Monday, July 29, 2013

A Buzzy Market at UBC Farm

It's been 28 days without rain in Vancouver. The grass alongside the road in Westbrooke village is brown and sere. There is a bit of a chill in the air and a cloud bank moving in from the North, but I don't think it will rain today. I decided it was going to be hot, so I dressed in my roomy Beespeaker pants, white blouse and pith helmet. I'm going on a bee safari at UBC Farm.

When I arrive at the farm I go out in the gardens to see which bee plants are blooming. The honeybees are already busy in the oregano and the larger bumble bees are just waking up, slowly making their way around the sunflowers, dahlias, echinops and monarda. When the day heats up the bees will warm up and get more speedy and the smaller bumble bee runts will join them. Those little 'uns can move really fast--too fast for my camera. On the echinops I find a very large elongated queen with a big bald spot in the middle of her thorax. She also had bald patches on her sides from rubbing against blossoms and possibly from rubbing against the side of the entrance to her nest. You can see the big white pollen grains that have collected on her fur.

I much prefer the fireworks of flowers to nocturnal pyrotechnics. These echinops are so much fun to photograph. I must plant some in my garden next year. They looks great with perovskia and sea holly.

When the sunflowers are blooming and the blackberries are ripe UBC Farm is the best place to be in Vancouver.

This sunflower has a lemon yellow pollen that matches what we call its petals, but are not actually its real petals.

Tepeas! The aboriginal community kitchen garden is looking great.

Take a walk on the wild side.

Garlic must be cured for several days before it is sold.

Fireweed is a great honey plant.

This is a classic bee plant--a variety of phacelia that can be planted as a cover crop.

This is one of the fuzziest bees I have ever seen. No bald spots here!

When the hairs get rubbed off the stripes are more delineated.

Hmmmm, I think I saw a painting of these somewhere.

At the market I meet Beekeeper Stephanie, who is going to suit up and open the hives today. She is very calm around the bees, and good at fielding questions. I pipe in where I can add my two cents. We are very clear about warning people that they must stay calm and move slowly around the hive and talk about the dangers of being stung. The third time we open the hive, the bees are getting agitated and one flies into a boys hoodie. He panics because the bee is caught in his hair and before you know it he's bee stung on the head. Oh dear. I tell him he'll be okay, only it will hurt like hell for 10 minutes and he'll never forget this day. I remove the stinger, His mom chews up a plaintain leaf and sticks it on the bump.

I have fun showing off the new trick I learned from beekeeper Brian Campbell--pressing on the backs of drones to see how they buzz. The younger the drone, the more soft its body is. Fun times!

People are asking great questions, especially the kids. How do bees gather propolis? I'd never thought about it. Ironically, when I research this "red shiny pollen" on a bee's corbicles I realize I've photographed a bee carrying propolis back to the hive. She has collected with her mandibles from a tree and transferred it to her back legs. You can see the propolis on the left side of this photograph. It helps keep the hive hygienic.  After reading this article on the Basic Beekeeping blog, I found out that some beekeepers used to discourage the making of propolis because it slowed down hive inspections. Now beekeepers are actually roughing up some of the wood in the hive to encourage the bees to smooth it out with propolis. I wonder if it plays a role in keeping out the varroa mite.

Twin bees on a dahlia

This is a good example of integrating vetch into a daisy patch to make it more biodiverse.

A trio of young boys squat in the grass and shoot me some tough questions. One of them has a fantastic imagination.  "Are there flowers that are poisonous to bees? What is the electric fence for? What if the chicken touched the electric fence? Would it get burnt? Could we eat it for dinner?"

"Call the firetruck!" his younger brother cries, keen for some excitment.

Well, roasted chickens aside, I was very excited to learn from one of the interns that the Agroforestry department has planted a bee hedgerow at UBC Farm! I must go back to check it out and take some photos. Check out the information here.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pollen Gets in Your Eyes

I had a great time this morning helping beekeeper Stephanie give hive tours at UBC Farm. Here's photographic evidence of how pollen (from a zucchini blossom) sticks to the hairs on a honeybee, even the hairs in her large compound eyes on either side of her head. Sometimes a bee will land on you to take a rest and groom the pollen out of her eyes. It's a great opportunity to get up close and personal with a honeybee without feeling threatened. Face it, she's just not that into you. Bees are into gymnosperms. BTW, did you notice the tiny hairs on the edges of the blossom?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Dad's Honey

This is a photograph of my father with the honey that almost cost him his life over thirty years ago. An unfortunate beekeeping incident ended with an emergency trip to the doctor who saved him. Dad had to give up beekeeping, but he still has this jar of honey from his endeavors, and a really good story.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Perovskia on Holiday

Whenever I go to the Okanagan for the summer I am enchanted by the patches of perovskia that provide important forage for bees in this hot, dry period. Look at the way the plant glows in the bright sun at the Quail's Gate Winery. This is a good plant for those who go on holiday in July because it will thrive in a xeriscape garden. I can see this interplanted with teasel, echinops and sea holly.

A big thanks to those friends who watered my garden while I was on holiday!!!!!!!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Awesome Agapostemon

I am about to go on a hiatus, so I'm going to leave you with my favorite bee photo to date which I took in VanDusen Gardens. It's a female green sweat bee (Agapostemon). When I come back online I'll tell you where I found her. (If you promise not to net and pin her!)

Linden Swoon

 It was a stressful morning. I had to leave the house by nine, but everything was against me. I shook the dust out of my beekeeping suit, but I couldn't find one of my gloves. Bags and pots overturned. I put my bus tickets and all my bras in the wash. (Don't ask.) I couldn't find anything in the fridge to being for lunch and change for the bus was MIA. Finally, I just chucked some ice and cold tap water in a bottle and headed to a coffee shop to get a sandwich. (Yes, dear reader, it was closed.) However on the way there I was waylaid by a sight that I figured was a good excuse to be late for a hive inspection. The bees were swooning.

 I came upon two cute little shaggy dogs on the sidewalk surrounded by bees. "What's this?" I wondered? Then I looked at the linden blossoms that had fallen from the trees and dried in drifts of golden yellow. It was swarming with bumble bees. Everywhere I looked bees were frantically sifting through the blossoms. It was a frenzy. The dog owner was sitting on the nearby apartment stoop. "The bees have been doing that for two days," he said.

 It seemed as though the hot muggy weather had released the essential oils in the blossoms and it was driving them around the bend. One bee was frantically sticking her tongue in a blossom that had not yet dried up. I snapped these photos and then I hopped on the number three bus down the hill. I was eager to share my story with the other bee nerds I was meeting.

After the hive inspection I came home by way of the linden trees. There were no frenzied bees, but dotted here and there was the occasional dead bumble bee and one honey bee. I looked at the leaves on the trees and then I realized these were the silver lindens, Tilia Tomentosa, that are reported to be toxic to bees. The bottom branches had been pruned up so high that I had failed to distinguish them from the other lindens. I had been watching a silver linden around the corner for days, looking for dead bees, but everything there was hunky dory and the foraging honey bees and bumble bees were very much alive.

 So the mystery deepens . . . . What is it about these lindens that causes some bees to dance to their death? Are the older bees the ones who succumb to a linden swoon?

 If you look at the wings of the dead honeybee you'll see they are quite ragged, so she was probably on her last legs. Did she experience an alternative reality under the influence of the linden blossoms? Was it a beautiful way to die?

Bees Love Vetch

Yesterday I talked to the Moberly Remix summer camp kids about butterfly plants. There are a couple of Buddleja bushes near the entrance to the Community Centre that the Anise Swallowtails are enjoying right now, and I noticed that this vetch is climbing around a couple of plants in the herb garden. Vetch does double duty as a bee and butterfly plant. It is delicate and climbs upward on our snowberry bushes and artichokes without harming the plants. Vetch is also a nitrogen fixer. Honeybees and bumble bees love it!

The Joe Pye weed (see the post below) is also a nectar source for the swallowtail butterfly family.

Check out this snowberry that is fruiting and flowering at the same time--it's such a good bee plant.

This little bee is too bushed to boogie. I took the photo at about 7:30 pm when all good little bees are in bed. He's curled around the leaf of Jupiter's beard.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Mid-July at Moberly Cultural Herb Garden

 The best thing about a thriving herb garden is that it attracts clouds of pollinators, including honey bees in the Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium).

 The sunflowers and echinacea are now in bloom.

 The artichokes haves bee cleaned of aphids by ladybugs and birds.

 The coreopsis blooms next to wooly lamb's ear.

Leaf cutter bees are making polka dots holes in bean and rose leaves.

Here's a red zinnia waiting for a hummingbird.

 The sea holly and California lilac are attracting the most variety of insects.

 The sweet peas have the strongest perfume in this garden.

Swallowtails swoop between the cedars.

And I have had my portrait done! I love it!