Friday, June 28, 2013

EYA Bee Habitat: Sedum

 Our latest citizen scientist workshop took place at Oak Meadows Park where the Environmental Youth Alliance has planted two sections of bee habitat.  We added some sedum to the border, which had been grown and donated to the project. There is no water hookup, so Erin had to lug pails of water from a nearby garage in her car. We soaked the roots, as they had become dry and caked. Erin advised us to put some gritty soil under the plants before we put them in the soil. That's why this is a great version of sedum to put in a rock garden.

 According to an article called  A Succulent Story by Jocie Ingram, there are four kinds of native sedum in BC. I believe we planted Sedum oreganum or Spreading Stonecrop. Sedum is a plant I have grown to appreciate as a really good bee plant, especially in the the fall. There is a cultivar that I inherited called Autumn Joy that the bees go nuts for.

 The sod was not removed below this planting, nor was there any cardboard put down. The layers of soil and mulch are doing a good job of keeping down weeds, except at the northern edge of the garden, which is going to need some work.

 Of course, some weeds always find a way in to a planting eventually, so that is an inevitable part of our work.

After all the rain we've had this week the stonecrop should have a good start in their new bed and they will also be able to handle the hot dry weather that is predicted for the next few days.

This is also a great kind of sedum for green roofs, so it is worth growing some in your garden to spread around and give some love to our bees.

Here's a bonus:  In the Island Nature blog by Jocie and Dave Ingram, Dave has posted some tips on taking pictures of tiny bees with a digital SLR: Photographing Backyard Insects. Here's hoping we get some good bee photography weather soon!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rain, Rain, GO AWAY!

Are you as tired of the rain as I am? It's tempting to make like this wasp and hunker down in a cozy spot to wait it out. I have been neglecting my peas because my friend Catherine says "you must not walk among the peas in the rain." I guess the same must be said of garlic, because mine is badly infected with rust, which travels on the moist air. Oh well, I think it's far enough along in the development that it won't make a big difference, but next year I will choose an earlier maturing variety.

I had a workshop down in the Athlete's Village and saw lots of St John's Wort blooming along with a patch of white melilot which was attracting honeybees. Too bad it was right near a lot of semi-truck cabs idling for no good reason--one of my pet peeves. Grrrrr.

I have two new posts up at the Moberly Cultural Herb Garden Blog.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Today's Bee Plant: Baptisia

I saw this plant in a garden yesterday, and noted a bee was enthusiastically diving for nectar in its blossoms. "It looks like a yellow Baptisia," I said aloud. (Actually I think I said Baptista by mistake, perhaps because I live in a city with an infestation of baristas.) I was told it was not, could not be a yellow Baptisia and certainly not a Baptista of any shade. Well folks, turns out there is such a thing as a yellow Baptisia, and in fact it comes in all sorts of colours besides the classic purple North American native false indigo (Baptisia australis), including more than one shade of yellow. Furthermore, in this wonderful article by Cheryll Greenwood Kinsley, you will find that Baptisia is heat and drought tolerant, deer resistant, and in some situations, easier to grow than lupins.

We had some Baptisia australis at the MOP Garden, in the same sunny dry bed as native lupins, and they both seemed to do well. False indigo is a dye plant, with the Latin name referring to the dipping of cloth into water--think "baptism." The yellow plant above was getting leggy and needed support--I had the feeling it could have used a bit more sun, but it was doing all right. This would be an excellent choice for a cottage bee garden.

I couldn't resist taking a photo of this skinny syrphid posing on a Euphorbia.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Heritage Garden Tour: Some Thoughts

It has been so much fun to tour through some fabulous gardens on the Heritage Garden Tour. You should go! We tried to do all fourteen in one day, but I'm glad we saved three for tomorrow. It is quite overwhelming to take in all that personality and beauty.

Some of the things I've made notes about:

1) Jean and I both have potting shed envy. We all need a cute place to store tools and pot up plants, ranging from a stand-alone shelf, to a shelf under the eve of a studio, to a full on spotless outbuilding with that has been decorated in harmonious tones. "This is nicer than my house," Jean whispers of the latter.

2) I am loving the "curio table" ie metal tables with drainage holes displaying large shells, rocks, and interesting succulents.

3) Not that many bee plants, which is interesting. The largest garden had the most variety of bees, partly because of its size and partly because of the large number of native plants.

4) I liked it best when the owner was in the garden and happy to answer plant nerd questions. It really makes the tour special when you meet the person who's created the garden and you see how happy it makes them to share their passion.

5) I saw some triangular raised beds for food, which I loved and want to emulate some day. Almost every garden had one or more food garden beds.

6) Just because someone has put a lot of cash into a garden, doesn't mean it's more interesting. It's fun to see how people can be inventive without spending a ton of money.

I also learned a lot about my friend Jean, who has very strong opinions about plants and lateral fencing structures!

A big thank you to all those who generously opened up their gardens to us.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Black Raspberries and White Strawberries: Happy Summer Solstice!

 Tonight the sun came out at dinner time and we went out for sushi. I picked some of my shiso for chef and some nasturtiums that have been inspired to blossom by the rain. I noticed that some of our black raspberries and white strawberries are ripe!  Thank you bees.

Having been in a funk due to a five day headache, I haven't been out in the garden. It's made me a bit loopy, and I have been dreaming of lupins and vibrant red hummingbird sage. Today I finally felt the vise around my cranium ease off, so I dug up more of my lawn on the dry shady end and decided to sew it with lupins to improve the soil. I also added in Johnny Jump Up seeds, along with Anise Hyssop and Phacelia. I attacked the lamium and Spanish blue bells in that dark corner of the garden that drives me crazy. Face your madness head on, I say.

David Minter was on CBC One this week again, telling us it's not to late to plant veggies for fall if we use fast-maturing varieties. And we must also start thinking about fall planting, which is why I put in those lupin seeds. Some might wait until next year to germinate. Patience, my dear. In the meantime I still have seedlings in my porch!

 I am really in love with this particular mock orange bush. The owner must think I'm a spy or something as I have been taking photos of these flowers all week. Tonight there was a pollen beetle and a honey bee along with the various stages of lady bugs.

No, that is not a floral head dress--it is a bouquet behind my head!

Well, today our boy graduated from grade seven. I was impressed at how poised and dignified the grads looked, and how cheeky their speeches were. A few of them have been at the same school since kindergarten and we have grown fond of them over the years, especially when we have seen them performing at Christmas concerts for eight years, releasing salmon chum together in grade one (vowing never to eat chum!), gardening and making art with me in class. And in recent years we've seen them skyping themselves into our lives and playing board games in our living room. Good luck to you, sweet ones--full of potential and mischief. Happy solstice and safe journeys.

The People's Potluck Performance at Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre

Hi Folks,

I am passing on a message from Maggie Winston:

Hello Friends and Colleagues,

I am excited to invite you to the final event of Something Collective's Two-Year Moberly Arts & Cultural Centre Residency.

"The People's Picnic Potluck Performance"

Event Date: Friday, June 28th 6pm
Preparation Workshops: June 24th-27th
Where: Moberly Arts & Cultural Centre
7646 Prince Albert St @ 60th Avenue. In the Incubator Studio.

What is The People’s Potluck Picnic Performance?

Imagine a potluck unlike any other... As creative members of this community we invite you to participate in making a food and art sharing event where the dinner is the performance! You can join a team that will be responsible for creating the atmosphere of the event. Teams will prepare for the event during the Preparation Workshops which will occur during the week prior to the event.

Prep Teams Schedule:
Mon. June 24 6-9pm- Art Deco Workshop Maggie Winston
Tues. June 25 7-9pm- Music Making Workshop with Laura Barron
Wed. June 26- 6-8pm- Serving Choreography Workshop with Natalie TY Gan
Thurs. June 27- 6-8pm- Storytelling Workshop with Maggie Winston

All workshops will take place at the Incubator Studio at Moberly Arts & Cultural Centre.

Invite family, friends, neighbours to attend the free potluck and experience the feast that was artfully created during the week of preparation.

Together we will enjoy a shared experience celebrating each other and our community!

An initiative of Something Collective, Artists-in-Residence at MACC/Sunset CC and sponsored by the Neighbourhood Small Grants Program (Vancouver Foundation)
Note: This is a potluck, so you are expected to bring a dish. Please indicate on a small note the ingredients in your dish. And if you purchase food please keep your receipts and I can reimburse you the expense. Also bring your own plate, cutlery, and cup so we may reduce our waste as much as possible.

Please send me a message indicated which workshop you can attend!
Contact Maggie Winston at puppetmaggie(at)gmail(dot)com

For more details check out
Maggie Winston

Artistic Director of Lost & Found Puppet Co.

Happy Pollinator Week!: Campanula Season

Yesterday was a rainy day, with more than a one or two millimeter tease of precipitation. I am relieved that the gardens I help maintain will get a good drink. I was quite miserable yesterday, picking flowers in the rain for my son's grade seven grad with a splitting headache. Rain like this means honeybees have to stay inside. It was even too wet for bumble bees-- I saw one hunkering down under my lovage umbrels/umbrellas.

Too much rain will mean a dearth of pollen and nectar for honeybees, so they depend on a certain percentage of warm sunny days. If a summer honeybee only lives six weeks, one week of rain is a large percentage of their life. I would think that inside the hive, their lives would be busy, but not as risky or taxing as foraging. In this photo, you can see a honeybee foraging in the ground-cover type of campanula. She doesn't appear to be getting much pollen, but her abdomen looks distended with nectar.

Please check out Bug Girl's Pollinator Week post. She has some good reading recommendations and links to free downloads and e-books.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

10 Reasons to Grow a Bee Garden

Ten Reasons You Should Grow a Bee Garden:

by Lori Weidenhammer aka Madame Beespeaker

Whether you call it an insectory, a pollinator garden, or a bee garden, plants rich in nectar, pollen, and essential oils will sustain a healthy pollinator population that will benefit your household and the community you belong to.

1) Human survival depends on plant survival which depends on insect survival. Biodiversity of plant base and insect supports a healthy ecosystem. As humans on this planet, we have the responsibility to be informed and responsible stewards of the plants that sustain us. Plants keep our planet breathing. Plants feed us. Plants heal us. Bee gardens give our children a future.

2) Urban sprawl is eating up blossom space, and must be countered by a movement to create blossom density. Our cities need radical gardeners and bee advocates who make sure that space is left for pollinator habitat in cities and towns. Bee gardens are political.

3) The movement towards growing and eating locally depends on bees and other pollinators for its success. Bee gardens preserve food security.

4) Including native pollinator plants in your garden helps preserve biodiversity and keeps the knowledge of working with what grows best in your climate. Bee gardens create and preserve a literacy of local knowledge and local ethnobotanical traditions.

5) Industrial agriculture is creating an environment that is hostile and even toxic to pollinators, threatening the future of our planet. In growing organic bee gardens, insectaries, and pollinator corridors, the health of our planet rests on our organic farmers and gardeners. Bee gardens are an essential part of sustainable agricultural practise.

6) Meliferous plants come from a long cultural tradition and heritage of the relationship between humans and honeybees. Many of us have a lineage of beekeepers in our family traditions which can be passed down from generation to generation, deepening the tradition and culture of organic beekeeping. Bee gardens are a rich part of our cultural heritage.

7) The culture of bee gardening could in itself be a huge growth industry, with nurseries carrying and identifying bee plants and gardeners gaining employment replacing lawns with pollinator plants and creating biodiverse hedgerows and pollinator borders. Bee gardens are a viable economic industry.

8) Waterwise perennial bee gardens potentially use less inputs than lawn and vanity gardens--including weeding, watering, and fertilizing. Bee gardens are an integral part permaculture.

9) Bee gardens can provide a healing oasis and sensuous retreat for the benefits of health for humans and animals. Insectaries stimulate our senses and inspire the poet, artist, and spiritualist inside us all. Bee gardens are good for the soul.

10) Bee gardens give everyone a chance to observe bees and learn about their behavior. Scientists can study the relationship of bees to plants to help optimize the choices we make when we plant our life-sustaining bee gardens. Bee watching could become a popular hobby, much in the same way that bird watching has become a lucrative industry. Bee watching could create an interest and passion in a child that leads them to a career choice: entomology, horticulture, chemistry, psychology, agriculture, ecology, etc. Bee gardens engage, educate and enlighten.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Mock Orange Visitors

 This is a variety of mock orange I don't see very often. It has four petals with that tinge of pink near the nectaries, which makes me think this would be the best variety for bee visitors. It was about 6:30 pm when I took this photograph. Most bees had gone in for the evening, but the aphid eaters were busy at work.

 This is a ladybug pupae, conspicuous against the creamy white petal. These bushes are filling the dusky humid air with a heady scent, redolent of jasmine. They will provide the "smell track" to my evening's entertainment: watching murder mysteries in exotic climates.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Diversity of Bees at Vancouver City Hall Community Garden

 Gardens are an important expression of a city's expression and spirit. Civic plantings say a lot about a city's character and priorities. What do the plantings at Vancouver City Hall say about us? Are they waterwise, sustainable, pollinator-friendly examples of permaculture? Or are they bland, conventional annuals replaced every few months from the city greenhouses? Are they a good use of labour resources? Do they inspire the gardeners that maintain them? I'm just curious.

I found this little purple garden I found at the back of City Hall. It's got lavender, scabiosa, cranesbill geranium, and salvia. In fact, it's a little bee garden. I like it. It's simple and charming.

But what I really like is the City Hall Community Garden. I stopped by to weed the school plot and do some bee watching. Yesterday I explained to my twelve-year-old son what "me time" is. "It's a day you take yourself to the spa, and do things to nourish yourself," I said. "Hmm, when was the last time I went to a spa?" Cue the eye rolling. My "me time" is bee time. I needed a bit of that in the middle of running errands in a busy city. I found this tiny bronze bee resting on a dianthus blossom. She doesn't seem to be carrying pollen on her furry legs.

There were bumble bees foraging in the white and purple salvias in the pollinator garden, but the real action was in this clump of thyme. Considering it was already 5 pm, I was glad I hadn't missed the show.

There were about six honeybees here, along with two small syrphid flies, one larger syrphid, the gold bee, a green-eyed little bee, a really tiny sweat bee, along with two kinds of wasps. The Salvia officinalis next to the thyme was being dominated by a wooly carder bee.

One wasp flew into this tiny hole in the bed. I think this is the kind of wasp that stung me once when I was watering the garden plot. It felt like there was hot water coming out of the hose onto my leg, and then I realized I was being stung by angry wet mini-wasps coming out of the cracks in the wood.

 I know this is a fuzzy photo, but this sweet green-eyed girl has a fuzzier butt than that little wasp, even thought they are about the same size. I'll try to get a better photo tomorrow.

Now I know where to go bee-watching with students! Have you had your bee time today?
Madame Beespeaker's RX for happiness: fifteen minutes of bee gardening or bee watching a day.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Inaugural Citizen Scientist Survey

First you have to choose a site. It needs to be close to your home and have a diversity of flowering plants. It needs to be one block long. I was having an attack of indecisiveness, but in the end I decided to start with the Mount Pleasant Park and see how it worked out. I was torn between that area and my and my neighbour's gardens. Maybe I'll do them too.

You need to choose a good bee-watching day, preferable between 10 am and 3:30 pm. It had been unsettled all morning, but when the sun finally emerged, I headed down the hill with my zucchini plant and two "Hotlips" salvias. After planting these in the plot, I searched for plants that were busy with bees. Believe it or not, the best plant was the lovage in my garden, with these little adrena mining bees.

Then you have to choose three of the plants and count the bees on each for about 3 1/3 minutes each. This wasp appeared later, when I was documenting the plant visitors with my camera.

You can see the holes chewed in these bleeding heart blossoms by nectar robbers.

 There was no action on these broad bean plants.

We have to evaluate cloud cover, wind, rain and temperature.

One of my other choices was a clump of cranesbill geranium. You can see the bumble bee sticking her tongue right into that nectary.

This is the cranesbill geranium planting I watched.

This is my first nasturtium blossom for the year.

 My final plant was borage, or as I call it, bee porridge.

Can you believe this is common garden sage? It's blossoms and calyxes are so beautiful!

This was my first wooly carder bee sighting of the season. It exhibited bullying behaviour, knocking honeybees away from the blossoms.

The cloud cover returned and I headed home for supper. I've pasted the data below for those who are interested.

Pollinator Citizen Science Data Sheet Environmental Youth Alliance 2013

Name: Lori Weidenhammer Date: Wed., June 12 Time of Day: 4:40 pm

Location: Mount Pleasant Park and Community Garden Temp: 20 C Weather: W1 CC 4 Rain 0

Plant 1: Borago officinalis

Bumblebees: 4
Hairy Belly Bees: 0
Sweat/Mining Bees: 0
Honeybees: 5
Flies: 1 (syrphid)

Pollen: white full loads

Plant 2: Lovage: Levisticum officinale
Bumblebees: 0
Hairy Belly Bees:0
Sweat/mining bees: 4
Honeybees: 2
Flies: 0
Other: 1 Ladybug

Pollen: native bees had mustard yellow pollen loads

Plant 3: Cranesbill Geranium 'Rozanne'? (City Planting)
Bumblebees: 6
Hairy Belly Bees: 0
Sweat/Mining Bees
Honeybees: 7

Pollen: scant load


The journey to the site:
The sun had just come out after an overcast and unsettled morning with only about 1 mm rain. I noted a bumble bee in a bleeding heart (cultivar) as I walked to the site. There were also bumble and honey bees in a ceanothus. There are about 3 California lilacs on my eight block walk down the hill. There are also many rugosa in bloom by the sidewalks and in curb and traffic circle plantings. The Bridal Bush (Spiraea) was almost spent, whereas a week ago it was in its prime. There are several mock jasmine in bloom, one with an aphid infestation and many ladybug larvae. The lavender is almost in bloom. Nepeta in bloom. One white syringa in bloom with syrphid flies visiting.

The Mount Pleasant Community Garden Raised Beds:
2 syrphid flies on non-climbing clematis
nasturtiums--no visitors
kale flowers: lots of bumble bees and honey bees
white clover: no action
thyme: nothing
pea blossoms (many): no action
salvia officinalis: honey bees and my first wooly carder bee sighting for the year--aggressive behaviour noted, defending this plant
corn poppies: no action
corn flowers: de nada
cerinthe (blue shrimp plant): bumble bee, lots of pollen
chives: no action
calendula: bumble bee
lots of tagetes: no action
crimson clover: no action
arugula: nothing
alyssum: nothing
Italian parsley: syrphid flies
lima beans: nothing
bleeding hearts: holes observed from nectar robbing

City Plantings:
yellow yarrow: no bees
Salvia (something like Purple Rain?) busy with bumble bees. There are several groupings of this plant in the park, along with the cranesbill geranium and yarrow.
white syringa: honey bees and bumble bees. These three trees are quite new.
curry plant: no action
cream-colored iris in the wet garden: nothing

The Mystery Plant is Purple Toadflax

It may seem odd that on a rainy day I am reading a book about waterwise gardening, but I have pulled one of my favourite books off the shelf: The Xeriscape Flower Gardener: A Waterwise Guide for the Rocky Mountain Region by Jim Knopf. I feel a kinship with this book which I found tucked away in the corner of a thrift shop. I note it had already been marked down in the book shop with a "hurt" sticker. Maybe that's partly why I'm so attached to it. I also have a soft spot for the Rocky Mountains, having gone to summer camp in the Alberta foothills for many childhood summers. I have lovely memories of finding wild alpine strawberries on horse rides and sleeping on cushy layers of sphagnum moss in the forest. (Although in the middle of the night, you do tend to find there are rocks below your green "mattress.")

As someone who grew up on the prairies, conserving water was second nature to us. When I was really young we used to have to pump water from a hand-pumped well. It was ice cold and you could taste the stony minerals in it. People in Vancouver say "We live in a rainforest, so we don't have to conserve water. Duh." Yeah, well all that water has to be stored, filtered and treated. Duh. Also, excess water can be sent to places who need clean drinking water. Water is precious and live-giving. People who squander water make me very frustrated.

In the chapter called "Critters in the Waterwise Garden" there is a lovely photo of a monarch on a Pitcher Sage plant (Salvia Pitcheri), which resembles the plant above. So I thought eureka! Here it is, a Xeric plant that is great for hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. However, I noticed the photos on the internet had the flower looking more blue than purple. And looking at the two photos side by side I see that although the  leaves are thin and straight and the blossoms are bilateral, the morphology is different and they are different colours. The plant I took a picture of looks like toadflax, I thought to myself, a purple toadflax. Bingo! That's what it is: Linarea purpurea, which may have originally come from in Italy. And the good news it is a relatively well-behaved toadflax. The common yellow toadflax is invasive here. Linarea purpurea is a good bee plant and it is a host species to some moths but it is toxic to livestock, so not suitable for pollinator borders on farms.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Happy Bee Watchers

Kitty is a woman with an enthusiasm for pollinator plants. She plants them in her garden so that the food gardens in her neighbourhood will flourish. They owe part of their success to her. It is no surprise that Kitty spent summers in the Outdoor School with her mother as a teacher. She knows how important bee plants are to the health of the ecosystem: "I look at grass and cedars and I see a dessert,"she says. With a small neighbourhood grant she is offering bee awareness workshops to the community at minimal cost. This Saturday she organized a lecture on honey bees by Brian Campbell and a bee walk.

Brian was in good form, with a polished and elucidating talk on apis mellifera, in which he finally helped me to understand some of the basics of bee genetics, which I'll explain in another blog post. In the mean time, come along with us on our walk through the neighborhood near Fraser and Broadway.

 It was not great weather for bee watching, but we took note of bee plants along the way like this salvia.

We bumped into a friendly neighbour who said if we wanted to see bees, we were welcome to check out the Styrax japonica in his back yard. It was humming with upside down bumble bees and I fell in love with the art-deco style blossoms. There's a house two doors down that has a honey bee hive, and the berries have been better ever since," he remarked.

 I love the little free box a local person has in their front yard. It's like a shelter for an icon.

Here are three bee plants that blossom in June with similar flowers: Number one is the white climbing rugosa rose.

 Number two is a single mock orange.

 Number three is a Himalayan Blackberry blossom.

 We saw an amazing number of California lilac bushes which really seemed to thrive in this neighbourhood, creating a good pollinator pathway for this time of the year.

After taking a look at the Urban Digs Community Garden, I headed home via La Consecha community garden which had good bee hedges with roses, oregon grape and mock orange.

Kitty will be organizing more bee awareness events, so stay tuned for more information and check out her blog: Happy Bee Gardens.

Also, if anyone knows what the purple flower is at the top of the post, I'd be much obliged!