Thursday, June 18, 2020

Happy Pollinator Week!

To celebrate our local pollinators I made three cards you can take into the garden or your back yard to look for these garden super stars. You can ask us for a hard copy or download and print the pdfs below. As you walk through the garden, look for the colours and patterns on the BINGO card photos. Get a sense of the general shape of the insect.  Is it round and fuzzy, or slim-waisted and hairless? How many wings does it have? How are the eyes positioned on the face? Be curious. Ask questions. Take your own photos and compare them to the photos on the card when you get home. Try uploading the photos on iNaturalist to help scientists gather important data on pollinator health. Any photos of butterflies can be added to the Butterflies in my Backyard project created by the David Suzuki Foundation.

When we designed the Riley Park Community Garden, we made sure to create an infrastructure that would feed the insects and birds that help pollinate the food we grow. From the native salmonberries that bloom early in the spring for the queen bumblebees to the goldenrod and asters that bloom in late summer and early fall, we chose plants that provide nectar and pollen for our local bees, flies, beetles, wasps, and hummingbirds. Many food plants bloom only for a short period of two weeks, but many pollinators need food from early spring to fall. This means planting perennials, herbs, and shrubs that successively bloom for longer periods of time so there are no gaps in the foraging season. 

What are the hotspots to look for pollinators in late June? Search for fireweed, yarrow, catmint, snowberry and sage. You’re sure to find all sorts of pollinators slurping down the nectar and the female bees will be collecting pollen from these plants.

For more information on British Columbia's native bees, check out the website for the Native Bee Society of British Columbia.

The garden is also part of the Vancouver Butterflyway produced by the David Suzuki Foundation. For more info, check out the website.

Click the links below to download the pdfs. Have fun!

Friday, May 22, 2020

My Little Chewy: Osmia caerulescens

Hi there, my name's Chewy!

There's a small blue bee in your garden that is doing a lot of pollinating for you and it's time you learned her name! She's a cousin of the famous Blue Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria). Her name is simply the blue mason bee (Osmia caerulescens), but I like to call her "Chewy".

Right now she's the major pollinator of my small pineapple strawberry blossoms.  As you can see, her head and thorax sometimes have an iridescent green tinge. I suspect she's been chewing on those petals and using them as material for her nest. She loves to chew on the leaves on my little sour cherry bush.

Like her cousin, the blue orchard bee, or BOB, she nests in cavities. She loves to nest in the thin bamboo poles in my garden and the hollow giant fennel stalks I cut down to about 1 foot and leave for the bees.

Gentle and curious, the males and female love to sun themselves on perches in my garden. They like a piece of painted wood I put down on the ground to suppress the weeds.

Chewy collects pollen on branched hairs called setae located on her belly, just like the blue orchard mason bee.

The males are smaller than the females and they are bronze. They each sport a very cute blonde moustache.

Besides strawberries, they are also pollinating my black cap raspberries and my garden variety raspberries that my neighbour Catherine gave me.

They also love the forget-me-nots and the thyme growing in my little raised bed. Thyme is also a medicine cabinet plant for bees which contains the active component thymol, that helps bees fight parasites and disease.

 Besides these small shallow flowers, you might be surprised that little Chewy loves our native large-leaved lupin flowers and she's an expert at standing on the keel of the blossom so the  flower dusts her belly with pollen!

I also have some claytonia (the pink flowers) blooming in this bed, but see smaller bees such as Dialictus pollinating that plant.

These small ground-nesting Andrena miserabilis also help pollinate berry flowers and many fruit tree flowers as well.

 I was also surprised to see a cuckoo wasp in the strawberry flowers. It has a remarkable amount of pollen on its body despite the lack of branched hairs. The light grey pollen is from the nearby raspberries.

These brown and black velvet Andrena are about the size of a honey bee. You'll also see them in berry and rose flowers.

So we really need to show gratitude for some of these lesser-known native bees for pollinating our berries and rose hips!

I also just wanted to notes that the small raised bed with the strawberries also contains bush peas, wild garlic, perennial sweet peas, sneezeweed, garlic, and Egytian walking onions. You can pack a lot into a small space to feed humans and bees--a mini Victory Garden for Bees.

For more information on B.C.'s native bees, check out the British Columbia Native Bee Society:

If you're curious about what I'm up to these days, check out the blog for our artist residency at Terra Nova in Richmond, B. C. :

I hope you are all staying safe and connecting with nature in these difficult times. Bee well!