Monday, April 20, 2015

Trafalgar's Spring Menu: Beet Risotto


Early spring is an exciting season when the first locally grown produce from the new season starts to hit the Vancouver menus. Trafalgar's has added a new beet risotto to the menu garnished with translucent slices of spring radishes and freshly shaved horse radish. It's borscht-meets-risotto, but even better than the sum of its parts. Creamy brie is the magic ingredient that ties it all together. Isn't it pretty?

The lilacs are in bloom, pumping out their spring cologne and the male flickers are making a racket. Today my neighbor Jean and I saw two crows chasing a bald eagle away from their nest. My forget-me-nots are full of bees of all sizes and I am seeing the first runty bumblebees emerging from the nest. The cherries are dropping their petals, but any trees still in bloom are full of a frenzy of honeybees, bumblebees and mining bees. I'm not seeing many mason bees. They may be finishing up early this year.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Madame Beespeaker's Pinterest Boards


Hey, are you on Pinterest? I love browsing the boards in my downtime and find some really inspiring ideas. My three favorite boards are Victory Gardens, Bee Homes and Garden Design. Check them out here: Bee Speaker Pinterest.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Mother's Day Gift Idea: Grab-and-Go Seeding Kit


As I headed out to the garden to plant seeds yesterday, I threw all the necessary bits and pieces into an old lunch bag. It dawned on me that a grab-and-go seeding kit would be a great gift for Mother’s Day or for a friend’s birthday. This kit keeps you from hunting all through the house like an idiot for one or other of the bits and pieces needed to get on with putting in the garden.

Here’s what you’ll need:

One small waterproof container for keeping dry seed packs dry.
One small waterproof container for any wet seeds you are carrying.
String for marking lines.
Measuring tape or a small ruler for double-checking spacing between seeds and between rows.
Scissors for cutting open seed packs and cutting string.
A packet of inoculant for legume seeds.
Small package of garden markers for plant names.
A grease pencil for marking plant names.
Sandpaper and nail clippers for last minute seed scarification.
A good pair of garden gloves--the ones with rubber on one side.
Two sticks just long enough to fit in the lunch kit for holding the string to mark the rows.

 A couple of zip-lock baggies for the opened seed packets.

 One large zip-lock bag for holding seed germination notes and garden plans.

Add in a few packages of some beautiful seeds for bees and you’re good to go!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Bombus Mixtus: This Bee Needs a Home!


As we were working in the Mount Pleasant Community Garden just before supper, we noticed this bumblebee queen sunning herself in a corner of a garden plot. The air was turning cold, and it felt like we might be in for a storm. How I wish she had a cozy little home to shelter inside! Now I am really motivated to make a bumblebee home. (See the post below.) I believe this shaggy bee is Bombus Mixtus. Notice the reddish hairs on her legs--something I've noticed in this species. Is it my imagination or are her wings a tad more reddish in hue than other Bombus? I dug a little divet near her with my pinky finger for a bit of shelter and she waved her arm at me--a classic defense warning: "Don't get too close, lady, or I'll sting you!" For those looking for help identifying Vancouver bees, check out this page by Dr. Elizabeth Elle at Simon Fraser University. She describes B. mixtus as a "boring" bee. I beg to differ! I think she's a shaggy beauty. And check out that mohawk!

We watched a mason bee working in a condo installed on the southeastern side of the garden shed. She needed to stop and sun herself every few minutes to stay warm enough to work. She will tuck herself inside an empty tunnel tonight as the storm passes through the city.




Monday, April 6, 2015

Blogging for Bees: What I Saw in My BackYard Today


I have about four more weeks of heavy slogging in this process of writing a book, and so although I am exhausted, I do feel hopeful. Thanks to all the people who have been helping me through this intense birthing process. It's time to start blogging more often and gardening again, which I am REALLY looking forward to this year. I am challenging myself to blog as often as I can over the next four weeks in anticipation of being (somewhat) liberated from my computer after that. So here we go, blogging for bees!

Today's bee is a Vozzy queen sipping nectar at these large pink rhodo flowers. I saw a Griseocollis queen out yesterday which is very early for that species here, so I wonder if she was awakened early by someone's enthusiastic gardening, that may have disturbed her hibernaculum. I know gardeners in Vancouver are itching to get their hands in the compost, so they may find a sleepy queen looking for a new home for the year. After some consideration, I have decided to create an artificial nesting site for bumblebees in my garden with this simple design from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Hartley-Botanic in the UK. It looks like it may work well, but I'm already suspicious that skunks and raccoons could easily dig out the nest and I'm trying to think about how that could be prevented.









Thursday, April 2, 2015

Bee Gardens Trump Bee Hotels: A New Canadian Study


A new study out of Toronto suggests that planting bee gardens is a better strategy than building bee hotels. The study by Laurence Packer and J. Scott MacIvor  found that bee hotels fill up with about as many introduced bee species as native bees, but that wasps that predate bees outnumbered the other guests. The research took place over two years, so it will be interesting to see future studies to see if pest buildup increased over four years to a population "sink" or crash, which is a natural cycle.

The study suggests that it's very important where you put the hotel. The best place? In a bee garden.  The highest percentage of native bees on the guest list were found in backyard gardens. Another important finding was that it is very important to locate the hotel in a sunny spot which will be less likely to be overcrowded with wasps. The conclusion to the study warns businesses who sell bee hotels not to "bee-wash" their products with claims that they boost native bee populations, when in fact more research needs to be done. In the meantime planting more flowers for our native bees is your best investment.

The sad little mason bee in the photograph above is from my back yard. She is covered with mites and was trying to groom them off. Males will mate with her and the mites will jump onto them. She will probably not live very long. These bees are nesting in the cedar shingles of our house. Speeking of bee-washing, if you do have been hotels, make sure you clean the cocoons in the fall to prevent bees being overloaded with mites and to help prevent the buildup of parasitic wasps. If you have a bee hotel you cannot clean, learn how to cycle out old materials to prevent this buildup of pests and research which hole sizes are best for native bees rather than introduced bees.

You can read the entire study called 'Bee Hotels' as Tools for Native Bee Conservation: A Premature Verdict? by Laurence Packer and J. Scott MacIvor in PLOS One.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Mason Beepalooza at John Henderson Elementary: Bees are Life!



The plum trees are blooming in the John Henderson Schoolyard, the Oregon grape shrubs are just starting to show their yellow blooms, and the pieris are coming into flower too.  The pussywillows will soon be producing yellow powdery pollen. That means it's mason bee time! Erin Udal from the Environmental Youth Alliance and Madame Beespeaker spent an inspiring day with students from the school learning all about mason bees so they can install this condo on their school and take good care of their blue orchard mason bees.




The garden club met with us over lunch time and each named a mason bee cocoon becfore putting them in the secret cocoon release compartment in the condominium. Many were named after flowers: daisy, daffodil and rose. It's still a too early to put out the cocoons. I usually wait until I see a mason bee flying in the flowers before putting out cocoons. Master Beekeeper Brian Campbell also suggests putting them out in stages 1/2 early, 1/2 two weeks later, just in case the weather turns bee unfriendly. Most of the trees you see blooming right now are the plums, but when the cherries come into blossom, hopefully it will be warm enough for the mason bees.


Then we acted out the life cycle of the mason bee, the joyful ups and downs growing from egg to larva to pupa, laying eggs, gathering pollen, sipping nectar, and making mud walls to keep our babies safe from woodpeckers.



Each class told us why they were grateful for bees: because  through pollination they provide us with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables for our plates. That's called biodiversity, folks!



The grade 6/7 class made seed packets that would inspire gardeners to plant flowers that feed the bees.




The students came up with some great advertising slogans for their seeds: bees are life!


Erin brought out her fabulous bee box with examples of real bees, wannabees and wasps. Upon discussion we decided that wasps were omnivores rather than carnivores because they sip nectar as well as eating other insects. I've always called wasps carnivores, but I stand corrected. Bees are vegans, wasps are omnivores.


We also planted microgreens with the grades 4/5 which they will water and grow once they get back from spring break. Plants like overwintered broccoli produce flowers in the spring that feed mason bees. Then they produce seeds which you can grow into micro-greens for a nutritious snack. (Radishes are great for bees too).



As we learned, all good things must come to an end, even the sweet little mason bees. (Although not every one gets a proper Christian burial). They only live a few weeks, but they play an important role in keeping our fruit trees brimming with cherries and apples. Thanks bees and bee-lovin' students and thanks to the bee-loved adults who helped make this project possible with a Neighborhood Small Grant.