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.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Thirsty Bees in the Drought

It's hot and dry out there, and I have observed honeybees desperately seeking moisture. One worker bee followed me as I picked raspberries and sipped up the juice left behind on the nubs of the berries. I also saw bees mingling with wasps as they sipped drops of water from a drip hose on the sidewalk. Please remember to put out a shallow bowl of water with rocks, marbles, twigs, or corks to help the bees from falling in and drowning.

I found this male wool carder bee spending the night hugging a stalk of lavender. What a beautiful bed! He's done this for at least two nights and the first night he was biting into a lavender bud to help him hold on while he snoozed after a long day of sex and drinking. Those long hairs are a bit of a mystery, since he doesn't collect pollen.

I also saw this large leafcutter bee foraging in nasturtiums. Note the long nectar tubes in the flower you can see on the right of the flower--perfect for hummingbirds and long-tongued bees. Remember to give flowering plants water during the drought so they can produce nectar. Skip watering the lawn and pamper your flowers instead.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

An Example of Garden Design for Pollinators at UBC Farm

 On Saturday I taught a workshop at James Richardson's permaculture course. I found a great example of gardening for pollinators in the Landed Learning Garden. In the centre of the garden is crocosmia, a hummingbird magnet which has bright red flowers with long nectar tubes. A cheeky little hummer gave us a lovely demonstration of sipping nectar while we admired her.

The next layer in this grouping is comfrey (Symphytum officinale), which was almost finished blooming, but was still attracting hungry bumblebees with fat golden pollen baskets. This bee is grooming while hanging on the blossom by one leg. The hummingbirds were also sipping at the comfrey which refills with nectar about every 3 hours. The third plant, which was a lower layer was hardy geranium (Geranium maculatum). It has shallow purple flowers with clear nectar guides that was attracting honeybees and tiny native bees.This planting is an example of a great way to design for pollinators, with different plants catering to different niches filled by a diversity of pollinators.

Artist Jasna Guy, pictured here with fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium), helped me out in the workshop and showed us how to use a tuning fork to release pollen. She has had good luck putting flowers in a vase and then using the fork to release the pollen when they reach that crucial point in their development. Jasna is exhibiting her work this fall at the Richmond Art Gallery. Please keep an eye on her fabulous blog for details.

Students who want more information about mason bee houses can check out this info from the Xerces Foundation.

Folks interested in further classes in bee knowledge can check out Brian Campbell's  classes at VanDusen Gardens and Langara College. 

The Environmental Youth Alliance also offers opportunities for learning about bees and you can drop in on the open hive days at Hives for Humanity in the Downtown East Side.

Thanks for a fantastic afternoon of exploration!