Saturday, August 13, 2011

Monster Bee - Bumble Bee Queen

Two years ago while wandering in the garden I heard what sounded like an abnormally low and loud buzzing from a flying insect. I then watched in disbelief as a bee about 4 cm long buzzed around the flowers! Having grown up in a rural setting on the Canadian prairies, I have seen most noteworthy common insects. Never in my life have I seen a bee larger than the typical +/- 2 cm long variety. This bee was at least twice as large! Since then I have not seen a bee like this. Until today.

I managed to get a few fuzzy photos of the creature. I'm guessing this much be either a relatively new species to the Canadian prairies, or a very rare one at least. The bee is on Delphinium flowers about 3 cm in width. I estimate the bee to be about 3.5 to 4 cm in length (depending if you include wingtips).

UPDATE: Thanks to a tip from the Home Bug Gardener, the bee in the photo looks likely to be a queen bumble-bee. I later discovered my next door neighbour has a bee nest under her back step, the possible bee colony location for this queen. The bees are frequent visitors in particular to our oregano plant, where I typically see at least 10 bees feeding at any given time. However, the queen is rarely seen, this is only the second time in the last two years I've seen her.

In other news, we have been enjoying garden produce all summer, especially lettuce, spinach, volunteer lamb's quarter and chervil salads (I also include radish leaves, though the rest of the family does not care for them due to the small fuzz on them). Most plants are recovering from the hail except maybe the potatoes.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Saskatoon and False Solomon's Seal Berries

On an urban foraging outing today I gathered some wild Saskatoons. It is a bit early as the few that were not under-ripe were barely ripe. The best picking will be in a week or two. We compared the taste with a commercial variety and find the taste much stronger (and a bit more tart) in the wild berries. I'm guessing that one wild berry contains more nutrients/anti-oxidants/etc. than a single commerical berry, even though the commercial berries are larger. The commercial berry is quite bland, watery and sweet tasting in comparison.

There was a lot of False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) growing among the saskatoon berries. When picking the low Saskatoon berries it could potentially be easy to accidentally pick a False Solomon's Seal. The berries look similar at this time of year on quick glance. So I did some quick online and book searching to check if it is poisonous (as I may take the kids next time). My book source [1] does not indicate edibility, but a few online sources indicated they are "edible, but no palatable" and high in Vitamin C [2], [3].

Also, "the fruit is said to be laxative in large quantities when eaten raw, especially if one is not used to eating it, though thorough cooking removes this laxative effect. Young leaves are edible, raw or cooked. The young shoots, as they emerge in spring, can be used as an asparagus substitute. The young shoots and leaves are cooked and used as greens. The root is edible cooked. It should be soaked in alkaline water first to get rid of a disagreeable taste. It can be eaten like potatoes."[3] Medicinal uses are also listed at the link.

So it appears the occasional False Solomon's Seal berry will not do much harm if not too many are eaten at once.

[1] Wildflowers Across the Prairies, Field-Use Edition, F.R. Vance, J.R. Jowsey, J.S. McLean, Western Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1977.
[2] Northern Bushcraft, list of website references, accessed August 7, 2011.
[3] Montana Plant Life , accessed August 7, 2011.

When it rains it... hails!

We usually get at least one hail storm each summer. Fortunately this year it was later in the summer than usual. Unfortunately the hail was a bit larger and longer duration than usual, plus we had two big hailstorms in three days (August 3 and 5).

Most plants have a varying degree of leaf shredding. The potatoes, lettuce (except for the ones I managed to cover with plastic during both storms), swiss chard and rhubard got the worst of it and the others faired quite well and I think will recover fine. I don't think the potatoes will grow much more this year.