Sunday, August 30, 2009

Weaving Wasps and Horned Hornets

Some people have asked Madame Beespeaker, "What is the difference between a wasp an a hornet?" I usually mumble something, like, "I'm the wrong person to ask. I haven't got a clue," and then change the subject to bees or breakfast. I finally found the guy who answered the question for me in the comments section of his recent post on his blog The Home Bug Garden. He lives in Edmonton and he gardens for bugs, and his wife takes photos of them! Cool. I am very excited to be going to Edmo in September to a performance art festival because I'm going to visit the Bug Room at the Royal Alberta Museum. As well as eat perogies. Yum. Anyway, here is the link: Biodiversity Gone Bad: Hornets in the Home Bug Garden.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pulling Up Roots at the MOP Bee Garden

It's that time of year when if you really don't want something to set seed you have to cut it down or pull it out. Dragon's Head, or Dracocephalum moldavica is a member of the mint family, so it self-seeds readily. Since someone else will be taking over the garden next year, and most of the blossoms were spent, I decided it was time to pull the plants out to dry them and make tea. (I'll do a more in-depth post on that later.) The seeds on the dry parts of the plants rattle inside their individual pods, so they are just about to pop.

This sunflower was getting a lot of love on Wednesday. In this photo you can see a bumble bee, leaf-cutter, and a honey bee all feeding at the same time. That's why I love sunflowers--room for everyone!

Sharon and Jody and I cleaned and preened and watered in and around the garden beds in anticipation of our great big fall teaparty on Sunday Sept 13. Better get your plaid rags out of storage and dust off your sporran! It's a tartan and tweed dress code for this one.

This is a mystery plant I saved seeds from at UBC farm. I love the way the leaves smell.

This is nigella with its wierd and wonderful seed pods looking like internal organs from some part of the human body.

Syrphid flies and honey bees were fighting for space on the anise hyssop blossoms, even to the point of eventually chasing each other around the garden.

Agastache rogosa "Honey Bee Blue" grown from seeds I purchased from Van Dusen Gardens. I like the flavor of these leaves. They have a mellow licorice flavor without that sharp cat pee (sorry, but it's true) fragrance that some mints have.

Here is a daddy long-legs cowering in the shadows, hiding from a syrphid fly. Move it or lose it daddy!

And speaking of internal organs, here's a funny little apple growing in a corner of the garden.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Corn is in the Silk Moon

It's the month of ripe plums (Shawnee), black cherries (Assiniboine) and black berries (Wishram) staining our fingers and lips. The silk tassels on top of the corn husk are turning brown (Ponca), signalling the corn is ripe for the picking (Algonquin). While this year's geese are beginning their first migration (Cree), summer is coming to a close (Kalapuya.) The Hopi consiser this month of abundant harvest the Month of Joyful, or Month of Life at it's Height. It's the month where we all reap what we have sown, humbled by the luck of the forces of nature that helped or hindered your work along the way. For some, it is a joyful month, for others who have had a cold dry summer, it is one of the most bitter.

EYA Beekeeping Interns

A syrphid fly sips at a wabi sabi sunflower.

This year the Environmental Youth Alliance is hosting a program at the MOP community bee hive that teaches youth how to be urban beekeepers. The instructor is Brian Campbell, who is currently available to answer your beekeeping or general bee-related questions care of West Coast Seeds: info(at)

The interns taught us how to do the waggle dance and sent out foraging bees to find honey sticks and then tell us where they were by dancing. Then we were given a talk about the beekeeper's year, and some reasons why you might want a hive or two in your backyard.

Given that we've had such hot, sunny weather, I'm sure the bees appreciate this custom-made bee bath. (I guess technically, it's more a communal drinking cup.)

Each intern lead an activity or gave a presentation and they even put a frame into the visible hive. The colony had recently lost their queen, but re-queened themselves, so hopefully they will be strong enough to survive the winter. Now is the time of the year to treat bees for mites and do a thorough hive check to see if the bees have enough honey and pollen to survive the winter. By mid-October the weather will be cool enough that the beekeeper won't want the risk of opening the hive and chilling the bees. One thing I learned that is the beekeepers must tip up the back of the hive in the winter so that all the condensation in the hive will flow out the front and prevent mildew from forming.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Beespeaker 100

Bumblebee resting on buckwheat. It's interesting how pale her head is. She actually blends in quite well with this plant because the buckwheat seeds are quite dark in contrast with the blossoms.

Hey, it's time to celebrate Madame Beespeaker's 1ooth post for this blog! Woot! I am so happy to have this seasonal diary as a template for future adventures in beespeaking and urban beekeeping. Using this diary, I'll be able to write a more in-depth blog in the next couple of years. I am planning to continue working as Madame Beespeaker, creating some more community art projects and art education projects while expanding my use of materials and performance methods. At the same time I will branch off into a who new shoot of work involving moths. I've turned into such an insect nerd! (My child hood was all about rocks, but that's another story.)

An unidentified smaller bee covered in pollen on the corepsis. The blanket flower head was in the way of my camera lens!

Creating this bee garden at MOP with my helpers has been such as incredible privilege. I just picked up a lovely book by Jim Nollman called Why We Garden: Cultivating a Sense of Place. (Yes, it's the guy who talks to whales--we must be kindred spirits.) Why garden? This about sums it up: "With a lot of tender loving care, good landscaping design, and savvy plant knowledge, most everything a human being needs in this world--including food, comfort, museum, university, social clubhouse--will be there for foraging." (pg. 58) It's this sense of self-containment that I find so satisfying. I enjoy the garden as gesamtkunstwerk. I like the semi-privacy of my back yard garden, but also the social nature of the MOP as a community garden. As a transplant from the prairies, gardening in both private and shared spaces helps me feel anchored and rooted, and gives me the sense of belonging I pine for.

In some ways this blog is just the tip of the ice berg--just me jotting down some basic thoughts and impressions so I can go in and create something new from this diary. I will use the photographs and my experience with growing to help create an artist book or a set of cards on how to create your own bee garden. Even though I don't get many written comments. (Ahem.) People do chat with me about what they read on the blog, which is another reason for its existence.

In the meantime, I am losing myself in the experience of summer while it lasts.

It's not over yet, but I want to thank my colleagues in the art collective MOPARRC (Means of Production Artists' Raw Resource Collective): Sharon Kallis, Lois Klassen, and Jody Macdonald. I also want to thank the staff at the Environmental Youth Alliance, especially Samantha and Rhianna, whose feedback and advice has been an integral part of the project. A big thanks to bee garden designer Jean Kindratsky and bee consultant Brian Campbell. Thanks to the volunteers and to all the people who invited me into their gardens, for those little glimpses into their visions of paradise.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Opening of the Sedum

This year my father-in law put up several mason bee houses in his back yard and did they ever do a great job pollinating the crab apple tree! He showed me that up inside the tree bunches of apples hanging down. I counted ten in one bunch. I've never seen a tree so loaded down with so much of the rosy fruit.

Right now these apples are quite tart. My mother-in-law makes a fantastic crab apple sauce every year that we have at Thanksgiving.

And now as the nights grow cooler and longer, the last flowers of summer begin to bloom. A tiny bee rests on the petal of a brown-eyed Susan.

I read once that bees see flowers like bright stars against a night sky.

These sedum are not open yet, but they seem to drive the bees a bit mad. Honey bees search frantically for one open floret and even knock competitors out of the way like a pollinator's roller-derby contestant. Bumble bees too must smell something out of range of the human's olfactory senses. What else do they sense that still remains beyond our capacity to measure, study, and wax poetic about? As I feel the anxiety of the expectations of fall and the loss of summer in my heart I project those feelings onto the bees. So much to do before we lose the sun. So many crab apples to pick and cut and put into jars. Protest letters to write to conservative politicians. (Did you know that farmers in Alberta are going to grow GM sugar beets?!) That sort of thing. It feels overwhelming, but there will be inspired days in the winter too, and jars of spicy crab apple sauce.

Growing Home

I've been telling everyone I know about this fabulous new grocery store in our neighborhood at Columbia and 18th. It's called The Home Grow-in Grocer. (No, that is not a typo btw.)

It's a little corner store that has had a few previous incarnations, such as a gallery and a yoga studio. What piqued my interest was an e-mail that let me know I could buy UBC Farm produce at this grocer. Well, I hopped on my bike and checked it out. Now I buy produce there as well as milk and gifts for my friends. Besides food products the owner sells locally made gifts such as cloth bags and soap with as much money as possible going right into the maker's pocket.

They also sell ice cream and the mango flavour is totally addictive. Last night it seemed every family I met on the way to the store was carrying a cup or cone of ice cream from the shop.

I mean look at this lovely garlic. What's not to like?

I heard a rumor that the owner might have a café here in the winter time. I hope it's true!

I will ask about their hours and post them here, but I think they're open until 8 pm most evenings. We are so lucky to have this place in our neighborhood. I wish them all the best.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Is it a Seahorse?

Representing MOPARRC (Means of Production Artists' Raw Resource Collective), I set up a community table at the Terminal Station Farmer's Market this Wednesday. I packed all manner of tricks into my rolling shopping bag, but of course forgot two essential items: my water bottle and my book. Turns out I didn't need a novel because the market provided its own steady stream of inspired wonderment. Turns out everyone and their dog, their baby and their bicycle comes to the market, which means it's become a big hit and it has infused new life into Thornton Park.

I was adjacent to the mushroom man (oh do you know the mushroom man?), the sprouts man, and the crêpe man, a trifecta of culinary delights. Sharon Kallis came by and created an installation on the sidewalk made of floral ephemera with the help of a ten-year-old artiste. A family of Italian tourists came by and had a lively discussion about what it represented. In the end there were two ideas: a dog or a sea horse. I also heard others who suggested dinosaur, dragon, and the continent of North America.

Parents were disappointed I was not the face painter who had appeared at the same table last week, but they were happy that their children could make messages for the bees, and soon became interested in what I was doing. We watched a bumble bee forage for pollen in the yellow blossoms of the ephemeral art piece. I saw several people I knew and invited them to stay awhile and have a chat. A young musician poured his heart into homespun ballads. All afternoon the mushroom man asked people passing by if they like mushrooms. Over and over he handed them paper bags of shitake and oyster mushrooms. I watched his stock get lower and lower as the day went on. A woman confided that the first day he'd worked the market he'd ended up with a lot of mushrooms left over. Now he's ramped up his sales pitch. (He also sells supplies for growing your own mushrooms. The guy just loves mushrooms and tells me to cook them without oil on low heat until they are just glistening. "When mushrooms are glistening, they are done." I do love a glistening mushroom!) The sunflower sprouts guy grows his greens at UBC farm and cycles them to the market. Many of his customers wore cycling helmets as well. I bought and savoured a banana and nutella crêpe.

As the sun goes down it paints the park with a soft glow. The train station is bathed in a golden light and the sun sets behind the skyscapers beyond the circle of memorial benches. One man sang his sad drunken songs of despair and a woman slipped silently through shoppers begging for change. "The mushroom man took all my money," my friend says. "He just asked what was left in my pockets and then handed me a bag of mushrooms." He was not taking "not enough money" for an answer. I respected his persistence, passion, and energy. He motioned me over and gave me a free bag of mushrooms and I bought one as well--tender baby shitakes.

I took a quick tour of the market and bought a bag of cape gooseberries from Klipper's Organic Acres and a chocolate pecan loaf from the Simple Pleasures lady. After a savoury crepe for my dinner, I was of out of cash myself. No sunflower sprouts for our salad. Darn! By the time the market was wrapping up I was sad it was over. A sense of camaraderie had just begun to develop. A couple of people asked if I'd be back next week. I kind of wish I was.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gather Florets While Ye May

It's that time of the year when we switch from growing to gathering mode. I remember the tension we'd feel this time of year in Saskatchewan when we needed warm, sunny weather to dry the seed heads of the grain crops. The same concern applies to gathering the seeds of flower heads and herbs here in Vancouver. We plan to harvest seeds from the MOP bee garden to give them out to the community and create seed balls. We are also collecting and drying seeds, petals, and seed heads to create ephemeral art mosaics and mazes. This has to be done on a regular basis or else we may lose the materials because they drop to the ground or they rot.

This is an amaranth plant which volunteered from last year.

On Saturday I had a helper in the garden. K and I harvested the florets from sunflower heads that had either fallen and broken, or were in that post-pollination stage where the florets were just ready to fall off and expose the achenes. Luckily K was tall enough to reach some of the highest sunflowers that were out of my reach. We want to leave most of the sunflowers to ripen and dry in the sun to feed the birds and create a sculptural element in the winter garden. I also trimmed a few sunflower leaves back to give the beans growing up the stalks a bit more light. K harvested about eight pods of Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans. The plants will flourish now that the weather has cooled off a bit.

The anise hyssop we grew from seed is just starting to blossom.

I'm so excited about our first bitter melon! We can make tea from this for our September party. We also dug out some dandelion roots to clean and dry to make liver-cleansing tea.

Sunflower goggles!

Floppy fennel needs to be trimmed back.

Here's an immature sunflower head. Seeds should be black and the rim and back of the sunflower turning brown. The trick is not to leave the heads once the fall rains come so the seeds and backs don't rot. I pulled most of the seeds out of this head and dried them in the oven for ephemeral mosaics. Then I put the seed head in a tree in our back yard. The birds have already picked it clean.

My FIL gave me some vein-leafed verbena plants which have just bloomed on the south end of the garden.

I harvested some cerinthe and buckwheat seeds. I noticed that the dragons' head plants smell like lemon balm, so I harvested some to take home and dry for tea. The sun peeked out once or twice, and it was a perfect morning to dig in the dirt and reach for the sun(flowers).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yaletown Afternoon

Since it is absolutely pouring rain today I am very pleased that yesterday we were able to take advantage of a classic summer day to do a gallery and garden tour in Yaletown. My first stop on the journey was the downtown library where, in the best Vancouver tradition, someone was filming a surreal movie scene. Extras dressed in over the top costumes circa 1940 were milling about vintage cars against a contemporary backdrop of neon sushi signs and gawkers in t-shirts and shorts. I gawked a bit myself, then went in the library to check out some books on Darwin. I need a bit of a break for bees, so I've been doing some research on moths. Darwin writes about them too of course, and he even predicted that the orchid bees would become extinct because orchids were so good at self-pollinating. Did this come true? The implications are fascinating. He cultivated many orchids in his garden and green house at Down House in Kent where he did much of his writing and research in later life. I checked out a biography of Darwin called Darwin's Garden: Down House and The Origin of Species by Michael Boulter.

Next, I went to the Artstarts Gallery to see the exhibition where some of the art created by the students I worked with at Graham Bruce Elementary. I'm happy to see there are photos of the process so you can get an idea of the interdisciplinary nature of the residency. I zig-zagged down the hill to the CAG and enjoyed the work in Sentimental Journey. So many of the contemporary pieces in Vancouver galleries have become dry and antiseptic; it was refreshing to see some work using found objects, and a warm, humorous and at times poignant aesthetic. My favorite piece was by Gareth Moore: The Road Through the Forest by Lyman A. William. It was almost like an epitaph in a vitrine. I like the elements of theatrics--costumes and props that help you construct the fiction of a hobo's life.

My final gallery destination was the Numen Gallery in Yaletown where Diana Burgoyne and Robin Ripley are showing Interface/Interfacing:Kinetic and Sound Installation. The gallery is tiny, but in spite of its size it is packed with an incredible amount of art work. I was surprised to see how many artists had pieces on display. Robin and Diana's collaboration took my breath away. I pushed the switch, as guided by a sign on the wall, and slowly a needle hanging from a thread began its way on a vaguely triangular course. The wheels at the corners of the triangles are bobbins and a pattern of thimbles spreads out in the back ground, making the wall into a three dimensional map. Once the needle passes over brass-coloured disc, it activates a sound, perhaps that of an old sewing machine. The needle's journey is delicate and sensuous. One begins to invest concern in it's fate. Will it become tangled? Will it make it around the entire circuit? I immediately related it to the processes in our aging bodies--how our involuntary body functions become affected by outside forces beyond our control. Maybe I related to it this way because the wires in Burgoyne's sonic elements look so much like veins and neurons and because the thimbles heighten my sense of touch.

The rest of the show is Robin's work made using sewing notions. It is delicate, sensitive and obsessive. (Wow, there are a lot of knots!) My friends had joined me at this point and we were all drawn to the white buttons spilling out of a tiny box--bony, bubbly and almost frozen in mid-action. The other piece we were drawn to was the one with all the knots which hung like a gothic version of a weaver bird's nest. I'm really glad we got to see the show and it's on until September 5--highly recommended. The curator was very approachable and friendly.

Right in the heart of Yaletown is a group of community plots surrounded by skyscrapers where two of my friends who are chefs have garden plots. I had seen photos of their plots online and I asked for a guided tour. You should see the tomatoes! Little ones, big ones, ripe, green, dainty, pendulous, they've got it all. The trick is picking them before the birds get them. The plots are stuffed full of flourishing herbs, edible flowers and even some vegetables besides tomatoes.

Check out these potatoes growing in bicycle tires in Chef K's garden. What a great idea! She says that as soon as she saw the call go out for community gardeners for these plots she got on the list and spread the word. Chef K. is a tireless volunteer. She does a food-sharing program and if she sees someone who looks like they are hungry and "shopping in the garden" she'll try to give them something from her plot because some of the gardeners here might not be exactly well off either. She makes syrup out of the lemon balm growing in her plot, and like Chef C, has incredibly creative uses for everything that she grows.

Beer cans allow the water to penetrate the soil.

Some people just want to grow flowers. And that's good too, especially amidst concrete and glass.

Garden touring is thirsty work, so we head to the Sexy Scientist's pad for cocktails with the kitties. The cocktails are smooth and refreshing and before you know it we are laughing it up and sharing stories and offering opinions as the sun sets over False Creek. I headed off to Bella Pizza for a couple of slices, wandered aimlessly in Urban Fair for a few minutes and caught that cute new C23 bus which I love so much. I looked out the window to see if there are any falling stars, but not last night. The ones I could see were all fixed up there pretty tightly.