Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Falling for Bees: A Positive Pollinator Week Message

 Just when I think I can’t fall more deeply in love with bees, I am once again head-over-heels in lurve. I love the way bees always surprise me, challenge my body of knowledge, and magically connect us with flowers and people. As I’ve been promoting my book Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to Saving the Bees across Western Canada, the bees have been working their magic, and I feel there are people who really get it and are going to act as leaders in their community to protect and support pollinators. So if you’re looking for some good news during pollinator week, please visit my blog posts below and follow the recent stories of the bees I love and the people who love them!
In some of the classrooms I visit, a child will fall in love with a specific type of species of bee. One boy was fascinated with the sweat bees and could not stop chattering with excitement about how he was going to befriend these gentle bees. Do you want to fall for a bee? Sometimes it helps to know how to “court” a relationship with a bee. Here’s some simple tips.

How to Court a Bee:
 1)  Find a spot near you that has a critical mass of blooming flowers where there is bee activity.  Choose a warm, sunny afternoon and “bee sun smart” at this time of the day. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.

2)   Challenge yourself to take the time to find the largest fuzziest bee you can see and the tiniest shiniest bee you can see.

3)   Find the “hotspot” in the patch of flowers where you see the most variety of bee species and sit awhile, counting how many kinds of bees you can see.

4)   Look for the furry part of the body where the bee collects its pollen.  Note the color or colors of pollen that the bee is collecting.

5)   Bring your camera—any kind will do—and try to snap multiple photos of one bee so you can look up close on your computer, zooming in on the bee for closer examination.

6)   Now go back to the same spot on another day and double your joy by bringing a friend. See if you can see if you can make a new set of observations and recognize some of the same bees you saw the first time. Share your observations and make a date to come back again and again . . . . The next thing you know, you’ll be falling in love with bees! 

Happy Pollinator Week! Do You Have Thyme for Bees?

I’ve just come from a tour of Western Canada promoting my book, Victory Gardens for Bees, and I’m happy to bring back some really good news. All across Canada people are committing to using the book as a “Canada food guide for bees” and boosting the bee forage in their neighborhood. I took back some valuable lessons learned from observing bees from Kelowna to Winnipeg.
1)   Bees and cats love catmint!

Purple catmint cultivars (i.e. Nepeta fassennii) are essential plants for bees. They are hardy and the flowers pump out the nectar bees need for the energy and they collect white pollen from the flowers to feed to their brood.  These perennial plants are an example of flowers in the mint family that do not spread too quickly, but provide important long-blooming resources for bees.

DIY tip: A trio of great bee plants is catnip, perennial sage (ie Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’), and bee balm.

2) You can help provide a rosy future for bees.
Wild roses and hardy dog rose cultivars provide important sources of pollen for bees in May and June. All kinds of species swim around in the pollen in those wild and old-fashioned roses like the fragrant roses my grandmothers grew in their gardens in Saskatchewan. Edmonton is a city of roses, with bumblebees loading up on pollen from the beautiful deep fuchsia blossoms of the Assiniboine rose.
DIY Tip: A trio of great bee shrubs includes roses, raspberries, and potentilla.

3)   Thyme is a great alternative to grass.

The Devonian gardens outside Edmonton is an Alberta bee oasis, with carpets of flowering thyme covered with many species of bees. This drought tolerant ground cover is a great way to start removing some of the area on the edges of your lawn to gradually add in more forage for bees. Edging your perennial beds with different species of thyme is a good way to create “bee paths” through your garden.

DIY tip: Combine thyme with a low-growing sedum and wild strawberries for a fantastic edging trio. 

4)   Lawns need to shrink and flowerbeds need to grow.

Our love affair with turf needs to end. So much time, energy, water, and pesticides go into lawn-proud landscapes. We really need to replace that with our pride in flowerbeds. The Communities in Bloom program is a very good example of a positive movement towards planting more flowers for bees.
DIY Tip: Make a sign for your garden that says you’re growing organic blooms for bees.

5) Plant lupins for bumblebees! 

Research the native lupins for your area and give bumblebees a break by providing them with a flower that they love with plenty of brick red pollen for their brood.

6) We need pollinator protection legislation.

 In Saskatoon I met an exterminator who wants to provide ecologically friendly solutions to pest control. He has a family and loves nature and wants to do the least amount of harm possible. As mosquitoes, tent caterpillars and ticks invade the prairies, and European chafer beetles infest lawns in Great Vancouver consumers are told to use an arsenal of pesticides and herbicides including neonicatinoids which kill bees and other pollinators and accumulate in plants, soil, and water. Furthermore, since there are no laws regarding the labeling of plants that have been treated with neonics, people are in danger of buying plants to feed the bees that poison them instead.

We need to work together to come up with legislation that protects pollinators from the toxic pesticides that kill and poison bees, butterflies and other insects. We need to invest in research in Integrated Pest Management to come up with solutions

DIY Tip: Support businesses like Sage Garden Greenhouses in Winnipeg that proudly declare themselves neonic free. Many businesses selling your local native plants do not put pesticides on their stock. Choose bee-feeding native plants in the aster family such as blanket flower, prairie coneflower and coreopsis.

A Party to Celebrate National Pollinator Week!

 We celebrated Pollinator Week in style, with a fantastic group of students I've been working with this spring. Their teachers have been welcoming and enthusiastic, the kids have been warm and creative and fun. I feel so grateful for this opportunity to share my passion for gardening and celebrating bees with this group. And thanks to these kids and their teachers we have a new pollinator garden at Moberly and more bees than ever visiting the community garden this year.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Taking the Vancouver NatureKids Club on a Bee Safari

I was asked to be a nature mentor and take some Vancouver NatureKids and their caregivers on a bee safari. We met in beautiful Oak Meadows Park at the bee hotel. I started by showing them the small leafcutter bees that were using the tunnels in the hotel as nesting sites and we saw a little bee carrying a piece of leaf into one of the entrances.

It was the perfect day for a bee safari and the flowers were active with bees of all stripes. Before setting out we covered some bee safety tips and I gave everyone a sheet with prompts: twenty things to try to find on our safari.

A flower with pollen that is a color other than yellow or orange: fireweed. Check! Fireweed has green or blue pollen. Look for honeybees, bumblebees and leafcutter bees in fireweed.

And here's a reminder to enter any good bee safari photos you've taken in the EYA's photo contact. There's gonna be prizes!

Another flower with unusual pollen is lacy phacelia or The Bee's Friend.  This little bee is rubbing herself along the long stamens to gather the purple pollen. West Coast Seeds sells packages of this flower, calling it purple tansy. There's a really nice photo of a bumblebee right on the package. Whatever it's called, I highly recommend putting it in your garden.

Doesn't she look fierce in flight? Even so, she's a "tickle bee" and cannot sting you! Look at the mandibles she has for digging her nest. She must be some kind of sweat or mining bee, carrying pollen on her legs.

When you're on a bee safari always look in the weeds for bees, especially dandelions and false dandelions. You are likely to see the really wee bees swimming around in the shallow flowers, covering themselves in pollen.

And here's a wool carder bee, resting before nesting in one of these holes where she stuffs wool carded from the nearby wooly lamb's ear plant. I think she's the bee that's sealing the holes with the tiny pebbles you see here. We also saw a hole stuffed with resin--made by another kind of bee or wasp. I even saw a parasitic wasp or ant stuck in the resin--what a cool evolutionary tool!

You often see these little bees on yarrow literally up to their armpits in pollen. Some have yellow leg hairs, making them seem even more neon yellow when they are coated in yarrow pollen.

At the end of the safari we headed over to the entrance of VanDusen Gardens. This planting is an example of one of my favorite native combinations of plants: sedum, blanket flower, nodding onion and Ocean Spray. There were Melissodes digger bees and leafcutter bees here.

This patch of flowers near the entrance of the new building is worth a visit in itself.

And I did see a turquoise sweat bee, even though she proved elusive during our safari.

The sloped soil and stone wall likely provide great sites for ground nesting bees here.

I really enjoyed my afternoon jaunt with the Vancouver NatureKids Club. The adults and kids asked really great questions and they were so appreciative of the work done in Oak Meadows Park to support pollinators thanks to biologist Nick Page and the Environmental Youth Alliance.

As I walked north of VanDusen Gardens to have tea with my inlaws I was rewarded with the sighting of a bee that's rare in Vancouver. In fact, I'd never seen it here before. This was taken in a front yard garden. Too bad my photography skills went on vacay!

I'm pretty sure this in Bombus nevadensis, or the Nevada Bumblebee, a really golden velvety bumblebee queen with a black head and black tip on her tail. How exciting!!!!!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Slofemists At Moberly: Consensual Textile Workers

Here's a sneak peak of what the Vancouver chapter of the Slofemists is up to. This is a slofemist cover, soon to be part of an installation by Margaret Dragu at the Kamloops Art Gallery.

As we knot it and frame it with a protective border of blanket stitching we can't help thinking about the other invisible textile workers assigned to embroidering the original linen fabric.

How strange it is, to be in a privileged position where sewing is a relaxing hobby, an art, and a way to enjoy the company of other empowered feminists. All this occurs in an environment where a cross-pollination of creative and critical discussion can take place.

Next up we have a collection of sketches on fabric from the archives of Margaret Dragu. These are being stitched together into a panel for the exhibition.

 We, knot, stitch, and sew by machine. We talk about the issues of the day and whatever's on our minds.

Then it's potluck lunch time! The first day was all about simple and delicious sandwiches made especially good with Lexie's homemade pear chutney. The second day we made sushi cones with ingredients from the garden at Moberly wrangled away from the busy bees.

The shiso leaves were so large, I even made a cone with shiso leaves instead of nori.

Lois made awesome sushi rice with dashi broth.

We had sardines, tofu, and avocado to stuff in the rolls. They were super delicious.

On the third day we finished the slofa cover!

We started working on  some cushions.

And for lunch we made soup with beans from the Mayan gardeners at UBC, farro and lentils from Grain, and dried smoked corn Lois rbought back from Santa Fe, along with a giant dried chili pepper.

So there you have it! The Slofemists move upward and onward, slowly and surely. Thanks to everyone who came out and became a part of our collective herstor(ies).