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.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Warm Spell in January

On Monday I saw the first honeybees of the year. It was 10 degrees at noon and the bees were checking our the flowers at two different florists. I felt sorry for the girls because it was slim pickings for pollen and nectar. One bee had ivory pollen on her hind legs, which may have come from the heather which is blooming. The sweet box is very fragrant these days and some of the the hellebores are blooming as well.

I am well on my way to ordering seeds for the new year. I'm very excited about trying some different kinds of poppies and zinnias and I've discovered some really interesting varieties of nigella to grow. If you are into flowers, I suggest two seed companies: Beauty Beyond Belief, which is based in the States has a good variety of wild flowers. I have had good service from the company. You can subscribe to their newsletter to keep tabs on their sales. Now that the Canadian dollar has dropped, it's also good value to order seeds from companies in Canada and I'm very excited about the flower seed offerings in William Dam Seeds based in Ontario. This is also a great time to order seeds for flowers, herbs and heirloom vegetables from my personal favorite, Salt Spring Seeds. As Dan Jason grows most of the seeds this is a good time of the year to order before the gardening season begins and Dan gets busy in the fields.

Keep your eyes on those snowdrops and crocuses because they'll be up and blooming before you know it!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Permission to Dream

I have been writing this blog for a few years now, with the aim to record a seasonal diary or saijiki. As the flowers and trees begin to bloom in 2015, I am renewing my commitment to record the dates and order in which they appear. I will label these posts as time sensitive as I attempt to become even more sensitized to the passage of time as it cycles through the seasons here in Vancouver British Columbia. The hazel catkins have been out for at least a week now, and the sweet box has just begun to assert its signature sweet scent.

It has been a mild winter so far here, but strangely enough, I have had one of my worst years of experienced SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Just when I think I have licked it, and climbed above the clouds it paralyzes me with a kind of frozen numbness. It just occurred to me this morning as I lay in bed trying to use visual exercises to get dissolve the grey fug that this year, the sadness of winter has been mingled with grief over the loss of my aunt. Grief is complicated. It shines a light into the vulnerable corners of your humanity that you would rather keep hidden and protected. Just when you think it has been carefully stored away in a compartment in your psyche, their is a leak, and grief seeps into your morning tea.

I am really trying to use January to dream of gardens. As the seed catalogues come into my mailbox, I see the peas, beans and flowers rich with color, pollen and nectar that will nourish my family and our beloved bees. More than ever, I wish we could have the expansive space of my childhood garden to grow a sunflower forest like my mom did. This is the first year she will not plant a garden, since my parents have moved to an apartment, and I mourn the loss of that tradition. I find myself adopting my aunts' and cousins' gardens, sending them seed catalogues and sunflower seeds, trying to keep the dream and the sunflower forest blooming.

Today I'd also like you to check out a seed company based in Vermont called High Mowing Organic Seeds. I just got their e-newsletter in my mail, and found it lyrical and inspiring.

Here is an excerpt from their January 2015 Newsletter:

"As blustery winds sweep over the landscape and temperatures take a nosedive, we keep warm here in northern Vermont by cozying up to our woodstoves and dreaming of spring. While there is little sign of it beyond the lengthening days, there is something undeniably pleasant about the dreaming season – the weather is bitter, outdoor chores are at a minimum, and we can feel justified in running unfettered in the gardens taking shape in our minds. We wrap ourselves in expansive ideas and plans for warmer weather at a time when we are bound to the indoors by snow and cold, taking comfort in the promise that our pollinator gardens will bloom, our cover crops will nourish the soil and our vegetables will build a healthy food system from the ground up."

Please support our safe seed growers and give yourself permission to dream of bigger gardens.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Sweet New Year

Happiness is a new seed catalogue, a cup of tea and a duo of chocolate-covered caramels garnished with fleur de sel.

This is the new 2015 catalogue from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. It is gorgeous! Be sure to check out West Coast Seeds new catalogue. It's the best one ever and there are symbols beside plants that support bees. Both catalogues are committed to offering GMO-free seeds.

 Add some heat to your sweet this year by infusing honey with dried chilies. It's the hot new culinary trend.

Start a honey library with beautiful jars of local honey, like this one from Armstrong Apiaries with its vintage-inspired label.

Have a sweet, hot, salty, seedy New Year!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Happy Holidays

From our family to yours, we wish you a happy holiday and a New Year activated by your own
pursuit of happiness and joy.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cultivating Restlessness

My aunt Mary died last week. She was 90 years old and she was a woman of action. My aunt was a nurse, pilot, teacher, poet, environmentalist, musician, linguist, and a natural born raging granny.

I ask myself why so many "spiritual" traditions drive me crazy, particularly the ones that constantly tell their devotees to cultivate a calm, passive state of being. My aunt was restless. She loved adventure and travel. She saw injustice in the world and she did something about it as a nurse, educator and activist. Instead of going on retreats to take time to "work on her self", she wrote letters, made protest signs, and learned to speak French, Spanish, Portuguese and Umbundu. Instead on sitting on her meditation mat, she put prayer into action, travelling to Angola, The Congo, Zaire, Nicaragua, and northern Canada to practise as a nurse and educator, teaching people how to avoid crippling diseases and showing new midwives how to deliver babies safely. Instead of contemplating the paradoxes inherent in life that can paralyze us with indecision, she just got to work to make the world a better place. Making peaceful world takes restless people.

Cultivate your restlessness. That's what leads to true inner peace.

Photo: Mary Ethleen Pyne (nee Clark) at the G-20 Summit in Toronto, 2010. She was 86 years old.