to the crocosmia and nasturtiums. Nicky Grunfeld helps young students in the Landed Learning Program learn about the importance of bees in our food system through hands on interactions with bees--I mean literally. One brave student put her hand on a swarm, saying that she felt the beating heart of the organism. Wow.

 This is the skep-shaped cob oven  where students bake bread they have made from flour they mill from grains grown on the farm.

 Beekeeper Bruce shows a visible hive to the fascinated viewers.

 This is a lovely sculpture of a Plasterer Bee by Toronto-based artist Charmaine Lurch. More of her bees are currently on display in the Lobby Gallery at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at UBC.

 A lovely bee crafted by Holly.

 This is a display of homes you can make for native bees.

 Worker bees carrying eggs. (!?)

 Phacelia is one of the best plants for honey bees. Bumble bees love the crimson clover interplanted with the phacelia in this patch of bee forage.

It was such a boost to see so many people passionate about our bees: happy bee nerds, one and all!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Bees in the World in a Garden

 I had a lovely time leading a workshop at The Passport to Permaculture Camp at World in a Garden. We talked about the biodiversity of bees, made bee habitats for native bees and left messages for the honeybees.

The kids wore gloves to handle the bamboo as it does tend to give slivers.

It's good to work in three dimensions to get the brain working creatively.

 This dude put his bee habitat on his hat. Hmmmm, he thinks the same way I do. Maybe he's a budding performance artist?

 I knew the beekeeper was coming in the afternoon to open the hive, so we made messages for the bees and I took the students a few at a time to get as close to the hive as they felt comfortable doing.

 We tried to pet a sleepy bumble bee and he crawled up on a girl's finger. The look on her face was delight mixed with surprise. And it didn't sting!

 It was a perfect day for honeybee activity.

 When the kids started snacking on raspberries and other things in the garden we decided it was snack break time. The kids generously shared their kale chips with me. They were delicious! The secret was they were covered in Little Creek salad dressing (my fave) and dehydrated. Wow.

 California poppies are perfect for spotting bumble bees.

 Doesn't this kohlrabi look delicious? You have a chance to buy food from the garden this Friday from 3-5 pm when the kids set up their own market stall.

I hope there's gonna be kale chips!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Hummingbird Gardens and Fledglings

 We've just celebrated our son's twelfth birthday. Our fledgling. Old enough to be independant and yet still begging to be fed every half hour or so. We had a BBQ in grandma and grandpa's garden while hummingbirds filled up on nectar from monarda, jasmine, clematis and fuschias.

 I am currently very sympathetic to the fledgling birds that one finds at this time of the year. They are so vulnerable, just like that awkward stage of the preteen. The neighbor's cat caught and munched on an adolescent sparrow in our back yard. I am currently feeding a fledgling pigeon under the porch. Pigemon is too big for the cat to take on, but he is still young enough to peep instead of coo. The other day I noticed a bumble bee flying into a hole under his water dish. Bird, bee and cat live happily together in the ecosystem of our back porch.

 I love watching my son and his peers engaging in critical dialogue, forming political oppinions and then being absolutely silly with one another. Goofballs.

(Have I mentioned how much I am enjoying astrantia this year? The perennials are long-blooming and seem to attract the interest of many insects.)

 Due to concerns about the recent revelations of the cost of sugar to the health of Canadian citizens this year you are getting a birthday salad in lieu of a cake.

But since the health benefits of chocolate, dairy and fresh raspberries outweigh the damage of sugar, we came up with a compromise of sorts. Happy birthday my fledgling, my love.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Poppies at City Hall

 I had the good fortune to attend a composting workshop by Spring Gillard at the City Hall Community Garden. She has some great tips on composting, especially within the context of a community garden. Basically, every community garden needs a specialized committee to manage the bins. Yes, my friends, I think the time has come for me to join the composting committee. Is this what has been missing from my life?

 I have been working in a friend's garden who is a composter extraordinaire. I have dug into the recesses of her vermicomposter to retrieve the worm castings. These are the things our friendship is based on. When I tell her I am going to a composting workshop she shakes her head. "How many times do you have to explain it to people?"

 Well, I need some 'splaining. I tend to zone out during compost talks and focus on the pretty things in the garden such as ethereal poppies that look like sea anenomes. But, like Spring Gillard's cap says, "compost happens." It is part of the cycle of life and death. I remember telling my three-year old son about the life cycle of a pumpkin. When I showed him the photo of a rotting jack-o-lantern he burst into tears. Well, I know where he's coming from. Poppies bloom for such a short time. Then seed pods. Then seeds. And we start the whole thing over again.

 I was using poppy seed heads in a workshop I gave the other day and two of the children meticulously saved every poppy seed before they used the pod in their sculpture. "I am going to plant these," said a six year old boy. He has the seed-saver's instinct. This gives me hope.

Compost is messy, but it is also beautiful. I explained it today to two students that it is a way of adding vitamin "pills" to the soil. They thought that was hilarious. Turning the compost is good exercise too. Cutting up compost is meditative. Compost is good for the soul.

 And let's face it, compost is humbling because it's what we become in the end. That's what I'm aiming for. Natural burial. Compostable coffin. Songs and flowers. Maybe some seed pods.

 But for now, I'm a compost turner.

 Flower gazer.
 Seed saver.

Bee chaser.