Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Bee Safari


Here are some photos from my bee safari today starting at VanDusen gardens with the elegant Triliums.


And I LOVE this cutie patootie in the Siberian squill. Can you see the little grains of blue pollen on the bee's leg? Do you know how difficult it is to take photos of Siberian squill? I suffered for this photo! Plant these high up in your stepped garden so you can go underneath the flowers to take the photos.


I think this bee is a little too small for the flower. She took a long time trying to acess the nectar and she hasn't collected much pollen.


Aren't you in love with currants right now?


The crab apple blossoms and cherry trees were surrounded by clouds of all kinds of bees in different sizes, especially now that the queen bumblebees are foraging beside the tiniest of bees.


I need help identifying this tree in Oak Meadows park, but it was also full of bees.





But the bee plant of the day was this spirea. Whenever I see the name "spirea" I know it's going to be a good bee plant and the blossom density on this beauty was unsurpassed in the gardens today. It's right near the 37th street entrance to VanDusen Gardens, so you don't even have to pay to  get into the garden to see it: Hybrid Bridalwreath (Spirea x cinerea).


I took this photo of the shooting star to illustrate how similar it is to the morphology of cranberry blossoms. Please let me know if you see cranberries in bloom as I plan to head out to the fields to take photos.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Shape of April Bee Flowers


One of our neighbors has planted native bushes on the boulevard in front of her house. This has created a super bee habitat, with mason bees zipping back and forth from holes in the adjacent power pole to the Oregon grape bush and the Pieris japonica (not native, but very popular with native mason bees).


 I never noticed before that the Oregon grape blossoms are like miniature daffoldils


The female mason bees will transform from larvae to adult bees in the back of these holes, and the males will develop closer to the entrance. Some of the boys will inevitably be lost to woodpeckers.


 The blossoms of the redflowering current are also like miniature daffodils.




 The honeybee is one of many bees who can access the nectar in the blossoms. All kinds of currants are attracted to currant blossoms. We really need to load up our city parks and gardens with different varieties of currant bushes.


This little mystery bee showed up on the current leaf. He's got a sweet red moustache and large mandibles. I don't know the Latin name, but I'm going to call him Angus.


 And for a completely different blossom shape--this purple dead nettle flower has the bilateral symmetry of the mint family. Did you know this weed is edible? Just remember to leave some for the bees!


Finally, here's the narrow bell-shaped flowers of the Pieris japonica. In June, the native rose nearby will also provide food for native bees. Thanks to this gardener, this boulevard is an excellent bee habitat!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

An Argument for Planting More Bee Forage in the Summer

I've been encouraging folks to really focus on planting early spring and fall plants especially for honeybees, but a new study shows honeybees need more local summer forage. They will travel up to 22 times the distance to find suitable flowers in the summer months. This makes sense in the countryside because of monoculture farming practices and the use of pesticides which kill weeds that the bees feed on, especially if there are no wild flowers around the farm. The colonies of honeybees are larger in summer months and so they can afford to send scouts further distances to feed the hive. The study also acknowledges competition with wild bees at that time of the year. Cities do tend to have blossom density during the summer, but since we are adding so many honeybee hives to our city, we need to supplement forage for native bees and honeybees to make a healthy environment for all our pollinators.

Alison Benjamen from the Guardian published an interesting quote from one of the researchers.

“There is an abundance of flowers in the spring from crocuses and dandelions to blossoming fruit trees. And in the autumn there is an abundance of flowering ivy. But it is harder for them to locate good patches of flowers in the summer because agricultural intensification means there are fewer wildflowers in the countryside for bees,” said Frances Ratnieks, professor of apiculture at Sussex University, who supervised the study.

 I was also interested in the study's findings on the seasonal sugar content in nectar:

"In June, July and August, the median and range of sugar content is low. The median sugar content is also low in March and April. However, spring sugar concentration range is wide, showing that better quality nectar is also available (and at closer distances) to foragers. Taken together, the data show that in summer compared to spring or autumn, the bees fly further to bring back nectar that is not better in quality."

Check out the study in PLOS One: Waggle Dance Difference as Integrative Indicators of Seasonal Foraging Challenges by Margaret J. Couvillon,  Roger Schürch, and Francis L. W. Ratnieks.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Bee Sculptures from Recycled Materials


 Here's a sneak peak of a Madame Beespeaker ArtStarts residency at Moberly Elementary co-sponsored by Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre. Can you identify this bee?


Siberian Squill with Blue Pollen



Challenge yourself to see if you can see bees carrying blue pollen this spring. I planted these last fall for the bees and I am SO happy to see them appear. Now we need some warm weather so the bees can come and gather the blue pollen!


Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Seed to Sky Garden Club: Companion Planting with Karen J. Myskiw

 Planting radishes, carrots, chervil and nasturtiums in your three sisters garden will boost production and help you grow healthy pesticide-free food for you and the bees.

The Seed to Sky Garden Club is a grassroots organization that grew naturally in a Church basement and parking lot in East Vancouver. We meet the first Tuesday of every month. Last night we had a very useful and inspiring talk given by Karen J. Myskiw. Another prairie transplant from the fertile fields of Manitoba, Karen is a plantswoman, educator and foodie. She has a degree in landscape architecture and works in human ecology (aka home economics). Early April is a great time to learn about companion planting because it affects the way you plan you vegetable and flower gardens, interplanting plants in a buddy system, avoiding negative synergy in the garden and emphasizing positive synergy. Companion planting guidelines are result of centuries of folk wisdom along with scientific study. The best thing to do is memorize which groups of plants grow well in communities. West Coast Seeds has a companion chart you can hang on your wall, which is great for classrooms, porches and potting sheds. Companion planting helps bees because it helps gardeners avoid using any kind of pesticides in the garden, even the ones approved for organic farming. Karen gave us some great ideas on how to plan our gardens for peak performance.

Many of the best ideas for companion planting also helps bees by providing more forage for them. Letting your companion plants flower and go to seed helps deter pests and attracts bees and other beneficial insect buddies. Anything that you do not want to spread by seeding, particularly fennel can easily be managed by cutting back the seed heads after they flower and before they mature. I've been doing this for years and it really works. Some herbs to let flower include parsley, cilantro, chervil, and radishes. Of course, you want keep lettuce greens, basil, and perilla from flowering as long as possible, but at the end of the season, it doesn't hurt to let them flower, with the advantage of using the edible flowers to garnish your salads. Other companion plants with flowers for bees are the Mediterannean herbs: lavender, rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme. All these flowers are edible and can be sugared to decorate cakes and panna cotta. Don't forget to let your flowering alliums bloom for bees and let your brassicas bloom for bees and aphid-eating syrphid flies.

One of the surprises I too away from Karen's talk was how good radishes are for your garden. I had no idea! These little guys are fantastic sentinels for your three sisters garden. West Coast Seeds recommends planting three or four icicle radishes and leaving them to flower around each mound where you plant your squash to deter most squash and cucumber pests. Myskiw also directed us to a helpful web site called Golden Harvest Organics. This is where I discovered nasturtiums and chervils, which are companion plants in themselves, improve the flavor of radishes, so they are also buddies to plant in the three sisters garden. Radishes will act as decoy plants, attracting leaf miners so they leave your spinach alone. Golden Harvest Organics also reccomends you plant daikon and 'Snow Belle' radishes at 6-12 inch intervals among your broccoli to act as decoy plants for flea beetles. Letting the radishes go to seed helps your corn by deterring corn-borer beetles. One gardener in our club pointed out that you can alternate carrots and radishes in a row so that the radishes will mature faster than the carrots, loosen the soil for them and make a very efficient use of space in a crowded garden. Karen recommended planting one radish for every two carrots. I'm going to do that today!!!! Then at the end of the season, you can leave one or two carrots in the ground to overwinter and leave to flower next spring as an umbel the bees and other beneficials will love.

I also recommend planting the poached egg flower (Limnanthes douglasii) in the corners of your three sisters bed to boast the bee forage around your plants. Choosing scarlet runner beans will provide food for bumblebees and hummingbirds. Remember to purchase the pollen when buying sunflower seeds--avoid the Teddy Bear varieties. Corn requires a critical mass of plants as they are wind pollinated, so if you are passionate about growing corn you might want to share some seeds with your closest community plot neighbour.

I highly recommend taking one of Karen Myskiw's classes. Now every time I plant radishes I will think of her good advice!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Don't Be a Fool: Start Planting Your Bee Flowers and Herbs Today!

 Reading the Charts: what to get planting in April by Madame Beespeaker

The West Coast Seed planting charts are very useful resources, but you've got to know how to read them to organize your planting. Let's have a look at what you can plant on April Fool's Day in Vancouver. I've marked the time-sensitive plants with an asterisk. And don't forget to do a celebratory bee dance in honor of the first day of our frost-free planting zone (fingers crossed). A honeybee landed on my jacket in the street today--a sign that the bees are celebrating the warmer temperatures.

Bee Herbs:

Borage: If you want to plant bee porridge for bees and take advantage of those beautiful edible blue star shaped flowers you can sow some today. Go for it! The sun is shining and in May the bees will be thanking you.

*Catnip: this is just at the juncture between being able to start seeds inside or sow directly into the soil outdoors. I will be doing both because of my slug issues. If you're a plant hunter then find some unusual varieties of catnip for your garden. Catnip is such a persistent bloomer it makes a good gap-filler for succession bee gardening.

Chives: Bees love chive flowers and you have four options: transplant the seedlings you started earlier or purchased in stores, start some inside, or sow direct. Or just buy a big pot of chives in a couple of weeks in the garden store. Also, don't forget to grow or buy garlic chives because they bloom later in the season and they're great in Asian recipes. Let your alliums bloom for bees.

Cilantro: Sow some outside now and then every three weeks until the end of July for continuous bee bloom and beneficial insect action. This is a great plant to integrate into your veggie garden even if you don't like the taste--just let it bolt for the bees!

Fennel: Fennel doesn't really like to be transplanted so you can start sowing it where you will want it to be permanently. Keep in mind it is alleopathic--and needs a little island of its own. Fennel and mint make a great tea for dodgy tummies.

Lavender: You could grow it from seed, if you have the patience of a saint, but why not buy a nice plant or six and put them out for the bees? Put it in a nice warm, sunny corner to release the fragrant oils to attract bees to your garden like a MAGNET.

* Mint: Start any of your mints inside today or sow direct. Think of the mojitos. If there's a junky corner of your garden where nothing grows, try peppermint or lemon balm.

Oregano and Thyme: Start some oregano and thyme inside. Buy some oregano and thyme in May. Do it all. Oregano and thyme are great for all sorts of bees. And oregano oil cures just about everything except existential angst.

Rosemary: Buy plants for the bees. Transplant in May. They are blooming right now and the honeybees love them. Put a sprig in the bathtub with epsom salts to ease aching muscles.

Sage: Start some sages inside: pick ones with small blue or purple blossoms for bees and larges red blossoms for hummingbirds. Give a bundle of dried sage to your favorite beekeeper to use in their smoker. Perennial sages are some of the bees bee plants in town. They are an excellent investment.

Bee Flowers:

Agastache: I've found that these seeds work best treated like wildflowers (sown direct in fall or early spring), but the chart says start inside now, and transplant in May. This is one of Madame Beespeaker's favorite heritage bee plants. You can grow purple agastaches for bees and red/orange agastaches for hummingbirds.

Alyssum: Start some inside today or sow direct in May/June. The annual alyssum is also a great plant to buy lots of little pots to put around your veggie and flower beds as an insectary plant. Perennial alyssum is a good spring bee plant.

Calendula: Sow direct now for blooms that will last until the fall frosts. You can also start these inside now--it's a great flower to plant with young children.

*Cone flowers: Start your echinacea inside today or wait until mid May to direct sow. Keep in mind that they are perennials, so require DEEP PATIENCE. Purchasing these plants is really worth the investment, but gardeners who like a challenge can find native varieties to grow from seed.

Cosmos: Sow direct outside until mid June.

California poppies: Sow direct until the end of May. These can be integrated into vegetable gardens and bumblebees love them.

Marigolds: start inside and/or buy some from the stores to plant as nematodal sentinels around your veggie bed. Don't buy the double varieties. Purchase the pollen!

Poppies: Poppies are popular for their pollen. Sow direct where you want them to appear. They don't like transplanting. The perennial varieties are best for bees and help fill in the "June gap" when suddenly there isn't a lot out there for the bees.

Sunflowers: The chart says sow direct mid April, but I'm starting some inside now. Sunflowers are all-you-can eat buffets for bees. Purchase the pollen--avoid the teddy bear variety and go for heritage sunflowers. Gardeners who like to challenge themselves should look into growing perennial wild sunflowers.

Sweet Peas: Sow direct until the end of May. (Not a bee plant per se, but we all LOVE sweet peas!!!! I have occasionally seen hummingbirds and bumble bees in sweet peas.) Did you know that perennial sweet peas are edible? I've seen bumble bees and leaf-cutter bees in the perennial sweet peas.

Zinnias: Sow direct now until the end of May. Hummingbirds and bees will love them and visit into the late summer. Fall bumblebee queens love zinnias.

Asters: And don't forget to plant asters this year. I'm going to try to grow some from seed, but it's really worth investing in asters because of their long bloom time, their broad appeal for several kinds of native bees and the late season forage when not much else is blooming.

If you follow the link to the West Coast Seeds planting chart you'll see they now have charts for other regions including the Prairies, which is very helpful!