Saturday, June 30, 2012

Therapeutic Rain

Saturday is my favorite day of the week. I think it's the day I am able to be most happy in my own skin. It's often I day where I get to do what I love to do and today was no exception. I spent the morning cleaning and making homemade granola with coconut oil, brown sugar, oatmeal, flax, poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds and hazelnuts. I am already just about tired of strawberries so I had my granola with fresh cubes of mangos.

Next, I tackled a corner of my garden that really irks me. This is was the dumping site of an invasive plant called lamium. Ground zero. It's full of old bramble sticks that end up grinding into some part of my tender skin and pull at my hair. It's dark and tangled and working in it makes my glasses fog up so I'm like a half-crazed mole slashing at the undergrowth. This task required patience and stamina. I realized that given the plant has shallow roots, the hand shovel is the best tool for the job. I rooted out the demon weed and created clarity where there was chaos. It was most satisfying. I even grew to like the rank menthol odor of the broken stems.

After a quick lunch I headed to the school garden at City Hall to do some clean-up. A university age student smiled at me with a big mouth of braces. "I don't mind this rain," she said. "It's almost therapeutic." She was right. It was a soft, warm rain. The kind of rain that embraces you gently and leaves you better off for it.

I picked a few strawberries and pulled out the spent borage plants, generally tidying up the garden and deadheading the cornflowers, violets and calendula so they will bloom again. I noticed honeybees foraging in the rain at the nepeta and bumble bees at the borage and lavender. A couple came by to admire their young collard greens. They had to order the seeds from the States, doncha know. These Canadians don't appreciate collard greens. A family came by and gave me some garlic chives to try in my salad. I sat in a corner of the garden under a yew tree and let the rain perform its therapy on the city.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ground Cover for Bumble Bees

 I headed to VanDusen Gardens for inspiration on native ground cover plants that would be good for bumble bees. You don't even have to go inside the garden to find part of the Cascadia garden planted around the entrance with fabulous plants that fit the bill. This sedum is a good waterwise solution for a border plant.

 There are lots of great kinds of sedum for bees. This one is blooming a lot earlier than the varieties I'm familiar with.

 You can see hear how it will fill this border in nicely.

One of the EYA gardeners suggested Kinnikinik and I saw her eyes light up when she knew she'd hit on a great ground cover plant. The low growing berries are great for bees, including the native strawberries.

 I have tried so many times to grow nodding onion from seed. Next year I'm just going to invest in the plants.

 Wouldn't this be great in the meadow? And you can eat these onions!

 This is a good variety of salal that appears to grow low to the ground. I believe the plants I've mentioned above should all be good for rooftop gardens as well.

 In terms of higher plants, Hartley also mentioned snowberry, which does attract a lot of bees. My neighbor has one that is quite tall (4-6 ft) that grows along her fence under a fir tree.

Other taller native bee plants include aquilegia or columbines. You can plant the one that is native to BC and have fun planting the non native ones to see which pollinators are attracted to the blossoms. The same goes for the bleeding heart varieties. Solomon's seal, and native cranesbill geraniums are good too.

When in doubt, plant berries! Native blackberries do creep along the ground on the edge of the forest floor. Salmonberries and thimble berries are great native bee plants. The advantage of most of these plants is that they can also survive in dappled shade and some can even do well in the shadiest parts of your garden. You just have to experiment to see if they like the spot you choose for them. Sometimes it takes two or more years for native plants to really establish themselves, but it is so worth the extra time and trouble to see them flourish and feed the native bees.

Oak Meadows Bee Garden

 The Environmental Youth Alliance is creating a pollinator corridor in Vancouver. One of the sites is here at Oak Meadow Park. This is a perfect place for native plants that bumble bees love.

 Erin Udal is working with a group of volunteers to monitor bee activity in Vancouver from June through September. This summer the EYA is also creating new bee gardens in four locations.

The placing of the pots: an important and serious ritual.

 The plants they chose include Oregon grape, currants, roses, camas lilies, lily of the valley, brown-eyed Susans, lupins and foxgloves.

There's also a bee nesting site. This square is filled with the kind of soil that ground-dwelling bees tunnel into to make their nests. The soil will be left undisturbed so the bees can do their thing without humans blundering in and digging up their homes.

 Here are the fabulous diggin' women who edged the garden and planted the bushes and bulbs.

 The plants will bush out and fill up the space. In the mean time we were tossing around some ideas for ground cover to keep out the weeds and provide even more blossoms.

Thanks so much to the folks at EYA for supporting our bees!

Leapin' Lupins!

I am really excited about the new bee gardens project that EYA is creating. I decided to pop out to Oak Meadows Park adjacent to VanDusen Gardens to help plant a bee garden. The park has a lovely natural meadow feel to it. Here we are lookin' at lupins.

 Lupins are a plant much loved by bumble bees. Here you can see the playing fields of Eric Hamber High School to the north of the park.

I was watching a little bumble bee peacefully pollinating a lupin and a bright neon yellow crab spider popped out and grabbed the bumble bee.

Some crab spiders can actually change color to mimic the flower. I should have opened up a blossom so we could see what color the interior looks like.

Needless to say, this poor bee didn't see what was coming and he was zapped with venom. The spider will take the bee to a convenient perch and suck it dry. Bye bye bee.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Car Free Father's Day

 I love this Wordle Ules made for Peter. It contains private jokes that I don't even get. Panda???

 Pancakes, sausages and mango for da dad.

 Followed by Montreal smoked beef at the French Table.

 Et frites!
 Serious dudes eat serious gelato.

 While I go for the girly cupcakes from Geek Sweets. So cute!

 Look at the detail on these babies.

 Even cuter.

Can we haz cake pops? We want kitteh flavor!

Bees and Wannabees

 Why do insects visit flowers? Well, there are several reasons. This bumble bee has tucked himself into a peony to have a lovely nap. When the sun faces the blossom and warms up the ambient temperature, the bee will wake up and begin foraging. This peony is not a great example of a pollen or nectar rich plant. It's too frilly and frou frou, but it makes a luscious sleeping chamber. Don't you wish you could crawl up inside a fragrant peony blossom?

 This is a bumble bee sipping nectar from an aster at the Simon Fraser school garden. You can see her tongue getting right into the florets to sip the sweet liquid.

The blue-eyed widow grass was bereft of bees. Hmmm. I guess that means the nectar wasn't flowing at that point.

 A cabbage butterfly sips nectar from a strawberry flower.

 Another bee sips nectar from a chive blossom. Wonder what that tastes like?

 Look at the orange pollen on the legs of this bumble bee inside a Geum avens. Her suitcases are packed!

 Another reason insects visit flowers is to mate. While weeding the garden we observed two ladybugs "making hay" while the sun was shining.

 Here's a small native bee scrambling for pollen inside a perennial poppy.

Here is a  photograph of what appears to be two bees mating on a tree trunk. However, since honeybees mate with the queen in the air, and bumble bees mate on the ground, I'm guessing these two are flies who mimic bees. It's hard to tell from the photo, but I think these are Bombilious major. Wait a minute . . . I see that online photos of those flies show them mating back to back! I guess these must be some form of syrphid flies. Ach! Where's an entomologist (with a macro lens) when you need one?

If We Only Have Cupcakes

 Our choir celebrated Spring in our recent concert, so I made some treats to serve after the show. I felt like being "crafty" and I wanted to feature all the lovely pansies growing in the back yard.  We had some bananas that were going soft, so I made chocolate banana cupcakes.

 For the icing, I used a combination of coconut oil and (dairy) butter. I have been reading that coconut oil is good for those who tend towards diabetes. The jury is still out on that matter, but I am intrigued at how coconut oil behaves at different temperatures. And yes, it does have the unctuous quality of good old-fashioned butter. I added lots of cocoa powder to the icing and just a bit of icing sugar. I put the icing in the fridge overnight and brought it up to room temperature to ice the cupcakes.

 The texture seemed to hold up, but the coconut tends to "weep" a bit into the paper. I wrote some of the lyrics from our songs onto flags along with "I love you" in several languages. I searched the kitchen for toothpicks to use for flag poles, but they were AWOL, so I went to my neighbor's house to see if she had some. She didn't have toothpicks, but was just about to compost some black bamboo twigs. "Why don't you use these?" Well, lots of toothpicks are made of bamboo anyway, so I cut them down and they worked perfectly! I present to you spring cupcakes with homemade toothpicks!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bumble Bee Menage a Trois

 I was on my way to a workshop at the Mount Pleasant Community Garden and a cluster of bumble bees skittered across the sidewalk in front of me. Luckily, I had my camera and I snapped these shots of a young queen mating with one male with another male riding piggy back. The queen heeded for some privacy and safety in the grass and she managed to shake of the bareback rider.

Here you can see the male who successfully mated with the queen. He is pumping sperm into the queen and then he excretes a fluid with hardens and creates a plug to keep in the love juice and prevent other males from gaining access. When honey bee drones mate with the queen they die, but I'm not sure about bumble bee males. This guy certainly looks "spent"!

Apparently there is new evidence that bumble bee males actually play a working role in the nest.  According to "When the adult males emerge they spend a few days in the nest, but do no work, and then they leave the nest for good and forage for themselves. They can often be seen sheltering under the heads of flowers when it rains or when it gets dark. Well, that is what most of the books say, but recently it has been found that some North American bumblebee males do help in the nest by incubating the young, so their adult life is not just drinking, chasing queens and staying out all night long."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Awesome Cheesecake Alert!!!

 I have begun yet another kick at the "extremely healthy diet," incorporating lots of salads and cutting carbs and meat from my daily intake. Of course you know what happens when you start a restrictive diet, there's always that one food you start to crave like mad. My son and I have been sampling the cheesecakes at Mobius for a few weeks now and we are hooked. When the owner, Robyn Guinn described a banana cheesecake she was planning to make, I admit I began to fantasize about banana cheesecakes. I dreamt about them in my restless sleep.

I looked at recipes for cheesecakes and having been curious about raw "cheesecakes" I have been doing research to see what they are made of and if they are a good substitute. In the meantime, Robin promised me there would be banana cheesecake today and so I headed to Mobius (near King Edward and Main) and found my temptation waiting in the cooler.  Not just a banana cheesecake, but a Banana Caramel Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake. I took a piece home and photographed it before digging in.  Folks, it is worth breaking your diet to have a piece of this cheesecake. "My goal is to make the women of Main Street curvy," Robyn jokes. The cheesecake is smooth and silky with the contrasting snap of big chunks of dark chocolate. The combination of banana, chocolate and caramel is outstanding.

Both Robyn and the Mobius's other baker Nicole Harshey know their cheesecakes. Robyn gets a light texture from baking her cakes in a bain marie. I ask her how to avoid those big cracks in my own pumpkin cheesecake. She says the secret to avoiding cracks is to leave the cheesecake in the oven for an hour and a half after it is baked to set.

As an added bonus, these cheesecakes are GMO free. My friends know that I turn into the Ancient Mariner when someone gets me on the topic of genetically modified foods. I am anti GMO and think all GM products should be labeled so we can avoid being guinea pigs in certain companies' attempts to patent the food chain and destroy it in the process, so Mobius is an oasis to me: a GMO free zone. Eating these cheesecakes is a political act, folks. Be radical. Eat cheesecake!

Mobius Coffee and Tea is at 4125 Main Street, Vancouver.