December blog fun.

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December first: the ice cleats are firmly affixed to my boots and I’m ready to take on the next ten months of winter! (I exaggerate, but only slightly).

I have a ton of really great stuff to share today – here goes:

New to me is this fantastic site: Plant Curator, a wholly-engrossing mix of botany and art.  I seriously could spend hours going through the entries.  This link takes you to some floral-themed art from M.C. Escher, but if his work isn’t to your taste, click on the menu headings at the top of the page to see everything the site has to offer.

The New York Public Library has digitized over 700,000 items, including photographs, maps, manuscripts and video – and it’s all free to everyone with Internet access.  Click over to the site to enjoy this treasure.

Another amazing treat: the over 10,000 cylinder recordings that have been digitized and are available for free from the University of California-Santa Barbara Cylinder Audio Archive.  These are priceless recordings from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s and include music, speeches and readings.

These “shadow” drawings by artist Vincent Bal are just plain clever.

A huge shout-out to some amazing bloggers:

Laurie Graves, of Notes from the Hinterland, has just published her YA novel Maya and the Book of Everything – congratulations, Laurie!  Read about the book and how to order it here.

Have you ever felt this way about a book?  Yeah…I thought so.  Read Margot’s post on Death Defying Acts of Living – I know you’ll agree.

Adrian Thysse has posted some incredible footage of honeybee hive activity – while you feast your eyes on his work, remember that he wasn’t wearing any protective gear while filming!

A fantastic find:

Paul Martin Brown’s book Wild Orchids of the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies (2006, University Press of Florida).  Truly, a valuable resource if you want to ID and learn about western wild orchids.  The keys are easy to use and Brown offers all the botanical info you need, plus notes on history and naming, as well as decent photography and excellent botanical illustrations by Stan Folsom.  Not a book everyone is going to have a use for, but if this is a topic you’re interested in, I’d highly recommend it.

And, finally:

I started a project over at Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction that may interest you if you write flash fiction stories.  There is an open call for submissions now until December 25, so send in your work as soon as possible.  (If you’ve never written flash fiction before, give it a try – it’s a great way to have fun with really short prose).   Please pass along news of this call for subs to any writers you know!

Clipart credit.

Bee educated.

Bee on delph – photo credit Rob Normandeau, 2009.

“The Buzz About Bees”

On Friday, 16 September, I attended an information session given by Eliese Watson, the Director of the Community Pollinator Foundation and the founder of the group Apiaries and Bees for Communities (A.B.C.).  The audience was primarily made up of Calgary Horticultural Society members, all of us there to listen to Eliese deliver some fascinating facts about the sustainability of bee populations in Calgary and offer some suggestions about how we can encourage pollinators (particularly bees) to our urban gardens.

Eliese is a hugely knowledgeable and engaging speaker and it was easy to get caught up in her enthusiasm and passion for her subject.  We learned how to identify bumblebees, leaf cutter bees (a type of solitary bee commonly found here in the city), and honeybees, and discovered the habits and behaviours of each type.   For instance, did you know that bumblebee queens are born in the fall and then spend the winter in self-inflicted solitary confinement in a nesting site, only to re-emerge, nearly starving, in the spring?  Given our long, long, loooooong winters, that is a feat and a half!   (Of course, it helps that bumblebees have that fuzzy striped coat…still, it’s difficult not to admire their hardiness).  Eliese spent a great deal of time illustrating the function and construction of the honeybee hive, detailing the specific duties of the queen, the worker bees, and the drones, and how they all work together in perfect synchronicity to maintain and sustain the hive over a period of many years.  Honeybees can even control the temperature of their hives up to .3 degrees Celsius!

Given their energetic and meticulous strategy for sustainable living, it’s no surprise that any external inputs, however small,  to the hive can cause massive change and upheaval.  Even though honeybees do their own culling of any sick or injured members of their group, and the drones die in the fall (thus shrinking the population) a honey surplus is required for the hive to feed on through the winter.  The bees spend their summer days searching for pollen sources – and if we’re using chemicals on our plants, we’re obviously exposing the bees (and therefore, the honey we may harvest from them) to dangerous substances that interfere with their food supply, harm their immune systems, and negatively impact their survival.  At our urging, Eliese touched on the topics of Colony Collapse Disorder as well as some of the genetic manipulations and treatments that bees are being subjected to worldwide – all serious food for thought, and worth doing more reading about.  And we learned how to buy honey:  straight from the (local) farmer, if possible, with solid assurances that it is raw (unpasteurized) and the hive and bees have not been treated.

We can do a great deal in our yards and gardens to help all bee populations:  Eliese suggested building nesting sites for bumblebees and solitary bees, and she offered tips for planting gardens specifically for pollinators.  A large diversity of plants is necessary:  a mixture of pollen-bearing trees intermingled with herbs (allow some to bolt!) and a variety of flowers that bloom over the course of the entire spring, summer and autumn (following the “nectar flow”) is best.  Apparently honeybees prefer plantings in drifts, rather than single specimens, and single flowers are better than doubles – it has to do with the way they see things in the ultraviolet spectrum, and how they recognize patterns.  Offering bees a water source is also a good and oft-forgotten idea:  tweak your birdbath or rain barrel and create a dry “landing strip” so that the bees don’t accidentally drown.

Through her group A.B.C., which she set up in February of 2010,  Eliese is trying to integrate bees and communities within Calgary, providing education and resources to schoolchildren, homeowners, gardeners and fledgling beekeepers…and, really, anyone interested in bees and how they contribute to our food supply and our lives.  And while I can’t keep bees for myself, I can definitely do my part with my newly-acquired information and the way I design and maintain my garden!

Check out the Apiaries and Bees for Communities website, as well as their blog:  http://bees4communities.wordpress.com/.