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Pick a better flower

Pick a better flower

tulips

Cut flowers. They are everywhere this time of year.

And I have to admit, if I have to read one more instagram blurb about how buying flowers every week is ‘such a great mood lifter’ I will get very cross.

Most of the cut flowers we buy at the average North American florist, or order through one of the big websites, are shipped up here from giant flower farms in South America. The working conditions at these flower farms are not good, often the pesticides used are harsh as they aren’t held to the same standard as agrochemicals used on food crops. It’s well worth reading this Tyee series on floral farms and fair trade.

There’s no need to give up on your floral addiction, just think about it a little differently.

Debra Prinzing, a writer and lecturer based in Seattle and Los Angeles, has written several books on working with local and in-season flowers and foliage. This may seem dismal in February, but a quick scroll through her blog will change your mind. Succulent cutting, clippings from trees and shrubs, and flowers from local hothouse growers combine to make some beautiful arrangements.

Here in British Columbia, we have several options at this time of year – the Fraser Valley has several flower growers supplying incredible armfuls of tulips, and a few local florists also stock locally grown orchids. Choices Markets has both local flowers and fair trade blooms from South America. Nationally, Whole Foods is a good bet, as they have their own Whole Trade relationship with South American flower growers, as well as sourcing local flowers as well. Keep your eyes open when you’re out for a walk, and look for sculptural bits and pieces, though always ask before taking a cutting!

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Bee-friendly Valentine’s card printable in English & French

Bee-friendly Valentine’s card printable in English & French
bee presentation
Getting ready for my presentation about beekeeping to the kindergarteners

 

Every year I try and come up with a non-candy option for the class Valentine’s Day cards. In the past we’ve made bath bombs and red sparkly play dough. This year, as Valentine’s Day is the beginning of the beekeeping year, I have bees (even more) on the brain.

The other week I also did a presentation about beekeeping to my son’s kindergarten class, which was sweetness itself. After hearing about every single time every child has been stung, or nearly been stung, or thought about being stung, by a bee, wasp, or mosquito, they asked great questions about honey extraction, where the dead bees go, what makes honey taste different, and how I make the smoker work.

So, as the time for planting wildflowers comes up in early March here in the temperate, if damp, west coast, I thought we could tape a little glassine envelope of bee-friendly wildflower seeds inside the valentine. If you’d like to do the same, I think the bees would be thrilled. Below you’ll find a printable in both English and French (my son goes to a French immersion school), to make your own. We’re gluing this image to the front of a blank card after my son does the tough work of printing his classmates’ names on them, and taping the little envelopes inside.

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The time we planted an orchard on the roof.

The time we planted an orchard on the roof.

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I like telling people about our orchard, the 42 fruit trees in our rooftop garden, and watching their eyes go wide.

Forty-two trees?

Well yes, but they are on dwarf root stock, so they grow in pots.

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We partnered with TreeCity/TreeKeepers to procure our trees, pots and soil. One Saturday morning, a large group of us moved our trees from the basement to the roof, and planted all of them in pots. We have figs, pears, apples and crabapples spread out throughout our garden.

It will be a couple of years before they produce fruit, at the very earliest, but in the meantime the bees will be very pleased with the flowers.

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It’s funny, in the past few weeks, a duck has nested in our garden, and then we waddled down five flights of stairs to the ground and walked a block to the pond in the park. We’ve planted fruit trees, started some of our spring crops, worked with our bees to make sure they’re set up for the spring nectar flows – you would never know we are deep in the city.

The pot with the string running to the roof in the first photo is actually hops, we have some keen microbrewers in our co-op. 

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Happy Earth Day from the bees

Happy Earth Day from the bees

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This past weekend I attended Bee School, so now I feel slightly less mystified by our bees. Slightly less! Our instructor said taking care of bees is more work than having a dog but less than a human child. I’d say that’s about accurate, having both a dog and a small child. We’re watching one hive raise their own queen right now, and it’s fascinating.

Do your part to protect our pollinators and avoid pesticides and fungicides in your garden. Want to know more about bee-friendly plants? Here’s a good guide for the climate around Vancouver and Seattle. I’m going to order some bee garden blend from Westcoast Seeds and do a little, er, guerrilla planting in the neighbourhood for the benefit of our bees, and our sister bees over at Science World.

Photo above: one of our beautiful honeybees on a pear blossom.

 

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Opening a beehive with my bare hands

Opening a beehive with my bare hands

bees

If you follow me on twitter and instagram, you will know we have beehives in our roof garden. I talk about them all the time, because I love the bees. This year, I have the amazing opportunity to be one of a pair of proper beekeepers, taking care of our bees in a right-in-there, bee-veiled and everything, kind of way.

I find myself thinking about Margaret Atwood’s [amazon_link id=”030739798X” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Year of the Flood[/amazon_link] and[amazon_link id=”0771008465″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Maddaddam[/amazon_link] books quite a bit, standing on our rooftop talking to our bees. Aside from societal breakdown and the quasi-religious organizing principles, my co-op’s roof garden and beehives have a lot in common with Atwood’s God’s Gardeners. So, I find myself telling the bees the news, when there’s a new baby or someone has moved away.

Unfortunately, one of our hives didn’t make it through the winter. Well, they did, but the sickness wasn’t obvious right away and then they started dying in droves. It wasn’t pretty. One beehive can have tens of thousands of bees, so that’s a lot of little deaths. I spent an afternoon sitting in the garden, shivering when the sun went behind clouds, scraping the boxes clean and washing them with diluted bleach.

The other day, I opened the remaining hive with my bare hands for the first time. Our chief beekeeper was right behind me, talking me through it with a calm and quiet voice, but it was my hands on the inner cover. I slipped my hive tool in between the inner cover and the top super, cracking the propolis the bees work so hard to chink the holes in their home with. You can feel a ripple of warning move through the bees when you do that, and an audible spike in their ever-present hum. A few sentry bees flew up to check what was happening, but they didn’t even bang into my head the way they do when I’m weeding too close to the hive entrance in bad weather.

It’s always a surprise to me, when the hive is opened, how many bees there are in there. I mean, I know intellectually how many bees there are, but faced with a teeming box when I lift the cover, it can still send a wave of panic to my brain. So. Many. Bees. Once I’m in there for a minute, though, and realize they are not angry, I relax a bit.

The whole process is actually quite calming. You must move slowly, smoothly, and without jarring things or dropping or banging. Vibrations are very important to bees. Step slowly. I talk quietly and constantly. Whether talking to them makes any difference is up for debate, but it calms me down, so maybe that’s worth sounding like a bonkers bee lady.

That night I had to go in again, without the coaching. Thankfully, a fellow trainee beekeeper from our co-op came with me. For a couple of hours beforehand it was all I could think about. I have to open that box, by myself. They will know I am afraid. They will feel my inexperience.

In the end, it went quickly and smoothly. The bees were even less interested in me than they were in the morning, and hardly any flew up to check me out. Despite dropping nine things while making dinner beforehand, I didn’t even jar the heavy outer cover when I was out there.

I might be able to pull off this beekeeping thing after all.

 

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