Monday, July 18, 2011

apple tree swarm

Tom stuck his head through the front door and told me to grab my camera. He doesn’t do this too often, so I thought it might be worth dropping everything to do it. When I got outside, he was holding a branch from our apple tree, looking like a boy who had caught a trophy fish, and dripping off of it were about 1,000 bees in a tiny swarm cluster.

Sometimes, half of the colony will swarm and that could be about 30,000 bees. He walked away with them down the driveway and shook them into one of the empty bee boxes in the back field hoping that they’ll like their new home enough to stay in it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

cutting the catmint

Today, I’ll cut back the catmint (Nepeta). I always put it off whenever it’s time because visually, it’s stunning and the honeybees and bumblebees are still working it. But if I don’t do it now, it may not re-bloom later in the season.

These large purple clouds are probably one of our bees’ most favourite and most visited plants in the gardens. Hummingbirds also hover in them too. It’s one of the first plants to leap out of the ground in the spring with its gray green foliage and it quickly forms itself into a rounded mound of prolific blossoms.

Catmint at the end of the driveway.
Nepeta doesn’t mind the lean sandy soil that we have here and while it thrives in sunshine, will do reasonably well in partial shade. I prefer the common N. x faassenii, - about 24-30”, but also have smaller varieties, as well as a taller but rather sprawling pink flowered variety, “Dawn to Dusk”. Catmint grows in zones 3 – 8. It almost looks like lavender from a distance, and the neat thing is that it’s amazingly easy to propagate. Just snip the tips off the plants, and plunk into some pots or plug trays. It’s also deer resistant!

Honey bee working the catmint.
 Still have lots of other purples left – the sages and lavender hyssops are still blooming and the “Grosso” and “Munstead” lavenders are just about ready to bloom.

Monday, July 4, 2011

queen of the sun

"What are the bees telling us?" asks Queen of the Sun, Lavender Hills’ food-for-thought film. As honeybee die-offs continue, filmmaker Taggart Siegel takes up this question with beekeepers around the world. From rooftop hives in London and New York City, as well as beekeepers in France, Italy, Australia and New Zealand, the messages come in, teaching us about our shared crisis with the honeybee, but also about the richness of our shared history.

Taggart's three-year effort has resulted in a beautiful, moving, and lyrical production, full of insights from beekeepers, many of whom are organic or biodynamic. We also hear from an entomologist, a biochemist, a philosopher and a playwright, with cameo appearances from food activist and author, Michael Pollan and environmental activist, Vandana Shiva. We see honeybees at work interacting with flowers and beekeepers interacting with their hives.

 Philosopher Rudolf Steiner's powerful indictment of modern beekeeping weaves through the footage, often interpreted for us by biodynamic farmer Gunther Hauk. In the 1920s, Steiner predicted that continued industrial style beekeeping would destroy honeybees by the end of the 20th century. The Colony Collapse Disorder we're seeing now, Hauk says, is "the bill we are getting for all we have done to the bees."