Friday, December 6, 2013
Check out this frothy confection of a film made in 1948. Set in 1943 it is a musical comedy fantasy about a colony of women who model their society on the beehive. It serves to undermine and mock authoritative women, eroding the power they gained by working during the war and sending them back into the kitchen. There's some fun physical comedy, cute double entendres and pretty good costumes. The set dec is pretty awesome--lots of skeps carved in "stone". The text and music is mostly derivative, but saved in part by its self-referential and self-mocking tone.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Winter berries glow
Where bees in summer roamed
We are enjoying crisp sunny skies at minus 3 degrees Celsius while Southern Alberta struggles with a snowstorm.
I just purchased Vandana Shiva's breathless new work Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development. It's just come out in paperback with a lovely new cover by Nikki McClure. If you like Michale Pollen you should read Vandana Shiva. It is an essential eco-feminist book on global food security, ($17.50 at Banyen Books, but I bought the last copy. Sorry!)
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Lois Klassen and Lori Weidenhammer invite you to be a part of Slofemists, a long-run artists' project that offers the unhurried production of feminisms. Join in the Slofemists embroidery circle at Strathcona Field House on November 30 from 1-3pm. Participants should bring a feminist story that has inspired them to share, in exchange for a take-home feminist embroidery pattern. Supplies for an afternoon of feminist embroidery will be provided. Embroidered linen patches from Slofemists events will eventually form a composite patchwork that will be used as a couch cover or Slofa - a prop to designate a mobile space for dialogue and performance. Slofemists has been presented at the Surface Design Association of Alberta at the John Snow House in Calgary (October 2013).
In 2014, Slofemists will host Vancouver feminist embroidery events at #204-2075 Yukon Street on the last Saturday of each month: January 25 (1-3pm), February 22 (1-3pm), and March 29 (1-3pm)Register for these by emailing lois(at)loisklassen(dot)com .
Lois Klassen is an artist and writer based in Vancouver. She is interested in participatory art in the city and the social life of crafts. Her on-going social sewing project is documented at comforterartaction.org.
Lori Weidenhammer is a performance-based eco-feminist artist and educator. She prefers to make art in “galleries without walls”, i.e. gardens. She is part of the Second Site Collective and a founding member of the Slofemists. She blogs at www.beespeakersaijiki.blogspot.ca.
Klassen and Weidenhammer are past collaborators in the Means of Production Artists Raw Resource Collective (with Sharon Kallis, 2009) and CornerFarm: Repurposed Planters for Avant Gardeners (2008). Lori and Lois have collaborated on a number of projects concerning ecology and sustainable lifestyles.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Finding out that there is a flower named Scabiosa stellata Ping Pong has made my day. I can use this fab phrase as an incantation to cheer myself up in sticky situations. If someone tries to push ahead of you in line at the grocery store, fix them with your eyes and recite: "Scabiosa stellata Ping Pong!" in your most intimidating wizard's voice and I assure you people will start treating you with respect. I fell in love with this flower at Dan Jason's farm on Salt Spring Island. It has a demure blue-violet flower which has a good sturdy landing pad for the big bumble bees that love to sip the nectar. The wonderful thing about Scabiosa stellata ping pong is its translucent globe-shaped seed heads, which is why it is sometimes poetically called "Paper Moon." Each dimple in the ping pong ball is marked with a charming 5 pointed star. They are an eco-artist's dream and look great in sculptures and flower arrangements. The seeds would make great holiday gifts.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
When there's a warm day in November, there's not much for honeybees to choose from for forage, so when I visited VanDusen this week I was pleased to see there was some red bistort aka Persicaria for those bees who ventured outside the hive.
Being red, it breaks the rules for bee plant colour, but you can see those purple anthers on the stamens. I wonder if they help attract the bee to the plant. Certainly when it's this cold, there is not fragrance I could detect.
Not all the florets on the inflorescence bloom at once. You can see how they are blooming at different stages, moving from the bottom towards the top. This is a good strategy for the plant to extend blossom time to hedge its bets on being pollinated.
Bistort is from the Polygonaceae or buckwheat family, which contains an important collection of bee plants. You can see the tiny white grains of pollen, but it's the nectar that's attracting the bees to this plant.
Polygonaceae persicarium: Smart arse with pink pokers and knobby knees
What we in British Columbia call Smart Weed (more polite than smart arse) is Polygonum persicarium also known as lady's-thumb. Persicaria comes from the Latin word for "peach" because of the similarity of its leaves to those from the peach tree. The "knobby knees" of Polygonum refers to its jointed stems. Smartweed competes with food crops and can cause yield losses and harvesting delays. It thrives in moist, shady conditions and I am very familiar with it, having spend hours on UBC Farm weeding it out of the veggie rows. At the time I didn't realize it was edible and medicinal. Foragers use smart weed sparingly to lend hot pepper flavor to soups.
The common name bistort rhymes with distort, the "tort "meaning twisted, referring to the roots. There are wild bistorts and cultivars from all over the globe, some of which are great bee plants for gardens. You may be most familiar with the classic border perennials like Persicaria bistoria 'Superba' with its light pink blossoms on long stems aka pink pokers. The red cultivars are also popular, and although they break the rules for bee plant colours, on late fall days they attract honeybees when not much else is in bloom.
Bistort is a boggy member of the knotweed family. As I was taking these photos, my feet were squelching in the wet grass around the dried flower garden at VanDusen. Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firetail' aka red bistort is a long-blooming (midsummer to late autumn) plant which grows just over a metre tall. There are dwarf versions as well, but I can't vouch if they attract bees as well as this cultivar. It's a shade tolerant plant which can tolerate different soils, including clay, but it does prefer wet feet.
An infusion of bistort was believed to drive out evil spirits. Witchipedia's list of alternative names for P. bistorta names reads like a spell from Hogwart's including Osterick, Snakeroot, Easter Mangiant, Adderwort, Twice Writhen, Pudding grass, Serpentaria, Dracunculus, Serpentary Dragonwort, Patience dock, Red Legs, and Dragon’s Scales. The roots have been soaked in water and boiled to eat as famine food in Europe and the seeds were used as chicken feed. Young leaves and shoots were cooked in Bistort Herb Pudding aka Easter-mangiant. It is is a boil-in-a-bag dish made of simple ingredients including oatmeal, barley, and hedgerow herbs such as sweet cicely, nettles, black current leaves, and yellow dock. Bistort pudding was traditionally prepared in May when other vegetables were few and far between. This dish is still eaten in parts of northern England (Cumberland). According to the authors of Seaweed and Eat It Easter mangiant was a fertility pudding, eaten at the end of lent when women wanted to conceive.Brazilian scientists studied Polygonum punctatum and isolated the sesquiterpene dialdehyde polygodial as the active chemical constituent which along with tannin gives the plant its antibiotic, anti-flammatory and anti-hyperalgesic qualities. Plants from this genus have been used as astringent gargles and wound washes. Caution is warranted in the ingestion of bistort because of its high tannin content which can cause nausea and liver toxicity.
American bistort (Polygonum bistortoides) has a white flower head and is very attractive in a meadow. The roots were eaten raw or roasted in the fire by Rocky Mountain tribes, with a flavor that has been compared to chestnuts. I would like to try to grow it in my back yard, but the seeds are hard to find and difficult to germinate.
Feral smartweeds have historically been a major honey plant in the U. S. and Canada. In the book Plants for Bees by Kirk and Howes the authors say that although not a favoured honey plant in Britain, in other countries Persicarias produce a dark, spicy honey that is quick to crystallize. They suggest that the aquatic Persicaria ( P. amphibria) may be a good source of nectar to plant around pods and wet wastelands.
For a great blog post on Persicaria cultivars check out this article by Jan Verschoor.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Here are two queens in November, one foraging, one resting. They had exhausted a patch of Phacelia tanacetifolia, and then turned to these orange beauties. The queens were weak and drowsy, falling off the flowers, but determined to seek sweetness on the unseasonably warm afternoon, with temperatures reaching 12 degrees Celsius. The morphology of this Phacelia is sturdier and with the florets close together, it is more ergonomic than these flowers with their weak and flopping petals. The bees kept slipping off these flowers, but there just wasn't much else to choose from at this time of the year. I don't think I've ever seen two queens tolerate such closeness, but they were just too weak to bother competing for space, hanging on for dear life. If you want to support bees, plant phacelia. I am hoping to try some new varieties next year.
Did you notice Phacelia and Globe Gilia (above) both have blue pollen? It's luscious.
Location: Oak Meadows Pollinator Garden near the Insect Hotel @Oak and 41st, Vancouver, Canada.
Land should not be taken out of the Agricultural Land Reserve for development. We need to save our bees by setting this land aside for them. Let's start a Pollinator Land Reserve--property set aside as buffer zones around arable soil in the ALR to save the bees and other insects that pollinate our crops and wildflowers. Our lives depend on it.
(All photos taken on Dan Jason's Farm at Salt Spring Seeds.)