Wednesday, October 30, 2013

To Sting or Not to Sting: A Poem by Madame Beespeaker

 To Sting or Not to Sting

Bombus queens and monarchs of the Apis melifera

 can sting you more than once.

Their daughters can defend themselves,

Alas, not so the sons.

A Honeybee uses her stinger to protect the hive,

if she stilletos another insect she may remain alive.

She'd rather not attack a mammal for fear of her mortality,

But African bees will sting en masse with a mob mentality.

Princess bees and the queen will fight each other to the death,

But the elder queen would rather swarm to avoid regicidal stress.

All male bees are amorous and really quite defenseless.

Bald faced hornets will not hurt us if we keep our distance.

The same can be said of mostly all the female Vespas,

But giant Japanese hornets are Hymenoptera horribilus.

They make all other wasps and bees seem but an inconvenience.


Madame Beespeaker, Oct. 30, In the Year of Our Bee 2013

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween Phenology

We've still having some beautiful warm, sunny days. The women that do morning tai chi at Moberly perform their elegant workout and then meditate together on a bench with the sun on their faces. The trees stop me in my tracks with their transforming colors. I am feeling that tension, waiting for the first frost. My partner keeps waffling on whether he'll move from cycling to taking the bus. I overheard someone saying there might have been some black ice on the roads this morning. She was surprised to come to work and there were no bicycles on the rack. "What do they know that I don't?" she wonders aloud.

I passed by the EYA's Pollinator Paradise garden today and their were two contrasting bumblebee queens foraging in the Phacelia tanacetifolia. I feel so honored to see them, but part of me says, "Come on Queenie, it's time to retire to the Royal Bedchamber." I don't blame them for wanting to squeeze in one more solar-powered nectar-sweet day.

As the bumblebees descend into the underworld it's time to take out the mason bee cocoons and hold them up to the light. I spent a lovely morning at a mason bee workshop where Brian Campbell taught us how to confidently clean our mason bee cocoons. This is an important skill for those who want to take your good intentions and turn them into real action for caring for our bees. A mason bee condo that you don't clean often turns into a bee graveyard, as we sadly discovered. Here lies Osmia lignaria lignaria, ravaged by chalk brood, pollen mites and parasitic wasps.

With the good weather our neighborhood has become rife with stage-managed graveyards made from leaves piled into mounds marked with theatrical white crosses and ghoulish gravestones. This is the week we remember our ancestors with a candle and a prayer. We take out woolens out to clean them and repair the moth holes. We flip our clocks forward to save the light. We sort out seeds and put them in a safe place. We stitch our diurnal narrative into the fabric of sunlight, leaves and bark.

I went into our local flower shop because I want to smell the air and I want to buy a little succulent. The women behind the counter are being instructed to roll little rubber balls on their hands to relieve tension and help with the circulation. It's a lovely afternoon ritual for women who use their hands on cold plants for hours every day. I am calmed by watching them and I resolve to take a class in this ball rolling method.

On the way home I run into my neighbor and somehow we stumble into a conversation where I find more out about her in five minutes than I have in 13 years. How she survived an Earthquake in China and nearly died of lung cancer six years ago. I am astonished. "But you look so good!" I exclaim. She's always got good color in her cheeks and she walks her dog faithfully. Cities are strange and wonderful--full of the surprising richness of humans and bees so close to us we can barely see them.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Take Me Outside Day at Moberly Cultural Herb Garden

As the fall weather turns colder the impulse to hibernate starts to manifest in our animal brains and it takes an extra effort to get motivated to go outside. Yesterday was Take Me Outside Day, and so we celebrated by taking a group of grade five students out of the classroom into the garden. We cleaned up the garden and put her to bed.

Students collected seeds from red flax, echinacea and coreopsis. They were excited to find an earwig and a tiny translucent white spider in the seed bowl. The girls were shocked when they opened scarlet runner pods and found bright purple beans inside that matched their nail polish.

 Some guys just dug holes in the sand pit and filled them up again, but sometime's that's the kind of thing being outside is all about.

Herbalist Lori Snyder taught the students about three plants in and around the garden and gave the students a taste of her infused rose petal honey. Students learned how to identify Plantago major and use it to treat bee stings.

The Latin name for these flowers is Echinacea purpurea and they are in the Asteraceae family. The Greek word "echino" means sea urchin. In fact Echinacea is the same Latin name used for the sea animal. You can see the resemblance to sea urchins in these coneflower heads. Tapping the dried heads over a bowl releases the seeds. As it hasn't rained much at all this month, the seeds will quickly dry out in the classroom.

Artist/gardener Loree Boehm led the students on a visioning exercise for a new garden we are planning. The students had some great ideas. "I think we should learn more about plants," I overheard one student muse aloud. Amen dude. Let's get outside more often.

An Open Letter to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation


Dear CBC Radio Producers,

I am very sad that our local Vancouver radio show has begun to focus a great deal of time and energy on stock market reports and business news. While there is a place for a certain amount of that kind of fiscal fascination, I feel that the news on other more pressing events has been displaced, namely weather and weather patterns. I miss the intelligent and cheerful reports from meteorologists who help describe weather events and put them into perspective. In fact I am more interested in how the weather is affecting the flora and fauna of our province than in who's making the most money on any given day. I am more interested in rare wildflowers and the endangered bees than kickstarters and start-ups. I would rather hear stories about moose and geese than mergers and bankruptcies. We need to hear about the small "b" blackberries and the twitter of indigenous birds before we lose them for our lack of attention.

I feel we are losing our connection to the outdoors and to the natural world and would enjoy more programming focussing on ecological issues. In fact I would like a whole channel devoted to the Canadian outdoor culture. It is part of our heritage and our great gift as Canadians and I feel our taxes should be going to that kind of green programming--programming for the 90% of us who do not own stocks or live our lives in the pursuit of money at the expense of a life that is rich is a deeper sense.

Many Thanks,
Lori Weidenhammer

aka Madame Beespeaker

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bee Garden Blitz at Jerry's Garden in North Vancouver

Maybe the weekend before Halloween should be declared the official bee garden planting time of the year.  In Vancouver it's good to get some of the larger perennials moved and new trees and bushes in the ground before the rains some. This gives some plants a chance to establish themselves with a good supply of rainwater before the summer dry period comes next year. When I saw this poster at the Homesteader Emporium I was really excited to take part in this project and meet the BeeFriendly folks in North Vancouver.

It wasn't too difficult to get to the garden using public transit. You can catch the number 240 bus to North Vancouver across from the City Center sky train station which takes you within twenty minutes of Loutet Farm. The farm is a collaboration among the North Shore Neighborhood House, The City of North Vancouver and UBC Farm. The community partners transformed a strip of land that borders a soccer field in Loutet Park and turned it into a micro farm that sells vegetables to the local community at Wednesday and Saturday markets. The farm houses two beehives in sturdy bear-proof cages and is bordered by a busy path used by dog-walkers, joggers, and horsey folk.

On the other side of that public path is a gem of a garden named after its gentle gardener, Jerry MacPherson. I am early for the work party, but Jerry is already busy working in the garden. He is a quietly spoken sweet soul, and he's very excited about what we'll be doing in the garden. There is a diversity of plants packed into a small space and within five minutes of visiting the garden a male Anna's hummingbird lands on a branch in front of me to check out the interloper in what he clearly considers as his space.

There are quite a few hummingbird plants in this garden, some of which are still blooming: honeysuckle, crocosmia, monarda hardy fuschia and Lobelia cardinalis. Other plants include Agastache foeniculum, lavender, thyme, oregano, Persicaria amplexicaulis (red bistort), and Persicaria bistorta, (pudding dock). There are hazelnut bushes, Japanese anenomes, ox-eye daisies, hydrangeas and rose bushes cranesbill geranium, day lilies, iris, and more.

Over thirty volunteers arrive to help out in the garden including a gardener from as far away as Hornby Island. There are community gardeners from North Vancouver and employers and employees from The Great Canadian Landscaping Company which is one of the proud sponsors of this project.

We start by cleaning up the south side of the garden and prepare the ground to receive new soil. Everyone just mucks in a finds a job that suits their ability and energy level. "It's like the ground is moving!" Jerry exclaims as we dig and clip and cart wheelbarrows of green waste into the compost pile. The volunteers accomplish what could have been 6 weeks worth of work in the course of a few hours.

One of the young student helping us out finds this little garter snake we have flushed out from his hibernating spot. "He's so small I thought he was a worm," he says.

During the delicious lunch provided by whole Foods, a honeybee tries to steal back some of her precious honey. She is determined to clean every speck of it off the outside of this jar.

Jerry is a tireless worker. I didn't see him sit down once, not even for lunch.

We also uncover a queen Vosnesenskii. "We're almost done the hotel, and then you'll have a new place to stay," one volunteer says.

The attic of the hotel will be filled with the kind of soft insulation that bumble bees need for their nests. Although primarily ground nesters, using abandoned rodent nests, they occasionally snuggle in to bird houses and insulation in (human) houses.

Ric has package up several seeds from Gerry's garden which we are invited to choose from to plant in  our own gardens. The seeds Ric collected in the Gerry's Garden are Joe Pye weed, Jacob's ladder, lupin, Crocosmia, corn poppies, Delphinium, Monarda didyma, wooly lamb's ear, and foxglove. I picked up some Monarda didyma seeds because it supports bees and hummingbirds and makes delicious tea. People walking the path are drawn in by Ric's bee demo table. They get really excited about the bee garden seeds and the insect hotel.

After lunch Ric from BeeFriendly gives an excellent talk on native bees. A former construction worker, he has taken up the cause of protecting and supporting native bees, along with the frogs and snakes he remembers from his childhood. He warns us not to purchase mason bee cocoons because they can be infested with pollen mites. It's better to find cocoons from a local mason beekeeper. He talks about the tragic loss of the Western Bumble bee due to the importation of disease-ridden non-native bumblebees by the greenhouse industry. He also talked about the importance of lupins as an early source of nectar and pollen for the queen bee to raise her first batch of brood in the spring.

The piece de resistance is this sturdy insect hotel which is placed on the site and anchored in concrete. It will be filled with bark, straw and other plant stems, as well as logs drilled with holes of varying diameters for a wide range of bees and beneficial wasps. There's a snake habitat under the insect hotel. As long as it's not a spider hotel, one gardener says. I am freaked out by the brown recluse spider. They do nasty things to your skin. (Maybe he should read this post by BugEric.)

Many thanks to our fearless and BeeFriendly leaders: Joseph, Sharon and Ric.

The White Butted Bumble Bee

Check out this lovely video produced by the Oregon Zoo about the Western Bumble Bee (Bombus Occidentalis). Once the most common bumble bee in Western North America it is now only rarely seen by folks like Rich Hatfield from the Xerces Foundation. Bee nerds will admire his deft netting technique.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pollinator Paradise with EYA and Eric Hamber High School

We're in Oak Meadows Park at eight in the morning and we're here to help the Environmental Youth Alliance plant a Pollinator's Paradise. The park is enveloped in fog, softening the edges of the world, and creating a sense of a suspended disbelief. The spiders have been here before us, industriously setting dew-laden traps for the last moths of autumn.

 The lupins are left to seed themselves to create more habitat for bumble bees.

We shift plants in pots to the garden beds. All the bushes and trees are local native species, super-foods for local pollinators and supermarkets for songbirds.

 Students appear out of the distant fog, as if magicked by garden elves.

 Gradually these trees and bushes will naturalize into the existing park flora and create a rich biodiverse region that functions on many beneficial levels, for humans and critters.

We came, we planted, we weeded, and we had a light snack.

We had the benefits of physical labor, companionship, fresh air and granola bars.

Plants like Oregon grape also look gorgeous in their fall colors.

Adam checks out the clay discs mason bees will use in the spring to create walls in their creches.

 Massaging the roots is a most important part of the planting process.

Soon the plants will be producing fruit, like these elderberries.  I ate some because they are delicious, healthy and because I was the eldest person around. Thanks to everyone who came out and helped make the world a better place for us all.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Mysterious Hawthorn

 One of the best things you can do for honeybees and native bees is to plant trees. Now that the herbaceous bee plants are winding down, I'm focusing my attention on trees. I've come up against a mystery: the hawthorn. It is listed as a honey plant, if somewhat unreliable--really dependent on the weather. However, some hawthorn, such as our native black hawthorn are described as having blossoms with a fishy smell which attract pollinating midges. (Midge--such an ambiguous term, it irks me.) Sometimes the blossoms are described as smelling sweet, and other times like rotting flesh. I'm assuming these are different varieties, but could they be characteristic of hawthorns in general--ie stinky in bad weather for carrion beetles and midges but sweet in sunny weather for bees? Anyone out there have any ideas?

In the the meantime I am taking pictures of our wonderful and glorious autumn trees.

 I know some beekeepers are seeing bees in Japanese anenomes, but I have never seen it happen.

 Oddly enough, I did see honeybees in the Aconitum at VanDusen yesterday.

Finally, I had a thrill today when the hummingbird who has claimed our garden visited hummingbird sage, cleome,  and the big rhodo that's blooming again. And we have a strange bird visiting us that makes a sound like a policeman's whistle. What could that be? The hummer didn't like it, swooping down from a great height and diving at the tree.