Sunday, December 20, 2009

Long Night's Moon

There are two full moons this month. The first was early in the month and the Algonquin call it The Cold Moon and the second moon in December is called The Long Night's Moon. The moon names of this month refer to the wintry surface of the earth, blanketed by snow and patterned by frost, but also to the secret life unfolding underneath the surface of the season. The Sioux know that Deer are shedding their horns while the trees pop with hoar frost, but also the buffalo's fetus is growing large in her uterus. The Cheyenne note the month as the one when the wolves run together in packs. The Wishram move to their winter houses and the Tlingit know that the unborn seals are getting their hair. Such close attention to the details of seasonal markers makes the indigenous people keen observers of global warming. The Haidi in Alaska see the white ptarmigan feasting on ripe red berries in the snow, and the Passamaquoddy know where the fish run under the ice.

Here in Vancouver we have only had one snowfall this year, and now we are back to rain. I took a photo of the bees last week and every time I look at it I wish I could see inside the hive and know their secrets. What do you see under the surface of December? Soon it will be solstice, the longest night of the year, and then this New Year's Eve will be a Blue Moon. I wonder how often that happens? I think it's probably very special. Happy Solstice to all of you and have a peaceful and joyful holiday season.

Abenaki: Winter Maker Moon
Algonquin: Cold Moon, Long Night's Moon
Anishnaabe, Chippewa, Ojibwe: Small Spirits Moon
Northern Arapaho: Popping Trees Moon
Assiniboine: Center Moon's Younger Brother
Cherokee: Snow Moon
Eastern Cherokee: Moon When the First Snows Fall in the Mountains
Cheyenne: Moon When the Wolves Run Together
Eastern Comanchee: Big Cold Moon, Evergreen Moon, 13th Moon-Year Moon
Cree: When the Young Fellow Spreads the Brush
Cree: 13 Moon version--Frozen Over Moon, Scattering Moon
Creek: Big Winter Moon
Haidi: Ripe Berries Moon
Hopi: Month of Respect
Kalapuya: Not Bad Weather
Kiowa: Real Goose Moon
Lakota: Moon When the Deer Shed their Antlers.
Passamaquoddy: Frost Fish Moon
San Juan: Ashes Fire Moon
Shawnee: Eccentric Moon
Sioux: Moon of Popping Trees/When Deer Shed their Horns, Buffalo Cow's Fetus is Getting Large
Tlingit: Unborn Seals are Getting Hair
Winnebago: Big Bear's Moon
Wishram: Her Winter Houses Moon
Zuni: Turning Moon or The Sun has Traveled South to his Home to Rest Before he Starts Back on his Journey North

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Moon When All is Gathered In

Early this month I harvested my last Cherokee Trail of Tears beans just before the rains came. I cut down the fennel and put the rest of those seeds in the compost because they had been exposed to too much moisture already. The time of harvesting marigold seeds had passed because it's just too darned wet. There were some chocolate cosmos and tall coneflowers blooming along with the smaller tagetes, but now even they are sodden and bedraggled. I'm kicking myself because I did not harvest our hops before they rusted, but I do like the look of them climbing on the rails of our front stairs. I hope the bees are warm and dry inside their hive square dancing and playing canasta, or whatever they do to amuse themselves over the long winter months.

Vancouver has had light frosts since mid October, and at least one hard frost in November, but mostly we just have the weather that feels colder than it really is because it is so wet. And have I mentioned the wind? Yes, there is that too, blowing the scraps of wet oak leaves into your face and causing the rain to seep into every pore of your exposed flesh. The wind shakes the rain from trees full of fat robins feasting on bright red berries, so that the water drops right down the back of your neck and you curse yourself for buying this jacket on sale because it did not have a hood.

The Algonquin call the November Moon the Full Beaver Moon, either because they trapped the animals for winter furs or because the beavers were getting ready to hibernate. Most of the Native North American names for this month's moon acknowledge the frost and the beginning of winter. It's poignant to see that for the Mowhawk nation it was a Time of Much Poverty, but for the Potawatomi it was literally the month of their Thanksgiving turkey feast. In times past, rivers froze, hides were scraped, and the snow began to fall. The Wishram Moon name could very well describe the Vancouver moon in November: Snowy Mountains Morning Moon. And so all has been gathered in and winter is on its way to Vancouver. Sigh. My friend reminds me that every day now is one day closer to spring.

Algonquin: Full Beaver Moon
Anishnaabe: Freezing Moon
Abenaki: Freezing River Maker Moon
Assiniboine: Frost Moon
Cherokee: Trading Moon
Eastern Comanche: Heading to Winter Moon, Thanking Moon
Cree: The Moon the Rivers Begin to Freeze
Creek: Moon When the Water is Black with Leaves
Haidi: Snow Moon
Hopi: Month of Fledgling Hawk
Kiowa: Geese-Going Moon
Lakota: Moon when Winter Begins
Mohawk: Time of Much Poverty
Potawatomi: Month of the Turkey & Feast
Shawnee: Long Moon
Sioux: Moon of the Falling Leaves
Tewa Pueblo: Moon When All is Gathered In
Tlingit: Scraping Moon
Winnebago; Little Bear's Moon
Wishram: Snowy Mountains in the Morning Moon

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Memorium

I spent part of All Soul's Day at the MOP Garden. I was relieved to see that the bee garden hadn't been vandalized since I last visited and calendula and marigold were still blooming. One stray honeybee was desperately searching the rain-drenched petals of a yellow marigold for pollen or nectar. A syrphid fly hovered above the calendula. One of the reasons I grew the larger or "African" marigolds was to use them in an altar for the All Souls evening at Mountainview Cemetery, but I ran out of time to assemble it. So I decided to make an impromptu wreath for Leonard's garden.

Leonard was one of the guerilla gardeners who would plant things in the bee garden when I wasn't looking. I was frustrated when plants appeared in spaces we had designated for other flowers, especially when some of the rogue plants were unlabeled or contained invasive species. One day I discovered that the wiry man who'd been mysteriously repairing our willow fences was an avid gardener and loved "rescuing" plants other people were throwing away. When I finally met him and explained my point of view, he was very accomodating. "I'll give you a bed to plant in," I said, and I pointed to a bed just south of the bee garden surrounded by a willow fence. He filled it with a hodge podge of flowers and vegetables--from geraniums to broccoli.

Then about three weeks later, Leonard's partner saw me and told me the shocking news. My guerilla gardener had died suddenly of a drug overdose. His partner seemed very resigned, and still in shock himself. They had been together for many years. Leonard had been living with HIV and addicted to drugs for a long time. "This garden was his refuge," his partner said.

We left his garden as it was and kept it watered until one day someone pulled up all the plants. I was angry and sorrowful. It's a heart-breaking place to work sometimes, the old MOP, but it was another humbling experience of letting go of controlling nature in a public space.

After making the wreath, I harvested the tobacco I planted with seeds from Dan Jason that were grown from a 1000 year old tobacco plant. I sowed them quite late in the season, which is why they didn't bloom.

There's a lovely green amaranth plant in the garden. The seeds are just ripe now.

I left the calendula for the bees. There was some white sage and a bit of anise hyssop blooming as well, but I harvested most of the hyssop for seeds.

There was a big movie shoot happening down the hill and they were attempting to bounce sunlight off a reflective screen. It's lucky they had sunlight at all at this time of the year.

I savored my time in the garden, knowing it was one of the last beautiful warm days of 2009. The golden light shimmering through the yellowing leaves of the willow trees, and the honeybees were milling about the entrance to the hive. There are still bits and pieces of Leonard's mystery plants in the corners of the bee garden, and I don't have the heart to pull them out.

All your sad or merrying, you must tell the bees.

Good-bye Leonard, Gordon, and Peter. The gardens grow on in memory of you.

Monday, October 19, 2009

More Pumpkin Love

I was thrilled to be able to take my mom and dad out to UBC Farm for the first time on Thanksgiving weekend. We bought some cookies, fall flowers, beets, salad greens, and a nice big Cinderella pumpkin to make into two pies.

Mom helped me gather a few more seeds for my teaching gig. I am making seed balls with grades one through seven, so we're going through a lot of seeds. I have resorted to buying flax, buckwheat and fennel seeds to supplement my collection. That way we can also make single source seed-balls to know exactly what we're planting.

The squash curing in these green house were so beautiful dad and I had to take a few photos. Let's be thankful for the bees who pollinated all these lovely cucurbits!

Here I am, choosing our pumpkin. I cut it up and baked it that evening. Since it was quite watery, I ended up draining the pulp quite a bit before making the pie the next day. I like to use chai spices in my pumpkin pie with lots of cardamom and some freshly grated ginger. I also use yogurt in my recipe.

Tonight I made a pumpkin lasagne too, with layers of the pumpkin seasoned with salt and pepper, some ricotta cheese mixed with yogurt and grated chevrette cheese on top. We make our lasagne in a little loaf pan for just the two of us because my son won't eat things that are layered with cheese.

Our bees are much happier since they have been combined (see below). They were still out bringing in pollen today, since things have dried out a bit again after our bout of heavy rain. I hope they get a bit more sunshine to get all those last bits of pollen into storage.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Combining Hives

I wanted to post a few photos here of our Two Block Diet beehive. I am a member of a wonderful neighborhood group that has pooled resources to make urban agriculture happen in our backyards, front yards, and sometimes on the street itself. We had one hive which split into two when it swarmed in the spring. The hives never became strong enough on their own two survive the winter so we had to combine them. Beekeeping has been very rewarding, but equally as stressful. I really worry about our bees. (Too much empathy, I know!) I recommend that you spend at least one full season with a mentor before you try beekeeping at home. I am also wondering about the amount of sustainable bee forage in Vancouver. Have we maxed it out already? Will this stress out the native bees? I have so many questions. We needed to put a piece of paper between the two hive, so Jean chose one with a photo of the Dalai Lama for good karma! We slash the paper with an exacto knife and place it on the hive before putting the top back on. One of our mentors told us never to have two beehives open at the same time. Once the bees chew through the paper they will be used to the smell of the other bees and will accept them as part of the same hive.

Look at this lovely bright yellow comb! Now we consolidated the hive so that there were not too many empty frames to help the bees stay warm when we close them up for the winter, which will be soon. We left this frame out for the bees to rob because it didn't fit in the consolidated hive.

We tried in vain to find the queen in the weaker hive so we could "humanely" kill her. Jean thinks she may have already died since we could not find uncapped brood. In any case, we had to combine the hives and let the bees duke it out.

We put the weaker hive on top of the strong hive and put in plenty of sugar water to help them deal with the stress.

In the right of this photo you can see the spray bottle full of sugar water Jean used to calm the bees instead of smoking them. Cleaning the sugar water from their bodies keeps them occupied, and it is a much less invasive tactic than smoking them. We also dusted them a bit with powdered sugar in case they had any residual varroa mites. I was a bit concerned about the amount of bee excrement I was seeing in the yard on the lawn furniture. This could be a sign of Nosema, but I think it was just because of the cooler weather and the stress we were putting them under. I really hope they survive the winter. They are very productive today so as long as we have another couple weeks of good weather I think the kids will be all right.

Wait Until I Come

It's October and we are well into the nippy fall weather under a plump harvest moon. This morning I harvested more of my yellow pear tomatoes and the pinkish ones with low acidity which Jean thinks are an Amish variety. My sunflowers have been decimated by a squirrel. My son and I watched it sitting on the high fence chowing down on the seeds and she was so fat it looked liked she had swallowed a small bowling ball. She knocked down some of my taller Earthwalker plants so I cut off the heads and saved them for teaching projects. I'm leaving the remaining beans to get nice and plump for drying and seed-saving. I also cut down some of the fennel umbrels that have matured to dry in the back porch. Our beehives which split in a swarm earlier in the year have now been combined and today they were very active in the mid-morning sun. There are Jerusalem artichokes blooming in our neighbourhood and a few fall flowers here and there, but we are feeding the bees sugar water as well (as a last resort) because they need more stored food for the winter.

Yesterday I went to UBC Farm for the market and to gather more seeds. One of the ag profs was lecturing near the flower patch so I got to hear a few of his anecdotes, which was fun. He was good at answering the student's questions with something like "Well that depends on which context you're working in, and what your purpose is..." He talked about seed-saving as something you do by marking each plant carefully and noting which seeds were gathered from specific plants, or gather open-pollenated seeds willy-nilly as I was. The field pumpkins were as orange as orange can be, and I bought some chai-spice honey from Jane's Bees, which I'm really excited about. I also bought some Mayan beans to make pots of steaming Halloween chilli.

I suppose we will have frost by the end of the month and the wild geese and ducks will have flown over my mom and dad's house in Saskatchewan to warmer climes. (If they haven't been shot down by hunters in camo for Thanksgiving Day tables.) It's interesting that the Mohawk, which is a woodland culture, refer to this as the Poverty Moon when the agricultural first nations moon names refer to putting the harvest away in caches, storing it for the winter. I'm a bit baffled by the Assiniboine terms: Joins Both Sides Moon and Striped Gopher Looks Back Moon. The terms of October seem cloaked in a deep mystery, holding the earth's secrets a little bit closer as darkness falls on the land. Perhaps the most haunting is the Kiowa October moon: Wait Until I Come, suggesting a reunion after a long hunting or fishing trip. I am comforted by the Dakota tasks of October under a moon when quilling and beading is done. I look forward to hibernating and drawing and stitching my way through this winter with mugs of hot chai. In Medieval English, this is the month of The Blood Moon, when the spirit world draws itself close to ours and whispers to our semi-conscious minds as we struggle to wake ourselves in the dark mornings. How will you prepare your body for winter?

Northern Arapaho, Abenaki (northeast, Maine): Leaf Falling Moon

Anishnaabe, Algonquin (Northeast to the Great Lakes): white frost on the grass and the ground

Apache (southern plains): time when the corn is taken in

Assiniboine (northern plains): Joins Both Sides Moon or Striped Gopher looks Back Moon

Cherokee (East Coast, Carolinas): Harvest Moon

Cheyenne (Great Plains): Moon when the Water Begins to Freeze on the Edge of the Streams

Cree (Northern Plains, Canada): The Moon the Birds Fly South

Dakota (Plains): Moon When Quilling and Beading is Done

Haidi (Alaska): Bears hibernate

Hopi (Southwest, Arizona): Month of Long Hair and Month of Harvesting

Kalapuya (Pacific Northwest, Oregon): Atchalankuaik - start getting sagittair roots

Kiowa: Early October--Ten Colds Moon; Late October: Wait Until I Come

Mohawk (Eastern Woodlands): Poverty

Ponca (Southern Plains): Moon when they store food in Caches

Potawatomi (Great Lakes): Month of the First Frost

Shawnee (Midwest, Ohio, Pennsylvania): Wilted Moon

Sioux (Great Plains, Dakotas, Nebraska): Changing Seasons

I am indebted to this web site from the Western Washington University Planetarium for helping me with placing the tribes referred to here.

ETA: This resource was actually created  by Phil Konstantin who allowed the Plantarium to use it with his permission:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dig In!

Jody sets up for a the creation of a collaborative ephemeral maze with the pods, petals, and stems of the fall palette.

I just spend two lovely days working with my MOP colleagues at the Roundhouse Community Arts Centre. We set up in the light of a Yaletown morning, preparing the space for the students and families that took part on the workshops. The activities were a celebration of ecological art, with networking opportunities, artist talks, and an installation of photos of the works created by artists working in Stanley Park.

Purple asters or Michaelmas daisies are good bee plants for this time of the year.

I was thrilled to be working with seeds again. The warm, sunny weather has been perfect for saving seeds, so I made piles of them for the participants to sort through. Using 10 cups of red clay, 6 cups of soil, and 2 cups of seeds, we made 30 dozen seed balls in one session. So in all total we made 75 dozen seed balls. That's a lot of potential bee fodder!!

A typical day at the Roundhouse creates a found poem.

I created a seed game for the participants to become more aware of the shapes of the different seeds.

The grade four and five students at Elsie Roy created a lovely ball made out of ivy with Sharon Kallis.
These are the spools they use to crochet the invasive ivy. The plant has to be thoroughly dried out before it can be returned to the forest or it will take root and spread again.

I enjoyed watching Sharon and the volunteers strip the ivy of its leaves as people inside the foyer stretched to go out for a run. Some of the motions were very similar, but for a completely different purpose and with a different intention.

Jody did a lot of kneeling, bending and stretching to prepare, create, and clean up the ephemeral mazes and mosaics.

I was struck by the meditative quality of all three workshops, especially on the Saturday when the pace was very relaxed and easy-going. Once people got focused on one activity they were reluctant to break out of the zone to enter another. The intimate gestures of sorting seeds became conducive to sharing stories about food and gardening that lead to all sorts of interesting conversational threads and ideas about how to make our city more bee-friendly.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Alberta Bound

Hey folks, I am in Alberta, blogging for the Visualeyez performance art festival. I just posted about a beekeeper I chatted with yesterday at the downtown farmer's market.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tartan and Tweed Tea Party

"My parents make weird art."

It was a hot and sunny September afternoon and the tea flowed freely: lemon verbena with dragon's head, wild bergamot with anise hyssop sweetened with lavender honey and stevia from the herb garden. Lois Klassen handed out maps and battery-operated listening devices for people to take her Garden Gnomad self-guided sound tour.

Sharon wears a hand-crafted hip bag for her digital camera that she made herself.

While I gave tours in the bee garden I had some unexpected visitors: an orb-weaver spider snatching a honey-bee from its web, a mouse running up a sunflower stalk and a garden gnome with a clock and an aversion to plaid. I was very pleased that the audience was particularly interested in the bitter melon plant and two people said they cooked it themselves. My friend The Herbalist says that bitter foods like this melon are very important as we creep past forty because they help our aging bodies absorb nutrients. I was asked questions about the dragon's head plant, wild bergamot and some suggestions for bee plants for balconies, so I will do in-depth posts on those subjects. It was so much fun to meet more people who want to plant food for the bees!

Sharon wears the Canadian Centennial Plaid and Jody wears the perennial Art Girl tartan with a cute gingham apron.

Cucumber sarnies and crudités made by yours truly.

Banana bread with walnuts.

Lois sends listeners into the garden.

The camera girls are mad for plaid. I'm having flashbacks to 80's punk!

Have you ever seen Flying Monkeys with horns in kilts? Well, you have now.

Peter chills in the Weidenhammer sonic spa.

Microphones at the opening of the hive feed into the speakers in the ukulele. Note the spike board to deter robbing by racoons.

Solar panels power the microphones.

The other solar panels are at the back of the chair, which is actually in shadow in this photo. They power the skewers that are measuring moisture content in the soil which alters a b flat tonal scale that you also hear. Hopefully it blocks out some of the traffic from down the hill, creating a sonic refuge in an urban soundscape.