Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year from Beespeaker Saijiki!

Here's to a New Year buzzing with biodiverse  gardens for bees! This is a photo of an Epeolini cuckoo bee in a calendula flower taken in my mom's garden in Cactus Lake, Saskatchewan.

Calendula is a member of the aster family, which is an easy-access plant that feeds a wide variety of bees. It blooms from spring to frost, and is a good gap-filler in your garden, especially in early summer and fall when there are fewer options available for bee food.

Thanks to all the gardeners, farmers, restoration specialists, and bee huggers around the world who help keep our bees healthy and our flowers blooming.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Gifts for Refugees: Lois Klassen Teaches Us How to Make MCC Kit Bags

Yesterday Lois Klassen taught a drop-in class how to make kit bags for the MCC. Kit bags can be used to send hygiene or school kits to refugees throught the Mennonite Central Committee. They are made from sturdy material and the practical design makes them very useful. The same basic design can also be used to make eco-friendly reusable gift bags.

The pattern is available to download here. We found that one of the instructions didn't make sense. It asks you to put the right sides together to sew the hemmed bag, but that way the hems are on the outside of the bag. It looks simple, but it's actually good to have help to get your head around how the pattern works, but once you've made one, you can ace them pretty quickly.

We listened to soulful Christmas music, noshed on good treats and caught up with one another's news.  One person even learned to sew for the first time, which is like watching a little bird learn how to fly. I remember my mom making similar kits with her friends at the Red Cross and  The Homemakers. I seem to recall they made comfort kits for new mothers. It feels good to continue this Canadian tradition.

You can just make the bags and donate them, but if you want to fill the kits, and drop them off at an MCC site, here's what you can put inside:

Contents (NEW items only)
  • 4 spiral or perforated notebooks (8 1⁄2 x 10 1⁄2 in and 70 sheets)
  • 8 unsharpened pencils
  • 1 ruler (flat, flexible plastic; indicating both 30 cm and 12 in)
  • 12 colored pencils (in packaging)
  • 1 large pencil eraser

Contents (NEW items, in original packaging) 
  • 1 adult-size toothbrush
  • 1 large bar bath soap
  • 1 fingernail clipper (good quality)
  • 1 hand towel (dark color)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Milkweed: A High Priority Bee, Butterfly, and Hummingbird Plant

Peter holds up the flowers on a milkweed plant in the Hastings Urban Farm

There are so many reasons to plant milkweed, we really should make it a priority pollinator plant in our gardens. It's integral to Monarch butterfly migration, but also to other species of butterflies and it is an important source of nectar for bees and hummingbirds.

Milkweed is an incredibly complicated plant with an unusual flower and pollen morphology. The pollen comes in chains, not grains, and sometimes bees get a foot caught in the flower.  I've freed a few foot-stuck bees while taking photos of milkweed.

A honeybee and beetle feast on milkweed at the UBC Botanical Garden

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has just published a great article on milkweeds. Now, besides being a hummingbird plant, why would the bird researchers study milkweed? Because birds eat monarchs and other butterflies. You may have read that monarchs are unpalatable to birds, but this is also more complicated than it was commonly thought to be. Milkweeds are New World plants, but be aware that there are tropical milkweeds that are not the best choice for your garden. Try to find native and near-native varieties to plant from your bio-region.

A milkweed plant goes to seed at the Summerland Ornamental Gardens

 This article from Monarch Butterfly Garden also links to a great article on seed-saving for milkweeds. And brings me to the main reason for this blog post. Someone reminded me another great reason to plant them. Kids absolutely love the seeds! Also, if you are packaging little gifts for the holidays, why not choose organza bags instead of paper? Tuck a little note in with the present to tip the giftee that they can save the bag and use it to collect milkweed seeds. Better yet, give your loved ones a package of milkweed seeds in an organza  seed-saving bag!

This article from Monarch Butterfly Garden describes 25 milkweed varieties to choose from. Prairie Moon Nursery sells at least 9 varieties and they always have excellent information on how to plant wildflower seeds.

And stay tuned for another blog post where I invite you to join us at Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre to sew reusable gift bags. (Bring your own organza!)

Warning: Although parts of the plant are edible, milkweed is a toxic plant, so special signage and instruction is needed to prevent people from ingesting it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Today is a Good Day to Order Seeds for Bees!

One way I cope with the lack of daylight, rainy weather, and lack of companionship from bees in winter is to grab a hot cup of tea and surround myself with gardening catalogues. I plan, I dream and I order seeds. Last year was particularly dark and dreary. I ordered a LOT of seeds. The West Coast Seeds catalog arrived yesterday, which is a cause for celebration in our household. I love the cover photo of the sunflower, but it is lacking something . . . say, a bee or two. Personally I think every garden catalog should have at least one bee on the cover, preferably more. Anyhow, the good thing is Brian Campbell, the company's resident on all things seed and bee-related has marked bee-friendly flowers with a little graphic of a bumblebee. Eh Voila! It's easy to plan your pollinator garden. There's also a little ladybug graphic for plants that attract beneficial insects, which is also extremely helpful.

Have I mentioned how seeds make great Christmas presents? Don't tell anyone, but this year I am giving packs from the Hudson Valley Seed Library because they are exquisitely designed. You can find them at West Elm Market in Vancouver.

Here is a shortlist of some of my favorite seed companies. For a longer list, check out Empress of Dirt's blog post with the companies broken down into regions.

But first, a photo of a Golden Northern Bumblebee (Bombus fervidus), taken at the Glenbow Ranch Park in Alberta.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
The catalogues are packed with luscious eye candy for gardeners, offering some really interesting heritage seeds.

Prairie Moon Nursery
Great source of information for growing
 native North American plants.

Richter’s Herbs
Canada’s most extensive retailer of herbs,
with an informative website.

Salt Spring Seeds
Small company created by seed-saving activist Dan Jason.
A good selection of unusual herbs attractive to bees.

Interesting hard to find California wildflower seeds

West Coast Seeds
Company based in B.C. with an informative web site and resident bee expert Brian Campbell.

Wildflower Farm
Ontario-based wildflower company (owned by the author of Taming Wildflowers, Miriam Golderger), with a helpful seed selector tool.

Bee-ing Part of the Solution at the Richmond Art Gallery

 Hi Folks!

Just a reminder that this event is a great chance to see Jasna Guy's exhibition before it closes and to take home a handmade paper bee.

Bee-ing Part of the Solution: Giveaway, Discussion and  Reception

Thursday, December 10, 2015 from 5:30 PM - 9:00 PM

Richmond Art Gallery, 7700 Minoru Gate

Hear from artists, scientists and beekeepers about pollinators and why they are important.   Exhibiting artist Cameron Cartiere will be giving away seed-paper bees from her gallery installation from 5:30-6:30pm, so you can plant bee-friendly flowers in your own garden.  From 7-8pm, hear from exhibiting artists jasna guy and Cameron Cartiere, beekeeper Brian Campbell, scientist Dr. Elizabeth Elle, and writer Nancy Holmes on their bee-related projects and how you can get involved.  End the night with a reception featuring a no-host bar.  Everyone welcome to attend.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Meet the Queen Bee!

 Hello bee huggers! Please join featured artist Jasna Guy and me for Family Day at the Richmond Art Gallery tomorrow (Sunday, November 22 from 1-4 pm). We'll be facilitating arts, crafts and drama activities all about bees!!!!! Her Royal Highness the Supreme Queen Bee will also bee in attendance. Human participants are welcome to come dressed as bees.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

UBC Farm: My Favorite Place to Be in October

Beautiful pumpkins are waiting for you at UBC Farm. Make sure you head there this weekend to get yours.

An Eastern Interloper, this bumblebee has escaped from a greenhouse.

 No more flowers on the snowberry bushes. This signals the end of the native bee year here in Vancouver. You'll see honeybees foraging, but very few native bees if any at all.

Yarrow acts as a benificial plant next to crops attracting predators of the crop-eating bugs. It does tend to spread, and has deep roots, so in a smaller garden is needs to be reigned in. It's perfect for naturalizing into lawns and no-mow zones.

Bee plants can have other functions besides providing pollinators with nectar and pollen. Here's an example of intercropping kale with clover as a living mulch. (I'm not sure what that weed is at the bottom of the photo.)

Note to self: a trap crop is a crop that attracts pests away from the main cash crop. Catch crops like this phacelia and crimson clover catch nutrients and hold them in the soil in between the main cash crops.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Faux Queen on Gaillardia

When you're trying to get a good photo to ID a bee, you need to get a clear shot of the head, thorax and abdomen.

 Usually this takes me about 20-30 shots. It takes patience and perseverance.

It becomes a meditation.

And a kind of conversation. Often with the bee telling me in so many words to leave her alone so she can get back to work.

The model: I'm guessing she's a cuckoo  bumblebee. Nope, she is a true bumblebee. I should never attempt to ID a bumblebee on my own. Fail. Big fail.
What she's wearing: At first appearance it looks like she's covered in shaggy hairs designed for gathering pollen, but the glare off her body shows she may be wearing the faux fur intead of the setae a true bumblebee. And I don't see any pollen baskets.  Nope, she does have pollen baskets. Her true identity will be revealed in my upcoming book!
The location: Mountainview Cemetery meadow created by Jack Tupper as part of the Antler Collective.
The flower: A drought tolerant Gaillardia, or blanket flower
The seed mix: West Coast Seeds Bee Garden Blend custom made by Brian Campbell.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Martin John Book launch with Anakana Schofield

Hi Friends,

I'm thrilled that my friend Anakana Schofield's novel Martin John has been nominated for the Giller Prize. Woot! She is touring this fall and the Vancouver launch is right in our neighbourhood. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fall Comes to the Bee Garden

Late-blooming perennials can provide important food for bees.

I like the way this gardener has layered and interplanted some great pollinator-friendly plants, including garlic chives, savory, and sedum.

This plumbago is my new favorite, after seeing giant bumblebee queens foraging in it in the Xeriscape garden in Summerland.

 Look at the crazy blossom morphology of this bluebeard blossom!

Before you pull all those oxalis plants from your garden, think about the last sips of nectar these little bees will take before their life cycle ends. And look at the lovely symmetry of the leaves.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Beautiful Okanagan Bees

While on holiday to the Okanagan I saw this  beautiful bee in the garden at Poplar Grove Winery. Wineries that plant pollinator and/or insectary gardens are my favorite because it breaks up the monoculture of the acres of grape vines. These gardens also provide beneficial insects that help make healthier grapes, even though they are pollinated by wind and gravity. As I guessed, there was an abundance of ground-nesting bees.

A highlight of the trip was the Summerland Xeriscape Garden where we made mental notes on which plants were functioning well with minimal water while feeding the bees. This is a cuckoo bee on Heliopsis.

Golden rod and milkweed make good companions and attract beneficial wasps.

In other gardens, spirea supported bumblebees.

There were many turquoise sweat bees, especially in this weed. The bees circled round and round the stamens collecting pollen.

Syrphid flies also visited these small white flowers.

 Gaillardia is an important drought tolerant flower and Perovskia is used in many gardens as well.

We'll need to continue to look to the Okanagan to choose hardy plants that perform well in dry summers.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Mountainview Cemetery Meadow by the Antler Collective

Jack Tupper and Antler Collective have planted meadows all over Vancouver to study pollinators and the public's reaction to various kinds of meadows in public spaces. The meadow at Mountainview Cemetery is in bloom right now at 37th ave between Main and Fraser.

I found it touching and inspiring to see this vital planting in the graveyard.

 With every flutter, pulse and buzz, bees give us the message to live our lives diving into beauty.

Creating corridors of these meadows could provide valuable links among the network of backyard gardens in this neighborhood.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Beespotting at City Farmer

My physiotherapist is close to City Farmer, so I have a good excuse to go on a few bee safaris these days. The heliopsis is the current star bee plant, bringing in little leafcutter bees, like the one above and a few more species with cute striped butts.

 Here's the pointy butt of a cuckoo bee. She was also foraging in one of the many patches if thyme that are flowering in the garden right now.

And then that glamorous sweat bee showed up. Even though those the legs appear as if they have pollen, I think it's a male because of the long antennae.

 The cosmos were also popular with the striped butt crowd. Here is a larger species of leafcutter bee.

 Finally, a wee bee, maybe a Halictid species. Stripes are definitely the fashion at City Farmer Garden this summer!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Perennial Sweet Peas for Bees

 Look for bumblebees and leacutter bees in perennial sweet peas. The blossoms are a great source of nectar and pollen. However, the bumblebee seems better equipped to trigger the keel of the blossom to release the pollen and get right into the nectar tube. I noticed that this leafcutter bee was not triggering the blossom, but still sipping nectar. You can see the damage her feet are making to the flower as she struggles to find purchase.  

You can see the nectar guides and the damage clearly in this photo. When a bumblebee  depresses the keel a stamen wraps around her back and dusts it with pollen. I have seen leafcutters with pollen I thought was from perennial sweet peas, but now I'm not sure how they would harvest it. Keep a look out for clues! These sweet peas are unscented, but the annual varieties are not as attractive to bees.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Wet, Sleepy Bees and a Cuckoo

With the welcome turn to damp, cool weather, it's fun to find the bees sleeping in flowers, sheltering from the rain. The bumblebee is waving its front leg as a warning to me because I'm getting too close. You can see marks on the flower to the right of the bee where it has been clinging to the petals.

We found two little species of native bees sheltering in calendula flowers.

ZZZZZZzzzzz. . . .

We also spotted a bumblebee I've never seen before, which I believe is a cuckoo bee, Bombus insularis. She lacks pollen baskets because she lays her eggs in other bumblebee nests.