Sunday, December 28, 2014

Happy Holidays

From our family to yours, we wish you a happy holiday and a New Year activated by your own
pursuit of happiness and joy.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cultivating Restlessness

My aunt Mary died last week. She was 90 years old and she was a woman of action. My aunt was a nurse, pilot, teacher, poet, environmentalist, musician, linguist, and a natural born raging granny.

I ask myself why so many "spiritual" traditions drive me crazy, particularly the ones that constantly tell their devotees to cultivate a calm, passive state of being. My aunt was restless. She loved adventure and travel. She saw injustice in the world and she did something about it as a nurse, educator and activist. Instead of going on retreats to take time to "work on her self", she wrote letters, made protest signs, and learned to speak French, Spanish, Portuguese and Umbundu. Instead on sitting on her meditation mat, she put prayer into action, travelling to Angola, The Congo, Zaire, Nicaragua, and northern Canada to practise as a nurse and educator, teaching people how to avoid crippling diseases and showing new midwives how to deliver babies safely. Instead of contemplating the paradoxes inherent in life that can paralyze us with indecision, she just got to work to make the world a better place. Making peaceful world takes restless people.

Cultivate your restlessness. That's what leads to true inner peace.

Photo: Mary Ethleen Pyne (nee Clark) at the G-20 Summit in Toronto, 2010. She was 86 years old.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Saving Tithonia Seeds

This year I have made a resolution to work in the garden in November. Usually at this time of the year I'm ready to stay indoors wrapped in blankets sipping hot chai and reading gardening magazines. I really have to embrace the season and get outside in spite of the rainforest weather. This Sunday we held an All Soul's event at Moberly and I went out in the rain for about fifteen minutes to cut the stems of the tithonia that were going to seed. I was hoping to get some help harvesting the seeds, but I didn't get many takers. This is the first year I've grown Mexican sunflower and it was one of the latest to bloom, attracting hummingbirds and the final bees of summer. The tithonia is still blooming in fact, but it's also going to seed. However, seed collecting weather is just about finished here because the fall rains make seed heads soggy and rotten.

"Save some of those tithonia seeds for me," various people have been requesting. This has proven difficult because once the seeds ripen the chickadees eat them or they drop onto the ground. This morning I listened to Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC radio and carefully pulled apart the seed heads, finding about 4 to 8 ripe seeds in the pods that were nearing maturity. Usually the seeds I harvest basically save themselves. I collect the pods just before the peak of ripeness, put the upside down in large paper bags and the seeds drop in the bottom of the bag and dry out. These little tithonia seeds took a lot of time to harvest. If I had to charge minimum wage for the labor of collecting them, those individual seeds would be about a buck a piece. And that doesn't include the labor of growing them. Needless to say, this is not the optimum climate for saving these seeds.

I am crazy about seeds. When the bees are tucked up in their winter beds, I turn my attention to seeds. Every morning I run my hands over the purple and black scarlet runner beans  and the white "Neckarkonigin" beans that are drying on the table, and I choose some seed pods to harvest and organize. I can't wait to start getting the e-mails that tell me the new seed catalogues are online and ready for my perusal. Seeds make great Christmas gifts. Even if it's just a few "magic beans" from your own garden.

And in trying to keep warm, beans are the perfect food to cook to warm up the heart of the house. I am looking for that perfect comfort food casserole that you can serve all steamy and sloppy with lush layers of vegetables and cheese. Tonight I made braised red cabbage with apples (Martha Stewart's recipe with a squeeze of lemon juice). I try to roast chicken and vegetables so there are always  leftovers in the refrigerator to turn into quick lunches and soups. And I bake with seeds. I've been making ginger snaps rolled in buckwheat groats or sesame seeds to snack on with that spicy chai. Some of you may not be surprised that with all the seed saving I'm doing, we've got a few mice in residence this fall. At first we had one very sweet well-behaved mouse. Since it didn't go forth and multiply, I thought it must be a male. He was so well-behaved, limiting his nibbling on a little bag of birdseed I left on a bottom shelf. I would wake early to write, listening to my favorite feminist podcasts, and the little mouse would nibble quietly in the corner, listening with me. Then mister mouse must have brought in a girlfriend because suddenly we had wee little adventurous mice jumping about and nibbling my seeds. We battened down he hatches and put out the traps. My sweet listening companion heard his final feminist podcast and ate his last nyger seed.

So until we're positive we've caught every last mouse . . . (We haven't. One just run under the couch beside my left foot), I'd better put those tithonia seeds in  a safe place.) Happy seed saving!

Anyone want to venture a guess at the species of bumblebee in the photo above?

ETA: I've just noticed how phallic the florets are in the center of the flower, which explains why I found the mature seeds in the outer edges of the seed head. Also, note the large pollen grains.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Save the Date!: All Soul's Day (November 2) at Moberly with A Beekeeper and a Beespeaker

 Photo by Madame Beespeaker: Gaillardia blossoms in a water dish for bees with shells, stones, moss and twigs for the insects to alight upon.

All Soul's Day with a Beekeeper and a Beespeaker

at Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre

Sunday Nov. 2 @ 2:30 pm to 4 pm.

Where: Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre
7646 Prince Albert Street, (one block east of 60th and Fraser)

Cost: Free

Join us at the Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre Community for a special afternoon with Master Beekeeper Brian Campbell who is customizing new seed mixes of local wildflowers for bees. Brian will talk about his latest work and give us his special tips on how to germinate wildflower seeds.

Lori Weidenhammer aka Madame Beespeaker will talk about Telling the Bees, reviving a tradition of making messages for the bees and informing them of important events such as a death in the community. Participants will be provided with materials to make their own messages for the bees to take home or install in the meditation garden at Moberly.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A New Bee Garden in North Vancouver

Here's a beautiful video to watch over the winter months for those of us who take pleasure in seeing the bees work the flowers. This is a new bee garden in North Vancouver near Edgemont Village created by the Bee Friendly folks and their partners.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Join us This Sunday Sept 28, 11-1 pm for a Pollinator Picnic at Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre


Sunday Sept 28 @ 11 am to 1 pm

Join us at the Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre Community Garden for a picnic in the garden. Learn about pollinators and help build our garden and keep it beautiful. Please bring your own picnic brunch/lunch and dress for garden work RAIN OR SHINE!

Artist in Residence Lori Weidenhammer will talk about what you can do in the fall to attract bees to your gardens in the spring.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

If You Want to Plant Dahlias for Bees, Choose This One

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' is a good choice for bees because it provides pollen for honeybees to build up vitellogenin for the winter and gives queen bumblebees a chance to build up their fat stores for hibernation.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Incredibly Tiny Hulk: Perilampid Wasps


Something surprises me every time I look for insects in gardens and when I saw a glittering turquoise wasp lurking on the leaves of a sunflower in my mom's garden, I assumed it was a little jewel wasp. Then I looked at the photograph and realized his critter looked like a jewel wasp on steroids. I identified it by seeing a similar creature on Bug Eric's website who helped me recognize it as a perilampid wasp which is a wasp that "parasitizes the parasites", making it a "hyperparasitoid wasp". There's a famous quote in the movie Jaws, when Brody says "We're gonna need a bigger boat." When I see these tiny fascinating creatures, I whisper to myself "I'm gonna need a bigger lens."

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You are Invited to Pollinator Picnic at Moberly Arts Centre Community Garden with Lori Snyder

Sunday Aug 24 @ 11 am to 1 pm--with special guest Lori Snyder

Join us at the Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre Community Garden for a picnic in the garden. Learn about pollinators and help build our garden and keep it beautiful. Please bring your own picnic brunch/lunch and dress for garden work!
Where: Behind the Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre
7646 Prince Albert Street, (one block east of 60th and Fraser)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Prairie Bees

 I'm on the road in Alberta and Saskatchewan visiting family and taking photos of bees for my book. I found two patches of these wild upright prairie coneflowers (Ratibida columnifera).

The leafcutter bees are huge out here!

And found this little cutie in my mom's garden in Cactus Lake clinging to a leaf by her mandibles while she grooms herself. Beautiful!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Proof that Wasps are Good for Your Garden

People always ask me "What are wasps good for?" Wasps keep cabbage loopers from eating your kale. Here's photographic proof. This yellow jacket will chow down on this looper so that she can regurgitate it as baby wasp pablum. As you can see, wasps do have some hairs, but they don't have the velvety branched setae that bees evolved as they changed from meat eaters to vegetarians. Wikipedia says wasps are sometimes misidentified at "meat bees". Bees are actually more like "vegan wasps".

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Loutet Farm and Jerry's Garden in North Vancouver

My friend Jasna and I visited Loutet farm and Jerry's garden to do some bee watching and we saw some lovelies, including this male bumblebee--the lightest greyest bumblebee I have ever seen. I think he's a newborn bee.

He was very interested in the cosmos.

 Later we spotted a beautiful large queen which may be his mother. She was very blonde, very calm and methodical, sipping each floret in this sunflower. I think she's a Bombus flavifrons dimidiatis.

I was happy to see some of the tiny bees in the anise hyssop, which gives me even more reason to recommend it as a great bee plant.

 The cilantro blossoms were covered in little bees.

 The goldenrod hosted the most variety of insects.

I have a lot of time for Sneezeweed.

This is more like the B. flavifrons I'm used to seeing, more specifically B. flavifrons flavrifrons. (Try saying that ten times in a row.)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Playing Rude on Tansy

"Ummm, some of us are trying to eat here!"

There's a little cut flower garden tucked away on the north side of VanDusen Gardens run by volunteers. It's a little secret bee garden alive with all sorts of activities and I urge you to seek it out. Tansy is so unusual because they are clusters of composite flowers without expending the extra energy to grow petals. They make nice landing pads for a variety of insects.

Tansy  (Tanacetum vulgare) is a noxious weed in Vancouver with a history as a dye plant (yellow), powerful medicinal plant (considered too toxic to be used today) and insect repellant. It was put in with corpses in coffins in New England and in linen closets to repel moths. It is commonly planted in gardens in Australia to keep away ants, so maybe scientists should take a closer look at the potential for putting all that tansy along BC highways to good use. The essential oils are high in thujone, also found in the herb garden in oregano, common sage, and wormwood.
(Tanacetum vulgare)is a noxious weed in Vancouver

Monday, July 21, 2014

Backyard Drama

 Inspired by Sean McCann's talk and workshop at Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre on photographing insects in the garden, I decided to focus on insects other than bees and shoot in the light of the setting sun. I set up to photograph a spider, and guess what she caught?

 A wee bee. Her victim was struggling as the spider deftly wrapped her in sticky webs. "If you won't come to my web, I'll bring it to you." She was a very shy spider and hid when my shadow covered the borage leaf. Her markings made her look like she had one fierce eye, which is why I've nicknamed her the tiny cyclops spider. If you look at the first photo closely, you can see she's marked with a peace symbol--how deceptive!

And then she went in for the kill, paralyzing the bee with venom. The bee struggled and then stopped. Competition among garden insects is fierce right now. What drama can you find in your back yard?

I've just noticed there is a tiny ivory egg on the side of the borage leaf.

ETA: Bug Eric has identified the spider as an introduced species from Europe called the spider is Enoplognatha ovata. Be sure to check out Eric's blog and his new forum.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

July Bee Safari at UBC Botanical Gardens

A mining bee (Andrena prunorum) sips nectar next to a soldier beetle  (Rhagonycha fulva) on masterwort (Astrantia).

Erin Udall was invited to help identify some of the bees in UBC Botanical Gardens. I tagged along to take photographs. We had a really good time thanks to our garden guides Douglas Justice and Tara Moreau.

I've nicknamed Andrena prunorum the fox bee because of her furry legs and reddish and black furry body. Her long legs must come in handy when she's digging out her nest. We saw more of these bees than I've seen anywhere else in Vancouver, which indicates there is some great habitat for ground nesting bees here on the open sunny side of the botanical garden. There's also a good amount of the nectar and pollen-bearing plants this bees loves. For a breakdown of floral associations, check out the list here at The soldier beetle is an imported insect from Europe which sips nectar and preys on small insects. Its larva feed on snails.

 We haven't identified this bee yet, but I have nicknamed it the Jackalope bee because of its long antlers. It looks suspiciously like a cellophane bee (Colletes spp).
This would be a male, as they have slightly longer antennae than the females.

I always like to try to get a photograph of two species of bees in one shot so you can see the difference in size, shape and color. Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a great plant to attract bees of all stripes. This photograph was taken in the Physic Garden, which is a perfect space for bees to forage because it is a sun trap and it's protected from the wind.

Along with a number of Vosnesensky bees, we saw many blonde bees, and what Erin identified as a light variation of Bombus flavifrons aka The yellow-fronted bee. (You can see some of the variations here on The flower is woodland germander (Teucrium scorodonia).

If you like sea holly and globe thistle, both excellent xeriscape bee plants, you will love Rattlesnake Master, a New World Eryngium (E. yuccifolium). Notice that this is an umbel, with each flower head made up of tiny florets.

 This plant in particular was popular with the Andrena prunorum.

Erin also spotted a crab spider sucking the vital fluids out of a honeybee. Another insect watches with interest.

 This small turquoise sweat bee was the third species of ground-dwelling bees we found on the steep slope of the rock garden.

A honeybee and red soldier beetle meet on the pink florets of a milkweed (Asclepius).

Can you see the nest hole? The leaf cutter bee nesting in this site is likely using an old beetle hole. The pine cone will serve as a marker for her to find her nest entrance again. (Hopefully no-one will move it.) Erin also spotted a cuckoo bee (Coelyoxis) hanging around the entrance on the leaves of the false dandelion.

Erin found an old ragged bumble bee, literally missing a few body parts, with a big bald patch where the setae have been worn off by foraging.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Join us at Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre this Sunday with Special Guest Sean McCann!

 Photo by Sean McCann
You are invited to a Special Moberly Pollinator Picnic and Presentation this Sunday July 20 at 11 am.

It's Free!

Please Join us this Sunday at Moberly with a photo presentation and workshop with special Guest Sean McCann.

Sean McCann is a biologist and nature photographer with a special passion for noisy birds (Caracaras) and cuckoo bees (Coelyoxis). Sean has just defended his PhD thesis on Red-throated Caracara foraging biology, after studying the birds for 5 seasons in French Guiana. He has also studied the defensive behaviour of social wasps and mosquito reproduction. Sean's blog at features his talent for capturing photos of a wide range of fauna and his a talent for finding fascinating subject matter in unexpected places.

Sean McCann will give a photo presentation at 11 am, followed by a BYO (bring your own) picnic lunch and a garden safari/photography workshop. Bring your camera! Dress for the weather--pith helmets are optional.

There will also be a few nibbles of a mysterious nature provided by Cascadia North Catering and Shaktea.

When: Sunday July  20 @ 11 am - 2:30 pm

Where: Behind the Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre
7646 Prince Albert Street, (one block east of 60th and Fraser)

 Photo by Sean McCann

Photo by Sean McCann

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Visiting Royalty in Oak Meadows Park

No Mow Zones: Buzzing with Potential

We've got to start making more room for pollinators in our city, so why not start by re-wilding the space under our beautiful trees?

This morning I had a very exciting celebrity sighting. She was more beautiful in person than in the photographs and movies and she was very generous about posing for photographs. Her name is Danaus plexippus, but you may know her as the monarch butterfly. I had never seen a monarch in my life, and I was gobsmacked. I happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right camera! What luck! She patiently waited while I took several photos and then fluttered up to perch on a cedar tree. I wanted to jump up and down and hoot and holler, but instead I remained silent and tears of wonder streamed down my cheeks.

For those of you who have seen monarch butterflies, count yourself lucky, their population is in serious decline and we may lose them if we don't take action. Monarch butterflies are dependent on plants in the milkweed family, because this is what their larvae eat. Backyard habitat has recently become essential for the survival of the butterflies because that farmers are using GM Round-up Ready crops are killing all the milkweed on their land, leaving the monarchs with no place to lay their eggs. Milkweeds are great bee plants too, so they should be an essential plant in pollinator gardens and corridors.

The monarch butterfly I saw was sunning her wings in the long grasses under a cedar tree in Oak Meadows Park. This is a site where the Environmental Youth Alliance and the Vancouver Park Board are creating enhanced habitat called Pollinators' Paradise. The proof is in the party, as bees of all stripes, hummingbirds and butterflies are living it up in the lupins, yarrow, bee balm and other wild meadow flowers planted in the park. Take look at the garden right now if you can, because it's really at its peak. It's on the bike route! You might be inspired to add some of the plants to your garden to enhance pollinator habitat. Watch out for hummingbird males dueling over access to the bee balm.

 Part of the Pollinators' Paradise plan has been to leave the zone under the drip line of trees untouched by lawnmowers so that wildflowers and weeds that support bees can grow up, giving the park a more natural look. This circular "no mow zone" was exactly where I saw the monarch butterfly. Why not create more "no mow zones" all across the city? Trying this on boulevards and under trees is a great place to start. Trees that are more upright that allow a sunny spot would be great to plant wildflower perennials like milk weed. Trees with shade could host fabulous native shade tolerant plants for bees and butterflies like nodding onion. To make the idea more user-friendly, perhaps 1/4 of the no-mow zone could be set aside, marked off with a miniature fence, leaving enough room for picnic blankets on the moss or grass. Imagine snuggling next to your sweetheart in the shade next to a charming mini-wildflower meadow. (Just like in the BBC costume dramas!) Miniature hills of compost can provide habitat for beetles and a place for bumblebee queens to snuggle inside to dream away the winter months.We could plant fairy rings of crocuses, squill, and native fritillaries to provide important sources of pollen to bumblebee queens when they emerge in the spring. Children will love it! A child's life should be full of flowers, beetles, butterflies, and bees.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Nodding Onions at the MOV

If you happen to be near the Museum of Vancouver, check out the patch of nodding onions on the west side of the building. The competition among bee species is fierce.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Blackcurrant Curd

Blackcurrant Curd: When life Gives You Currants, You Can Forget the Lemons

I am always looking for local foods to replace imports, so finding a substitute for lemon curd that uses local berries was a coup. Tart, juicy blackcurrants make a beautiful jewel-toned honey-sweetened curd. I use white sugar in the first part of the process when you need to cook the egg yolks and the berry puree, but once you've added the butter and cooled the mixture down you can add the honey without heating it above hive temperature. This way you can sweeten to the curd to your taste and still get the benefits of raw honey. I've put 1/3 cup of raw honey in this recipe, but if I'm just making a jar for myself, I'll only use 1/4 cup because I like it puckery. This makes lovely gifts in little mason jars and you can put it on scones, wee tarts, and layer it in mason jar parfaits. Blackcurrant curd will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge. If you make it without butter (as I did one day after I discovered Peter had used it all up making banana bread) it's still good, just less curd-ish and more like a coulis.


2 cups black currants, cleaned with most of the twigs taken off
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup raw honey
6 tbs. cold salted butter, cut into cubes

1) Simmer the currants in the water on medium low heat until the berries have burst. I mash them a bit with a wooden spoon. This takes about 8 minutes. You don't need to cook the bejeebers out of it.

2) This is the messy part. Put the berries through a moulé, and then a sieve to get out the seeds. I save the seedy pulp and put it in an ice cube tray and freeze to add to smoothies. Make sure you're not wearing white, because this gets purple.

3) Separate the eggs and put the whites aside for something else: scones, pancakes, etc. Put the purée, egg yolks and sugar in a small pot and cook on the stop top over medium low heat--don't let it boil. This also takes about 8 minutes.

4) Turn off the heat and add the butter and stir until it is melted. Add the honey to taste. Pour into a jar and refrigerate. The curd will keep for 2 weeks.

(The crumbly bits are rolled oats (1/2 c), walnuts (1/2 c.), brown sugar (2 tbs) and olive oil 2 (tbs) whizzed in the food processor. I like to keep crumbly bits in the fridge to sprinkle on breakfast parfaits.)