Monday, August 2, 2021

A Celebration of Bees and Teas in the Riley Park Community Garden


Welcome to our celebration of recent projects we've accomplished at the Riley Park Community Garden celebrating the plants that support our cherished neighbourhood pollinators. We sipped herbal tea made from the garden while this yellow-headed bumble bee drank nectar from this vibrant zinnia.

If you look carefully at the sedum around our pollinator border, you might see a tiny leafcutter bee supping her own sweet tea.


We have two new butterfly BINGO cards for you to enjoy, as well as the other cards in the series celebrating plants and pollinators. You can use these to have fund spotting and naming the bees and the butterflies and the plants they need to thrive.


We also have some really fun cards from the Oregon Bee Project about some of the beautiful species of bees that occur in the Pacific Northwest. Please check out their website for more awesome information about our local bees.

I took small group of people looking for critters to examine up close and we found some mating shield bugs int he Moonshine yarrow.


A thirsty female common eastern bumble bee drinks from the pearly everlasting flowers.


 The fennel was very popular with a variety of bees, wasps, and ladybugs.

We found some very tiny masked bees that nest in stems. They are unusual because they carry pollen internally rather than on hairs on their body like other bees.

Teaching children to catch and release bees gives them confidence and helps them get over the fear of insects. This little guy was very proud of the bumble bee he caught in the jar. (I use plastic shaker jars from the dollar store. They have air holes at the top, which helps the children feel they are not suffocating the insects. )

And here's our favourite queen bee sampling some sweet delights from the community!

Children could also practise their netting skills by catching bubbles!



We're accumulating a nice collection of seasonal maps of the garden. Special thanks to Tom at Kapow Creative for the designs!

Selina created a beautiful seed table for folks to take home samples to plant in their own gardens. She also made the refreshing herbal tea we enjoyed.


Lunaria seeds are like small works of art.

And you can never have too many borage (aka "bee porridge") seeds! (-;

 She's packin' lots of porridge for her babies!



It's that time of the year when we see bees napping in the garden. How many sleepy bees can you find?

And don't forget to plant some calendula seeds for Ms. Melissodes with the hairy pollen pants!


Even a little zebra spider joined in the fun!


Please check out our new David Suzuki Butterfly Ranger signs when you visit the garden.



Thanks to everyone who came as guest and for all the folks who help make our garden thrive!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

A Gift of Pollen


A dark, velvety Andrena mining bee landed on my hand and proceeded to groom. It was a beautiful interaction. In the final picture of the series you can see the gift of pollen she left on my hand as a little gift.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Cool iNat Projects: Bees and Beyond!


Here's a list of cool iNaturalist Projects to check out:


British Columbia


NBSBC Bee Tracker (Native Bees of British Columbia)


BIMBY: Butterflies in my Back Yard (David Suzuki Butterfly Rangers in British Columbia)


Vancouver Island Bumble Bees


Edible Plants on Vancouver Island


Biodiversity of Vancouver Island


Bees, Wasps, and Stinging Insects of the Sunshine Coast


Bees and Flowers of the Central and North Okanagan


BC Parks





Washington Native Bee Society:




Oregon Bee Atlas (Bee Pictures)


Oregon Bee Atlas (Plant Pictures)


Bumble Bees of the Willamette Valley




Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park


The Urban Flora of Lethbridge, AB


University of Lethbridge Campus Flora


Lepidoptera of Alberta


Biodiversity of Alberta


Alberta Parks





Bumble Bees of Ontario

“Extra points for anyone that can submit observations of the three at risk bumble bee species: Rusty-patched (Bombus afinis), Gypsy Cuckoo (Bombus bohemicus) and Yellow-banded (Bombus terricola).”


Bumble Bees of Northwestern Ontario




Bees of Canada


Bumble Bees of Canada



More United States and Beyond


Bees of North America


Cuckoo Bumble Bees (International)


Ohio Bumble Bees


Ohio Bee Atlas


Montana Bumble Bees


Bombus and Bumble Bee Sightings (North America)


Queen Quest (Bumble Bees) I think North America? Maybe just U.S.





Friday, April 2, 2021

Flower Hour and the Native Bee Society of BC Bee Tracker



It's officially spring and on warm sunny days in Vancouver the bumble bee queens are out and about foraging for nectar and looking for nesting sites. This is such an exciting time of the year for bee spotting!


We are still in pandemic mode, and with the fatigue and stress of so many months of lockdown, getting out and connecting with nature is more important than ever. I don't know about you, but my mood is very up and down these days. The vaccine is coming, but fatigue and fear is still a very real part of life. I have to keep reminding myself to get my daily dose of flower and bee watching. It does really help me keep calm and carry on doing the work I need to do, moving forward. 



I like to try to get up early and get a good chunk of work done in the morning so I can spend one or two hours outside with the flowers and the bees. Seeing the first blossoms of spring emerge can be very thrilling. After a long, wet winter, it's such a relief to feel the sun on my face and  find a spot where I can safely take off my masks and inhale the scent of the spring air with its delicate floral scents. It's especially glorious to find a re-flowering currant bush, sit on the ground and watch the bees and hummingbird foraging in its fragrant blossoms. The scent is resinous and seductive, reminding me of garden sage, but more delicate and floral. Taking time to enjoy the flowers without my camera in front of my face is a form of regenerative meditation. 

My colleague Tyler calls the time spent outside with blossoms and bees the "flower hour". Love it! Renew your power in the Flower Hour! Inspired to connect with folks who love bees, we've created the NBSBC Bee Tracker project. We'd love you to join in the fun! And so we invite you to go out and spend your "flower hour" with the bees and the flowers and post your photos on iNaturalist with the tag "FlowerHour". If the bee you're seeing is a first bee, ie first  bee of the year, first bumble bee, first mining bee, please feel free to use the tag "BCFirstBee". You can explain how it's a first bee in your notes. I've never used the journal on iNat, but I'm also determined to try out thus feature as well to add more detail to the field notes.

I'd like to personally invite you to a project on iNaturalist created by the Native Bee Society of British Columbia. We would love you join and post your photos of native B. C. bees! If you haven't joined iNaturalist, this would be a great time to start! You don't need a fancy iphone--you can just post sightings from your computer. 

When you're posting photos of bees, it's important to try to crop them down so we can just focus on the details of the bee to try to identify it to Genus or species. In this photo you can see the whole side of the bee and the back leg, which is important to seeing if it is male or female. We also see the shape of the side of the head, the hairs on the "shoulders" of the bee and the side of the thorax and the entire abdomen.

It's also important for us to see all the parts of the bee, including the butt! The colour and length of the hairs and the shape of the very tip of the tail can give us clues to its ID.


In the case of this bumble bee, seeing the underside of the abdomen so we can check the sternites of the bee help us tell if tell two very similar species apart. Bombus calignosus has yellow hairs on the underside of its abdomen. In areas where there are B. calignosus this is particularly important to check. Don't be a perfectionist! Even blurry shots can help build the ID.


It also helps to see the face of the bee--the shape of the face, length of tongue, and the colour of the hairs on the front and top of the head.  You can see why this is called the yellow-faced bumble bee!


It's also good to get a shot of the back of the bee so we can she the thorax, and the middle of the abdomen. This queen was the first I've seen of this year with a full pollen load. Exciting to know she's found a nest and starting to gather food for her first babies! So lovely to see a vigorous queen foraging in a native plant!

When I post a sighting on iNaturalist I like to make a note of what the bee is doing and which plant it is foraging on. If you want, you can make two posts with the same photos: one for the plant, and one for the bee.

I was also excited to see my first B. melanopygus of the year foraging in the sunwarmed blossoms. This is one of the earliest emerging species of our BC bumble bees, so there have been over 40 sightings of them reported on iNat in our province so far this year. Now that the yellow-faced bumble bees are waking up, the numbers of sighting have started to overtake the "mels". I'm having so much fun watching folks post their sightings of BC bees. Please join our project and consider becoming a member of The Native Bee Society of British Columbia to help us celebrate BC native bees!




Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Pruning with Bees in Mind


We are smack in the middle of the "Ides of March" and spring is tantalizingly within our reach. It's been a year since we starting becoming aware of how the coronavirus pandemic was going to affect our lives. It's also that time of the year when we start sowing many of our food plant and annual flower seeds. This year more than ever, I'm determined to experience the wonder of growing human and bee food from seed.

But first, we prune! Garden wisdom says it's time to prune the roses when the forsythia is blooming. It's that time of the year to get plants in the rose family in tune for spring. I head out to my garden on a sunny day with leather gloves and pruning shears to tackle the invasive blackberry that took advantage of the warm winter, and clean up the canes in my raspberries that bore fruit last year. (The ones I missed last fall.) Now there are tiny carpenter bees that nest in the stems of the rose family, so I keep some of the dead stems in my yard in an undisturbed place. The bees can use them once they've dried out. I used to recommend bundling them, but since watching a webinar with a scientist named Colleen Satyshur who specializes in stem nesting bees, I've learned that bundling creates better opportunities for parasitic insects to take advantage, so we don't want that.

Ideally they should be put in a place in your garden that is sheltered from rain and gets morning sun. As for weather they should be vertical or horizontal--experiment! See what the species of bees in your yard prefers. As for those invasive blackberry stems--bees don't generally like to nest in green stems and I have enough other stems to leave for the bees, so these go in the green bin. Some of the raspberry canes I just "crop and drop" at the back of the garden beds. I've also seen these small bees nesting in the stems of salal. Some bees like hollow stems, others prefer pithy stems. Some other plants I've seen bees nesting in include fennel (non-bulbing), bamboo and Joe pye weed. They just need the diameter that suits them and (once cut) the stem itself has to be able to last at least one year so the bees can emerge as adults.

I'm thinking of creating some "stem art" pieces to hang individual stems on my fence to see which bees choose each kind of stem. This way I can keep records and learn as a community scientist what I can recommend to other gardeners. I encourage you to do the same!

For more information, I highly recommend this webinar from the Oregon Bee Project:


Friday, February 5, 2021

Winter in the Riley Park Community Garden


It's so lovely to see the native Oregon grape forming buds. This will be the earliest native plant to bloom here and the hummingbirds and bumble bees will drink its sweet nectar. If you have a small garden, I suggest you stick to early-blooming native plants for pollinators, but if you have more space, then you can squeeze in some winter-blooming non native plants. I think the temptation is to push for those spring flowers that aren't native to the Pacific Northwest because that's how we have been taught that spring should look. However, many spring classics such as daffodils and tulips don't do anything for wildlife here, so to me they really are a waste of space. There are non-native plants that do have some degree of usefulness in winter and early spring. And with climate change, it seems the bumble bee queens may be emerging earlier than ever before, so we may have to cheat and use some exotic plants that produce nectar in late winter.

The winter-blooming varieties of non-native Berberis is prized by overwintering Anna's hummingbirds. It finishes blooming a couple of weeks before our native species of Oregon grape. However, if bees do emerge early because of climate change, perhaps they will also feed on the non-native species. I recommend planting winter heather for early bumble bee queens, even though it's not native.


I have been spending quite a bit of time in the community garden in winter to observe, meditate and do my daily exercises. It has been a pleasure to experience the subtle beauty of the garden during this season. In winter, the bees and other insect pollinators are in diapause or they are hibernating. There life cycles are put on hold until it's warm enough to begin developing and foraging again. Many of the plants are resting too, their muted colours blending in with the birds foraging for their seeds. Today I watched the juncos looking for bugs in the leaves under the shrubs. They are well-camouflaged against the leaves, along with the wrens and sparrows. I've noticed that birds love messy gardens because it gives them a safer place to hide and forage, and more food than gardens that are too tidy.


Anna's hummingbirds are now wintering in Vancouver, even though it is not natural for them to do this. Warmer weather, non-native plants and feeders have made it possible. You can usually hear them before you see them, with their high pitched razzes and squeeks. "Zikka zikka zikka!" The males can also make impressive territorial dives that create squeaks with their wing feathers. There are plants you can grow that bloom in winter specifically for them. These are not native plants.



I have never seen hummingbirds forage on sweet box, but other gardeners say they have so I'll have to do more research. It is a fragrant winter-blooming evergreen shrub with dainty flowers. You smell it before you see it and on warmer winter days the scent stops me in my tracks. I've only seen flies on it and not even looking for nectar, but I have seen photographs on honey bees foraging in it.


The best bets for hummers are winter blooming jasmine and (as I mentions above) the non-native winter blooming Berberis. Hummers will defend the Berberis with much sound and fury. They become quite territorial.


Gardeners say Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' is prized by hummingbird, but again I have not seen them foraging in it. I'll keep on the lookout once the buds open. Winter-blooming honeysuckle will also support hummers. (ETA: I have since found out that at least two gardeners do see bumble bee queens and hummingbirds on this shrub.)


 Hellebores are generally cultivated for looks rather than pollen and nectar rewards, so although there do seem to bee some that are visited by European honey bees, most are not useful for pollinators. 


Winter aconite is another non native plant that is attractive to European honey bees in its native habitat. Just be advised that although not as poisonous as Aconitum species, it is toxic enough that it should not be planted anywhere near a food garden. Most of them are finished blooming by the time the first bees arrive.



Fava beans are a crop that bloom in late winter/early spring and once in a while I will see bumble bees on them, but not enough to say that they are a good plant for bees.


We've had such a mild winter, that some plants are getting a very early start and as long as we don't get a late snow cover, it looks like the cilantro will be blooming early this year and it's little white flowers will attract bees, flies and tiny beneficial wasps.


Again, because it was so mild the, some of the calendula continues to bloom over winter. This means we may eventually have it blooming all year round. I've seen bumble bees sleeping in the flowers waiting for the sun to warm them up.

I've never seen borage overwinter before either, so maybe that's another pollinator plant we'll start to see bloom earlier in the year. What new plants are you noticing that are overwintering this year?

The garlic is poking through its light layer of leaf mulch. Having the beds rounded like this is a way of keeping the plants from getting too soggy in the winter. Many bees nest in the ground, but they like undisturbed soil that won't get too wet in winter. Some bees actually line their nest cavities with a kind of cellophane to keep the damp out.


The spots and texture of these leaves have earned Pulmonaria the common name of "lungwort". The blue and pink flowers are much loved by bumble bee queens when they emerge from hibernation.