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.)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Sign the Petition to Ban Neonics Today

Is this bee dreaming of a pesticide free future? Erin Udal, from the Environmental Youth Alliance, imagines a day when one child can say to another: "Did you know people used to put poison on their food? Isn't that crazy?"

Neonics are synthetic pesticides that kill bees and pollute the environment as they build up in the soil. Bees consume nectar and pollen with these chemicals which act as neurotoxins with lethal and sublethal effects. Home Depot and Lowe's are selling bedding plants treated with neonics. Make sure you don't put them in your garden.

Neonics have been banned in France for 2 years without a loss in crop productivity. The David Suzuki Foundation has made it easy for you to sign the petition to ban neonics in Canada. Please sign it today.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Coneflower Fireworks

 I'm a big fan of a private garden in our neighborhood and have snapped hundreds of photos of bees on gardener's boulevard plantings. So I was thrilled to meet the man behind the plants and witness his particular passion for wild coneflowers which is propagates from seed. Honeybees and bumblebees love coneflowers, and they are also fed by the copious amounts of lavender in the perennial borders and the sea holly in the boulevard.

 The gardener explained to me that even within one species of coneflower there can be blossom variation. The alliums interplanted with the Echinacea provide a beautiful contrast in shape and texture.

 Blanketflowers (Gaillardia) and clumps of  blue sedge grass are also good buddies for coneflowers.

Coneflowers, snowdrops and checkered lilies were favorite motifs of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

I also love the coral reef of sedum in this garden.

These yellow-star shaped flowers attract a variety of smaller bees.