Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Bumblebee Resource Links for High School Students and Teachers and You!

 The Great Canadian Bumblebee Count is a citizen science program you can participate in once the bees emerge in spring

A lovely video by Deep Look on PBS on buzz pollination: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZrTndD1H10

British Bumblebee expert Dave Goulson’s amazing garden shed housing multiple bumblebee houses:

Clay Bolt’s website is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about native bees:

Check out this short film: A Ghost in the Making: Searching for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee. http://www.rustypatched.com/

Another captivating short documentary: Searching for the Arctic Bumblebee
by the University of California, Riverside

Sam Droege’s amazing macro photography collection at the USGS Bee Inventory and Montering Lab: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usgsbiml/
(These are open source images, but remember always credit the photographer and source of the photo.)

A helpful bumblebee poster that includes some of the species we have in the Lower Mainland, with links to two other great resources further down the page. Bees, Birds and Butterflies by Janet Partlow, Nancy Partlow and Glenn Buschmann:

Dr. Elizabeth Elle’s Lab at Simon Fraser Elementary has a great info page for the public:

Consider these careers for a better future getting close and personal with bees:
entomologist, taxonomist, ecologist, horticulturalist, eco-gardener, eco-garden designer, eco-farmer, habitat restoration specialist, conservationist, outdoor educator, ecological policy maker, artist who runs with the bees and more!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Postcards from Victoria

It's a tradition for my visit to Victoria, to hop on the 11 am ferry and head to Uchida as soon as I get off the bus in Victoria.

(Note: If you are looking for the source notes for my lecture on Gardening for Bumblebees on Vancouver Island, it's in the post below.)

Tucked in beside the Bug Museum in Nootka Court, it makes simple, fresh, and delicious Japanese cuisine.

Uchida are only open until they sell out, and they were already out of the special when I arrived.

Now I follow Nourish on Insta, and I was so happy to finally get to visit their new digs in the city.

So cozy and airy, with my kind of food, this is my new happy place.

 Turmeric, almond milk and herbal chai make the Imperial Sunrise. I had one every day of my trip!

Yes, I broke my diet for the cashew cheesecake with quince compote. IT WAS WORTH IT! I really want to learn how to make that cheesecake.

Hello, the second floor is brilliant!

You can tell they serve a lot of breakfasts and brunches: maple syrup and brown sugar corner. Also, please note that the sister restaurant to Nourish, Charlotte and the Quail is located in the Horticultural Centre for the Pacific, only a few minutes outside the city and well worth the visit.

Nourish is just around the corner from the frozen fountain at the Ledge.

This was the first time visiting Victoria since my friend Donna passed away. I used to visit her here every winter. I thought there would be a real heaviness in my heart, but I actually felt very peaceful and deeply grateful for the memories we shared here.

There she is, the Dowager Empress Hotel.

This was the first time I ever visited the museum. The good thing is you can check your suitcase  and go in and out of the museum all day. This is a great way to spend those last hours before hopping on the bus to the ferry!

 Hello Hairy!

I was so pleased they carried my book in the gift shop that I spent a ton of money buying other people's books! The museum has a coffee shop and I wanted to make sure y'all know there is a really great exhibition on the herbarium just facing the shop. I almost missed it, but it was my favorite part of the exhibition! Also, I recommend breaking the museum visit up into two parts. Do the natural history, go have a snack and then do the anthropological displays, or vice-versa.

And here's my new friend Maisy. She's always ready for her close-up! Special thanks to my hosts who gave me a lovely warm place to sleep and helped make my trip so fabulous.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Gardening for the Bumblebees of Vancouver Island

Here are the resource links from my talk at Saanich Seedy Saturday. Thanks again for such an awesome event! Island people are the best. These are the bare bones of my resources, but I will keep adding to this.

Saanich Native Plants: They have workshops and sell plants and seeds. They are giving a workshop on the Garry Oak Ecosystem in April/May.
Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team: Their handbook has garden plans in it that are fabulous for bees
Dr. Elizabeth Elle’s info for the Public
An article on Dr. Elle’s work on Vancouver Island
Habitat Acquisition Trust: Their brochure on native gardening is the bee’s knees.
How to make a bumblebee box

Rosemary at Willow Wood Farm on Vancouver Island sells many varieties of willows that are great for early spring forage for bees.

By Maleea Acker, published by New Star Books. It’s such a passionate and poetic celebration of the Garry Oak meadows.

Bombus occidentalis Plant List Garry Oak Ecosystem

Early Flowering (from March)
yellow glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum)
white fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum)
pink fawn lily (Erythronium revolutum)
red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
broad-leaved shootingstar (Dodecatheon hendersonii)
sea blush (Plectritis congesta)
spring-gold (Lomatium utriculatum)
Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)

Mid-Season April-July
arbutus (Arbutus menziesii) a great tree for bumblebees
camas species (Camassia spp.)
gold star (Crocidium multicaule)  (Aster family)
menzie’s larkspur (Delphinium menziesii)
nootka rose (Rosa nutkana)
oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor)
snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.)
Deltoid Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea)
wooly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum)

Late-flowering (until Aug or Sept)
pearly everlasting  (Anaphalis margaritacea)

nodding onion (Allium cernuum)
salal (Gaultheria shallon)
evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)
entire-leaved gumweed (Grindelia stricta)
white glacier lilly (Erythronium Montanum)

(Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery)
Team Society, 2009, p. 32; USDA Forest Service, 2010, p. 2.

Source: Native Pollinator Campus Restoration Project, Darnell it al, University of Victoria, 2014.

Some of the key plants for bumblebees in the Garry Oak Ecosystems (from Dr. Elle’s list)
1)   Common Camas (Camassia quamash)
2)    Great Camas (Camassia leichtlinii )
3)   Snowberry (Symphoricarpus albus)
4)   Sea Blush (Plectritus congesta)
5)   Trailing Blackberry (Rubus ursinus)
6)   Dull Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa)
7)   Salal (Gaultheria shallon)
8)   Menzies Larkspur (Dephinium menziesii)
9)   Shooting Star (Dodecatheon hendersonii)
10) Tall Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
11) Hardhack (Spirea douglasii)
12)  Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana)
13)  Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor)
14)   Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora)
15)   Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum)
16)     Pacific sanicle (Sanicula crassicaulis)
17)    Field chickweed (Cerastium arvens)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Cure for Stage Fright: Facing the New Year with Courage and Equanimity

Night for All Souls, Mountainview Cemetery

It’s the second day of 2017, and I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the work I’ve got on my plate this year. I’m checking out all my friends’ and colleagues’ positive gung ho messages on social media and thinking “Why don’t I share that positive ‘can do’ attitude?” Truth is, I’m feeling fear and anxiety. I’m more Grumpy Cat than Kimmy Schmidt. These negative vibes came home to me as I chatted to my friend Catherine. She had taken her granddaughter to a live theatre production of Mary Poppins. Audrey got dressed in her new vest that Catherine made for her, and one of her best dresses.  The night before the show Audrey whispered, “Grandma, I have stage fright.” Catherine explained that they weren’t going on the stage so there was really nothing to be afraid of. Nonetheless, the little girl was feeling nervous, so she brought along her favorite stuffy cat.
They arrived at the theatre. When Audrey saw a load of other kids in their best clothes toting stuffies alongside their grandmas, she was calmed. She absolutely loved the production, spending it on the edge of her seat clutching her kitty. “How do they fly grandma?” she asked. “Well, you can ask the stage manager after the show,” Catherine whispered. Catherine’s friend Caren is the stage manager of the show. Not only did Audrey get to go back stage to see all the rigging and see the mechanics of the production, she got to meet Mary Poppins herself and try on her hat. It was a little girl’s dream come true.
Tidy Tips and Coreopsis

I found this story deeply touching. And it helped me to realize that I have been suffering from a kind of stage fright myself. Last year was a very public time for me, having launched my book and doing lots of traveling and teaching.  It was very satisfying for the extrovert part of myself, but very tiring for my introverted self. Then I was hit by a big whammy: one of my very best friends died suddenly on August 24, 2016. The next three months passed in a blur as I finished my teaching and speaking engagements for the rest of the year while in tremendous distress. I was able to take some time to grieve in between gigs, but it was difficult. My heart was raw. I felt so lost and bereft. She was one of those people that really knew me-- all my dark and vulnerable corners. I went to the local cemetery and spent time with the wildflowers and bees. I donated some wildflower seeds, which one of the gardeners has generously planted in Donna’s honor.
It still seems like a short time since I lost Donna, and I still wake to the wonder that she is no longer here in body, even though I still feel her spirit every day. As the time comes for me to do my first speaking engagement of the year, I feel I do have stage fright. I really want to keep quietly hibernating, researching and grieving.  But as my dad is fond of saying, “There’s no rest for the wicked.” So I’ve got to get back on that stage and smile and sing and raise hell for the bees. I’ve got to get that fire burning in my belly, so the cold fear burns away. I’m going to need your help too, because some of the things I’m going to tackle this year are going to piss people off. There’s going to be more fire and brimstone in my personal brand of “beevangelism”. No more Mrs. Nice Bee!
So Audrey dear, I’m gonna take a big breath, dress in my finest clothes and I’m really going to try to make my words fly. I might need to bring my stuffy along with me. I hope there’s some kind and supportive people in the audience. I hope to see you there. And I hope some of you can join me at my first gig, which is at Saanich Seedy Saturday at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific on January 14. I’m so excited!!!!

Tips for Melting New Year’s Stage Fright.

Take your vitamin D. It’s winter, DUH.
Start the day with morning pages and intentions and end the day with a warm gratitude list of things you accomplished.
Reach out to friends with simple e-mail check-ins, dates, and just taking the time to think nice warm thoughts about them.
Make a Plan B if things don’t work out—make several plans and back those up with backup plans.
Plan ahead. Be prepared. Nuff said.
Make a list of your happy places and go there in your mind or real time.
Slow down. Embrace the inner tortoise. She is beautiful and wise.
Embrace the people, thought patterns, and situations that give you the buzz of their intrinsic (solar) energy.
Jettison any thought patterns, people, and situations that are your personal kryptonite. Let go of that sh_t.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Uncle Lucian Dean and The Alligator Selfie

November is archive month in our family. It’s that time when we sort through old analogue photos and digitize a selection to put into a digitally reproduced bound book. It’s an important yearly ritual, and an extension of the tradition of All Soul’s Day, especially since many of the people in the photos are long gone. This year my parents and I are going through some of the photos that became displaced in the chaotic process of moving from Cactus Lake Saskatchewan to their retirement home in Okotoks Alberta.
It’s always amazing to discover prints that you’ve never seen before that shed light on your family history and to look at old hairdos, clothing, cars and . . . alligators. I’d never seen this shot before of a man gently cradling a reptile.  The caption, written in pencil reads “myself and aligator”[sic]. My grandma May has written later in pen: “Uncle Lucian Dean lived in Washington State I think. My grandfather’s brother.”  It’s a lovely portrait in a dappled garden setting of a well-fed Victorian gentleman sporting a healthy tea strainer moustache. The critter looks more like a lizard than a gator, so the caption may be a tad whimsical. Perhaps Uncle Lucian was a bit of a joker.

When you sort through hundreds of photos you start to see patterns. I noticed that in many of our family photos one of us is cuddling some kind of critter, from alligators and snakes to ponies and a full-grown Canada goose. This behavior goes across gender divisions, but more usually it is a female of the human species who is holding the animal. My mom gets the award for cuddling the most creatures in the family photos. In one photo taken in 1953, she is holding a tiny baby rabbit. She has recently arrived in Cactus Lake to teach in the one room schoolhouse and the photographer is my dad, who has just fallen in love. You can tell from the photo how smitten he is. Mom’s lovely sparkling dark eyes are in focus, the rabbit is not. 

Here's a photo of mom a few years later cuddling a kitten. My dad's the smug looking dude on the left, because he's got the girl. My sweet uncle Don is to the right of mom, a gentle farmer like his father. Uncle Harlan is to to the right of him, the intellectual of the family.

This is a photo of mom and dad the year before I was born. Dad was most fond of his hunting dogs. Before I went to school, I would hanging out with dad and our dog Lunar in the truck making fuel deliveries to the farmers. Lunar had a drooling problem, but I tolerated him. I'd hop off and cuddle barn cats with my friends while dad filled the tanks and had coffee with the farmers.
This year I find myself drawn to two kinds of photos: the ones where the family member is being really silly, and the ones that show a family tradition of connecting with nature. There are quite a few photos of my sister and I cuddling kittens and cats, since we are both crazy about them, and have always had cats in our menagerie of childhood pets along with rabbits, dogs, and of course bees. People might say you can’t cuddle honeybees, but I beg to differ. I think one of the main reasons hobby beekeepers keep colonies of Apis melifera is because they are basically in love with handling bees, even though you usually need gloves to do it.

Here’s a picture of mom with two of her sisters, Muriel and Florence, on the family farm in Bounty, Saskatchewan. This was taken in the Dirty Thirties. All my mom and dad's childhood photos show the sere landscape of the drought-ridden prairies.

By contrast, this photo of my grandpa Clark's lush garden was taken earlier, probably in the late 1920's. My uncle Jack on the left became a geologist and my Aunt Mary, on his right, was a flying nurse in Northern Saskatchewan.

Here's a photo of Mary, circa 1945, cuddling a farm pup.

 And then there’s my favorite childhood photo. I am about three years old, and depriving a kitten of oxygen with my affection. Its eyes are looking glazed over as it suffers in my grasp. (By all reports, no kittens were actually harmed in the creation of this picture and the wee pussycat revived all after the photo was taken.) There is a strikingly similar photo of my mother taken at about the same age in the 1930’s. Once again, notice the dry landscape around her.

My aunt Florence in the 1950's is looking movie star glamorous in her kitten cuddling shot.

In a photo taken in the same era, my grandma Clark holds a leggy squirming kitten.

 This is a photo of me in my early 20’s in my “the more I know men, the more I love my cat” phase. I had a lot more luck with cats than men in those days, which is probably a good thing upon reflection.  I discovered feminism. And sublimation.

But before men there was Smokey the cat, then Sandy the bunny, and more cats: Sima, Rudolph, Percy, Betty and Crocker. As a side note, my dad shot at a skunk one night, thought he shot Rudolph by accident (as he was a black and white cat). But Rudolph came back from the dead one day, sauntering into our lives after a feral hiatus. As to the identity of that unfortunate skunk-like kitty, it remains a mystery to this day.

There can be a dark side to critter cuddling. When I was little I had the love and curiosity about creatures that was not always good news for them. There was a nest of robins in a tree at my paternal grandparents house. I could hear them chirping away, but couldn’t see them, so I took a stick and tried to tip the nest up a bit. Of course, the nest fell down and the fragile featherless chicks were scattered on the ground. I howled for hours with guilt and horror.
Then there’s the whole history of our family’s penchant for shooting critters. I have a photo somewhere of my great grandma Dean holding a shotgun with a dead swan hanging off the side of a shed, circa 1918. My father used to win trophies for marksmanship. Had I been born male I would have been invited to the fishing and shooting trips in Northern Saskatchewan. As I was a girl, I had to stay home and content myself with cuddling cats and looking at slides of pond water under a microscope.

While sorting through family photos I also discovered we had a picture of mom cuddling an alligator when she went on a trip to New Orleans in 1998. The image is not in focus, but it’s mom with a big smile, cuddling a baby alligator. Even though the photo isn’t a great quality it’s worth saving as a reminder to all of us of how fun-loving she is and what a gift that has been to our family as a nature mentor.

 And of course mentors beget mentors. I hope I've modeled my mom's critter cuddling for my son's benefit. This is a photo of my son chillin’ with some snails. I remember the warm autumn day because we took these photos. I’ll choose to put this one on the wall in our home to remind him that even though he’d much rather be inside the house playing board games and philosophizing, there was a time when he was an explorer, a nature lover and a snail cuddler.

Did you have a mentor that connected you to the natural world? When you ponder your family history you look for these signs from the past that give you hints of what sent you on your destiny as a tree or bee hugger. When you do find these photos it’s a reminder to keep getting outside, exploring and bonding with the natural world. It also reminds us to embrace being goofy and gushy because seeking silliness means you are opening your heart to let in those sparks of joy that make life bearable, memorable and worthwhile. Are you mentoring someone else’s journey to bonding with nature?  That is one of the best things you can do in this life on the little blue dot in the universe.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Plot: A Creative Community Garden in Newton

On Sunday I was invited by the SOFIA Collective to speak to some artist/gardeners at fall equinox celebration at The Plot community sharing garden in Surrey. My friend Sandra picked me up at the Scott Road Skytrain Station. After an arduous trip with a train packed with royal watchers, of course I had to use the loo. So I traversed the wilderness to the local big box store and discovered a really lovely patch of goldenrod. These "forgotten" undeveloped liminal spaces are becoming increasingly important for wildlife and particularly bees. As Lincoln Best (@entomo_b) pointed out on my Instagram feed (@beespeaker), sometimes these are the only spaces left to support bees.

So we picked up Matt and drove to Newton, the location of The Plot. What a great idea for a garden!

 I love the design of this space. The medicine wheel acts as a spiritual and social centre, grounding the food and flower plots.

Here are the remnants of the fall equinox ceremony.

It's a bonus that the site is right next to a community center.

These diagrams explain the significance of the medicine wheel that they chose to incorporate into the design.

Matt and Sandra are my buddies from Austria, currently living in Surrey. We have had many adventures together, but haven't seen each other for awhile. There should be a word for that warm glow you get from re-uniting with friends you haven't seen for a long time--something like freundefreude.

What a great idea! This is similar to an idea I had about giving seniors pots of perennial kale--but much better. It's practical and cute and would suit people who live a nomadic lifestyle. I love the broccoli sticking out the side. This would be awesome with mushrooms!

These natural benches are very cool, and safe for children to crawl up on and fly off of. (Well, that's what I'd do.)

These syrphid flies have so much personality.

 Nothing beats clear signage in a garden! I like the chalkboard style.

It was lovely to see a species of bumblebee other than those eastern bb's escaped from greenhouses. I think this might be Bombus mixtus, the mixed bumblebee. Ach, what a dreary name for such a sweet bee.

So this Brassica was the most popular plant with bees in the garden the day I visited. It was taken from the beach and planted here by a boy who gardens at The Plot. It tastes like mustard on steroids and I believe it's wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum). It's a very cool plant, but comes with an invasive warning. The leaves, flowers and pods could be used in restaurants and home cooking. Some folks pickle the seed pods. The Punjabi ladies at Moberly made me curry with domestic radish pods that was absolutely delish.

Lovely sunlit setae on those back legs!

Weeds can be fantastic when used as "a controlled substance" for bees.

When it comes to honeybees, these folks are doing it right. Two hives in a garden where many folks can have hands on experience is more sustainable than having multiple hives in many single family urban dwellings. Plus, locking them up to protect the girls from bears and dumb humans is a good idea.

Matt calls this enclosure "the food court".

I pointed out that most of the bumblebees in the garden were imported Bombus impatiens, the eastern bumblebee. This one looks like she's missing some hair from her thorax. It can get rubbed off as they enter and exit their nests. There was talk of a bumblebee housing project using garden pots. I must say that after talking to Dr. Ralph Carter, I think the wooden nests in trees idea is likely more resilient. But hey, give both kinds of nests a shot and see what happens.

This is how you've got to grow corn to get kernals. It's wind-pollinated and needs to be within spittin' distance of its kin.

This dude is a natural green thumb and he gifted me one of his cantaloupes, which really touched my heart. I must send him one of my books. He was also really good at spotting syprhid flies. Someone's already taught him a few things. Mentorship is a strong part of this garden's model.

And this is where you'll find me in a sharing garden. I love cape gooseberries!

True to their word, there is a free box as you enter the garden. Anyone is free to take these treasures home and make good use of them.

Many thanks for the invite! It was lovely to meet all of you and I hope your garden continues to thrive.

All the Best,
Madame Beespeaker

P. S. Here is a list of sources including info on the artists I mentioned in my talk.

Also, check out The Wild Radish Song. What can I say? I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats.