63 Lori Weidenhammer – Victory Gardens for Bees


Speaker 1: From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is Pollination, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators.

I'm your host, Dr. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture. Many of you might remember stories of victory gardens during the Second World War and how important they were not only for helping people grow food in cities, but also for boosting morale and kind of bringing people together. My guest today, Laurie Weidenhammer, has written an update to the Victory Garden. Victory Gardens for Bees, a DIY guide for saving the bees.

Laurie is an artist based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and her Victory Gardens for Bees is really delightful. It fills a tremendous gap. Not only does it in the spirit of the old Victory Garden show you how it's done with some great layouts and some garden designs, but it really does boost your spirits with some magnificent photography and great writing. In this episode, which was literally recorded at my kitchen table, we talk about gardens, but also sort of these bigger questions of how to motivate people and how to affect change in the world. It's a really fun episode.

We just had, I think, our first cup of coffee and we're ready to go. So I hope you enjoy this episode of Pollination in the Kitchen. Laurie, welcome to Pollination. Thank you, Adoni. Now, we've been, we've bumped into each other a number of times at native bee identification courses and you're just here at Oregon State University's bee school. What is drawn into bees?

Speaker 2: Well, I am from a very small hamlet in Cactus Lakes, Saskatchewan. No. And it's so small that my dad used to joke that he and my mom took turns being dog, catcher and mayor. I lived in a place like that. And I had a wheat field on one side of our house and, of course, my mom's garden in the backyard. And then there was a strip of wildflowers along the railway track. I used to hang out a lot there.

And then there was pasture for cattle on the other side of that. So I grew up with all these cool systems. And my father actually, he used to have a number of hobbies and one of them was beekeeping.

So I have a really fond memory of the honey shack and the scent of it and the gorgeous, you know, honey that we got from that. But my dad almost died because he became allergic to bee stings. His hands used to swell up like boxing gloves when he got stung. And one day he was beekeeping with his friend and a bunch of bees got under his net and they stung him on the head. So he passed out and Mr. Mel in the check loaded him up in the Chevy

Speaker 3: car and drove 20 miles to the hospital and the doctor saved his life.

Speaker 1: Our listeners may not quite appreciate all the Ukrainian names and Saskatchewan. That's right. That's right.

Speaker 2: And so my mom said, you're not keeping bees anymore. And so I have a healthy respect for what bees can do. But then I actually started volunteering at UBC Farm. And I got hooked into the honey bees again and I was volunteering with them. And then I was also working as an artist and I was asked to do a performance about Agonita Dick's work and she takes objects and puts them into bee hives and then exhibits them as sculptures. So I did a performance and in doing the research, I learned that there's a really interesting tradition called telling the bees. People used to believe that if there was a birth, a death or a marriage, you had to tell the bee.

Right, right, right. Because they were the messengers of this to the spirit world. And so there's this saying that goes, marriage, birth or burying, news across the seas, all your sad or marrying, you must tell the bee. And so I became mad at a bee speaker because I'm a performance artist and people could give me messages for the bees and I would pass them on. And then the bees would pass them on to the spirits. So that's how I, as an artist, became interested in bees.

Speaker 1: That is a great story.

Speaker 2: And I've heard all sorts of interesting things from people that they want to share with the bees. It's a very interesting way to connect people to bees in a cultural way.

And so that's what I've been doing for all these years. And I also met a fantastic beekeeper named Brian Campbell, who taught me about native bees and the importance of native bees. And so bees were the honey bees were the gateway bee, and they got me into the other bees. And so now I'm really focused on native bees.

Speaker 1: And now you're sitting in my kitchen. Exactly. And I'm falling in love with all your Oregon bees.

Speaker 2: They are amazing.

Speaker 1: Well, that is a great story. It's remarkable. And I, you know, the I love the idea of taking bees and culture and being able to kind of resonate it. There's a real intense interest, but you can talk to anybody these days and they all have some kind of connection to the bees. They may not have had a decade ago or it's changed.

Speaker 2: I hope so. And I work with I'm lucky enough to work with people of all ages from preschool to seniors. And so I use different methods of art in my tool kit to work with different ages. So I also tend to dress up in silly costumes. I have a costume for the Queen bee, which is very bossy.

And she tells you what to do in the jobs in the hive. You have to, you know, do your your proboscis exercises in the morning. You're going out foraging. And you have to learn how to wax on

Speaker 3: and wax off and clean the hive and all that kind of.

Speaker 1: I suspect this queen also has some corgis.

Speaker 3: And my new character is Carlotta the Cuckoo Bee. She's always looking for a place, you

Speaker 2: know, that she might be able to lay her own eggs and someone else can

Speaker 3: look after the children because she's too busy to do that.

Speaker 1: Those are fantastic characters.

Speaker 3: I love that. It's so much fun. Yeah.

Speaker 1: Well, we are sitting at my kitchen table and you also have this book, which is really curiously titled this World War Two theme of victory gardens. What are the what do victory gardens have to do with bees?

Speaker 2: Well, my dad was a bit of a World War Two history bow. And so from him, I learned about victory gardens. And during World War Two, the Allied countries grew food in their backyards, in churchyards, in any spare land there was in order to contribute to food security during the time of war. OK. And so it was also a morale booster. And that was the name victory gardens for bees.

Oh, right. OK. And in fact, in British Columbia, I learned that they grew a huge volume of food because, of course, the climate is so great there. And there was this lovely spirit of volunteerism when people chipped in and helped each other and shared food, which I thought was lovely. And people are starting to do this again in Vancouver. They are, you know, tearing up their lawns and I'm cheering them on. And they're planting, putting raised beds in and growing food. OK. And so I thought, well, why not put some some pollinator flowers around the border and feed the bees at the same time that you're feeding yourself? Oh, great. So I want to make this connection that if you want to grow food to feed yourself, you also need to feed the bees. We need to feed the bees.

Speaker 1: That's fantastic. I think that's a great theme. And the one thing that struck me when you were talking about it was, you know, you started off by talking, you have these conversations with people. People are thinking about bees, but there's a way in which, you know, growing these, the spirit of the Victory Garden is in some ways building kind of conversation amongst people that there's a kind of, you know, there are not a lot of outlets for people in cities. They may have their gardens, but to kind of communicate. Talk a little bit about that.

Speaker 2: Well, I'm so lucky because I live in a great neighborhood in Vancouver. And we started a two block diet club. So there were people who didn't know how to garden and there were there's a woman who's my dear neighbor, Catherine Shapiro, who has been a permaculture gardener for decades. So she was able to mentor us and we share seeds and we shared plants and then we eat together. And so we created this really tight community. We have very good block parties in my side.

What is the address? And so it's been fantastic that way. And I also have a bed in a community garden. I find that I go down there to pull some weeds and I'm there for two hours talking to people, just people who come up to me and then they want to know about what I'm growing. And I explain that my garden is really messy because I'm feeding the bees.

Speaker 1: What conversation start?

Speaker 4: I try to do that thing, you know, where you find a male will be in you, hold it in your hand and then show it to them and, you know, get people engaged on all kinds of levels. And so I'm really passionate about connecting people to bees.

And what I found is that that creates community. So our neighborhoods great community and they want to do pollinator projects. So there's all these boulevard projects that are happening for bees, where people are planting bee gardens and they're putting little plaques up that tell people that these are for the bees. And, you know, the boulevards are there's a Green Streets program. And so people are growing food for bees right in the boulevards, which is a fantastic place to do it. My neighbor Celia basically has a community of a victory garden for bees. She planted her boulevard with a bunch of native shrubs, including Oregon grape, which is right by a power pole. And she convinced the city to leave the power pole there, even though it was, you know, starting to rot. And so the mason bees nest in the power pole and then they go right down to the Oregon grape to get the pop.

So they go zip up back, up back, up back. And she also has the remnants of what orchard in her backyard. And she has local urban farmers who are growing squash as well in her backyard. Then we have a big potluck and we have this. We share the food that's created by the CSA that they run. And it's fantastic. And another great thing is we have a soil scientist, a retired soil scientist.

Speaker 1: They just happen to have one. Yeah, in our neighborhood. And he paid for the farmers to have their soils sampled. Oh, wow. Isn't that awesome so that they could know how to amend the soil to grow? Like that kind of thing is just awesome. People have a lot of skills.

Speaker 2: They do. Yeah. Yeah. And especially people who are retired, they really want to they want to literally dig in. Dig for victory. Dig for victory for bees.

Speaker 1: I'm printing the t-shirt as we speak. Well, let's take a break. I want to come back and we'll talk about how one does this, how what kind of ideas how we're doing to start for some a brown thumb like myself.

Let's see if we can get and make some progress in this episode. OK, let's take a break. OK, we are back.

So I'm really we're at the break. I just flipped the cover over and you showed me the subtitle a DIY. It's Victory Garden for Bees, a DIY guide to saving the bees to saving the bees. And I want to know the guide. So what what makes up the Victory Garden? How do you someone like myself who's just like kind of garden like incompetent? What how do what can how can this help me?

Speaker 2: Well, I actually garden with children a lot and I'm like that. So I'm all about the raised beds. I love raised beds and I find that they're a lot easier to manage. So you have raised beds and there's some things that you can grow from seed that are so fantastic. And one of them is kale. So kale is awesome, nutritious plant. You can grow it basically all year round.

It's actually better if it freezes a little bit. And so for us, it's perfect. And then in the spring, if you let it bloom and go to seed, the mason bees and all the spring bees will actually go in the blossoms and feed from the blossoms. And the blossoms themselves are edible. So I've had children come and say, hey, why don't you try one of these flowers and they they munch on one and then they want to have another one and another one.

And just like candy to them. And so there was a gardener in my community gardener who was trying to community garden, who was trying to convince everyone to tidy up your

Speaker 3: garden, cut off the kale blossom so that they won't go to seed and make a big mess. I said, no, no, no, stop.

Speaker 1: The bee doesn't it doesn't go for that.

Speaker 2: Well, that character may or may not have been based on that person. But anyway.

Speaker 3: So I said, no, we must leave the blossoms for the bees.

Speaker 2: And sometimes at that time of the year and early spring, kale and the brassicas are the only things that are blooming in community garden. Very early. Yeah. So community gardens come and go. So what you really need to do is you need to also have herbs, which are perennials that are there. And they come back year after year to give a really good supply of pollen and nectar. And they also can act as medicine cabinets for bees. For instance, oregano has thyme all in it, which is a chemical that is used in honeybee for honeybee help.

Speaker 1: Yeah, either for my control. Exactly.

Speaker 2: And so these herbs, I'm really intrigued with the research that goes with that. They may actually help help bees to be healthier. Herbs like lavender. You know, I've rubbed a lavender on my finger and a honeybee has come and licked my finger. It brings bees into your garden. And so adding that will actually help your your vegetables get pollinated. Also, you need to plant borage because borage is bee porridge and it pumps up nectar every five minutes. And so if you want your tomatoes to be pollinated by bumblebees, you need the borage to help feed the bumblebees so that then they will also pollinate your tomatoes because, of course, a buzz pollination. And so those are the kinds of connections that I'm trying to make when I'm talking about how to build this victory garden.

Speaker 1: And you know, one thing I have just run into a lot and people have been begging for an episode on it is edible pollinator garden. Exactly.

Speaker 2: And you know, there's a lot of native plants that are edible as well. And this is something I'm getting into more because the hipster thing is foraging. Foraging for native berries and things. Plant them in your victory garden. Yeah, yeah. These evergreen huckleberries, have you ever had one? They are so delicious. And they're, they're really good.

Speaker 1: Those are the red ones?

Speaker 2: No, they're not. They're dark. And so it's really good infrastructure for your garden. And actually the First Nations people were the first bee gardeners. Because they actually used to prune and burn the bushes so that they would become more floriferous and therefore have so many berries that the bushes would be mistaken for black bears in the distance. Wow. So what's good for the bush, the shrub is good for the bees. Yeah, for sure.

Yeah, yeah. And so you need to build those layers. So you've got herbs, you've got edible flowers like menarda, bee balm. I mean, bee balm is something that you can put on with your meals.

It makes them look more beautiful and more delicious. And if you leave some in your garden, of course, it's fantastic for bumblebees. I really am pushing a lot for bumblebees because I find that they are one of our more vulnerable species because they have such a long foraging season. And I have a bumblebee nesting in my house, so I'm a little bit prejudiced. We have Bosnian zenskies that nest in our house.

Great. And so the bee scientist, David Goulson from England says bumblebees are basically always 45 minutes from starvation. So if you feed the bumblebees, then you'll also feed a lot of the other bees as well. And so you layer in other things like snowberry, which blooms for a long time, and the bumblebees can feed on that for months. And there's lots of really cool native plants like spirea duglissii, the hardhack, which is like cotton candy for bees. They just climb on it and they gather all that pollen.

It looks like cotton candy. It does. And you can espalier fruit trees along the sides of your community garden or your garden beds so that you build up all this bee forage, layers and layers and layers of it. And so that will help to give the volume that will provide infrastructure for the bees.

Speaker 1: Well, I suppose the other thing is the design because often we have a small piece of property and we get a plant list. It's like how on earth am I going to arrange this stuff?

Speaker 2: If you have a really small garden or even a balcony, there's a garden plan in my book. There's several garden plans. And one of them is for growing plants on your balcony for bees. As long as you're not higher than the third floor, you can actually have like a little mason bee house. You can grow scarlet runner beans, which the bumblebees and the hummingbirds absolutely love.

And you can go vertical. So you grow things that grow up. Recently, I found that perennial sweet peas is awesome for leaf cutter bees and those big, big bodacious bumblebee queens. I just saw a bunch of bombas nevidenses in them near Steve's soon. Oh my gosh, they were just going glug glug glug glug glug glug glug glug on those flowers. There's so much nectar. It's fantastic.

Speaker 1: And there's the small garden. But even if, you know, the other thing I find is even if it's a larger garden, you're given even a plantless, but without a design, without an idea of how those elements will fit together, you end up having, it gets very complicated, like that, planning a space.

Speaker 2: And, you know, I also work as a consultant with community gardeners and help them to choose plants that are going to be, you know, good for that garden in that particular place, because you do have to have the right plant for the right place. The city gave us some land to create a community garden in a park near where I live. And so I helped to design a kind of an edible infrastructure around the outside.

And a lot of it was in the shade. And so we did have to use that kind of forest edge paradigm where you're doing a lot of plants that can go in the forest edge, like salol and plants like that. So you definitely do need to have some sense of design.

Speaker 1: What do you mean by just that word infrastructure? What's, how does that?

Speaker 2: Well, I actually got that from one of your podcasts because it was the idea that... Can you see me go red? No, it's just the idea that it was about trees. Yeah.

Speaker 3: All right, this deep drink. And the thing is, is that, you know, kale plants come and go, community gardeners come and go, somebody just likes double merry goals, and that's all they want to plant. But things like trees and perennials and shrubs are there for years and years to come. And so that kind of volume and sustainability and that kind of consistency is what we really need. So we really need resilient corridors for bees, but they can date, mate, and appropriate.

Speaker 1: They just roll off your tongue, eh? Like, I'm gonna take it for everybody. So please myself for like, and just like roll them out. It's just like, crazy. Okay, awesome. Okay, awesome. What were we talking about? So, you know, the one thing I did want to pick up on again was, you know, we're, you're learning bee taxonomy.

It's very technical, but you're an artist and sort of the, we've had, and I remember we had the episode with Ruth Marsh, you were talking about Agony the Dick. There are a lot of people who are thinking about bees, not in a science realm. What do you think the role of artists are in this whole complicated puzzle of bee conservation?

Speaker 2: Well, since meeting a lot of bee scientists, what I find is that I'm really excited about collaborating because I can do, you know, the, the, the dressing up in silly costumes and doing that kind of thing. But when you get to the actual taxonomy and things like that, you need someone who's got the real chops to do that. And so I really respect the scientific rigor that goes behind anything that I tell people to do. And so I think that there's a lot of potential for collaboration between artists and science scientists. I mean, for instance, designing bee hotels, the artists can get in there and help with designs that are really beautiful to look at and engaging. But yet the scientists can say, well, you know, this is how you design it.

So you attract a lot of species of bees, but you don't want a lot of mite buildup and things like that. So I'm really excited about the potential for collaboration. And so I think that I want to continue to build relationships with scientists because I'm kind of sad also that there's been a streaming off of arts over here and science, sciences over here.

And then, you know, when you're taking classes in university, you have to make that choice. And so I think it's, it's better if we do things like citizen science, where we connect every person with what science is the reality on the ground of science. So I actually take kids out and we catch bees in jars and we release them.

And I try to build that emotional connection. So there's a lovely encounter I had in summer camp this year where a little girl, we caught a boy, a bumblebee. And she said, this is my female boy. She was kind of getting the gender kind of mixed up. This is my female boy. His name is Sam.

And she was just carrying that jar around for the whole time. And then finally I said, we're going to have to let Sam go. And she said, well, we need to put a flower in there first. So I took a bindweed flower, we put it in there and Sam crawled right in the center of the flower and he wouldn't come out. So then she went around carrying the bindweed flower around and she was just smitten.

Speaker 4: And I was like, well, that, there you go. So I can make that connection. But then if you want to take it to the next level where we're actually doing restoration work where we need the scientific connections of the phenology and the relationship of the bees, the flowers, the specialist bees. We really need to work together with the scientists because we have to become smarter gardeners. We can't waste space anymore.

I mean, in Vancouver, we're losing bee habitat every day because of densification. There was a lovely, actually war bride that used to live in my neighborhood. Her name was Daphne. And she had a little cottage where she raised a family of five and a nice big garden, an English cottage garden. Whenever she got any birthday present, she'd spend it on flowers. And of course, when she passed away, someone put up a monster home and has one dead cedar in their yard.

Speaker 2: So that's the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. So we have to become smarter. We have to know exactly which are the best plants to plant in the right place to help the maximum amount of species of bees that we can't.

Speaker 1: It does remind me of the Lincoln Best Manifesto couple episodes back where it was really thinking about how to kind of make those plant selections just a lot more precisely. Perfect. Yeah. Okay. Wow. Let's take another break. Let's come back. We got these questions we asked all our guests.

I am very curious what your answers are going to be. And you are starting up your laptop to like, okay, okay, well, I'll let you start it up. Let's take a break.

Speaker 4: I got it all written down here.

Speaker 1: We are back. So you know the first question we asked people, book recommendation.

Speaker 2: The Forgotten Pollinators by Stephen Al Buchman and Gary Paul Naban.

Speaker 1: That has not been recommended.

Speaker 2: I remember reading that and it got me on my path. Really? I love that book. And I got to reread it this summer because it is a classic and we really should be getting everyone to read it.

It's fantastic. And I love that book. I love both of them as writers and both the authors as writers. I also love the two books by Eric Grissel.

Is his name Grissel or Grissel? Oh, Insects and Gardens in Pursuit of a Garden Ecology. Really? Fantastic. That's a great book. Oh my Lord. Bees, Wasps and Ants, The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens.

Speaker 1: Hello. Why have I never heard of this? These are fantastic. Well, you know, I was going to say with Forgotten Pollinators that, you know, you have had people come on the show before. I think we had Pollinator partnership on and sort of, you know, one of the starting points of the current kind of concern with bees was the 2006 Colline Collapse Sorter. But this was the other one. This was a real call to action for a lot of people. Really well written.

Speaker 2: It's a treasure. I love it.

Speaker 1: Great book suggestion, Wari. Let's see how you do on the tool. Okay. I got it right here.

Speaker 2: My favorite tool is my Canon Rebel T5 with my 60 millimeter macro lens. That is an extension of my body. And I go, my favorite thing is to go out in the flowers as I've been doing and in your pollinator garden and taking pictures of bees. You have a great Instagram account.

Thank you. And that's another thing. I find Instagram is a tool. And it's a community building tool because I've met all these really cool nerds, bee nerds on Instagram, flower nerds. And I just get so excited about that. And so I find that's fantastic.

Speaker 1: The other thing I was just flipping through the book, the book is really well designed. It's a beautiful looking book and the pictures are fantastic. Thank you. I'm really happy with it.

Speaker 2: And I have another tool for when you do have those nights where it's hard to sleep because you're so worried about the bees. It's a song. Oh, great. And it's called Wild Flowers by Tom Petty. And it was, he wrote it and they sang it in 1994. Uh-huh. But there's a Winnipeg group of three women called the Whalen Jennies on an album called 15. Uh-huh. And whenever I'm feeling down, I play that song.

Speaker 1: All right. Well, we highly recommend. We will link the YouTube video on the show notes. Yes. And people should know about the Whalen Jennies and all other Canadian bands. We are prolific. We are. Okay. A little plug for Canada. Okay. Finally, is there a pollinator specifically when you see them come by or like, oh.

Speaker 2: Well, I do fall in love with the male bees as they come out in the season. And so, you know, when it's the male leaf cutter bees, I just fall in love with them. And now, of course, the male longhorn bees.

Speaker 1: You've got a great picture in the book of them all kind of clustered up in the morning.

Speaker 2: That's right. And they have the slumber parties. The male bees have the slumber parties where they're huddling together and they're doing that in front of the pollinator garden right now on the seeds of geomacrophilum, which would be great to plant because apparently that's a plant they like to roost on. I'm not giving my lot in planting. Oh, sorry. It's large leafed avans. All right. And so they, and they have long horns and big eyes and they're very fluffy. And I love them so much.

Speaker 3: Who wouldn't? I love those boys.

Speaker 2: Oh my Lord. So they're my favorites right now. Okay.

Speaker 1: So it's a shifting the ear like a male. I'm a bit fickle. Yep.

Speaker 2: I'm, I, Whatever fluffy male comes along. The bumblebee males. I love them too.

Speaker 1: Well, this has been a delightful, I'm glad we had a chance over breakfast to have a quick conversation. And are you working on any projects at the moment or?

Speaker 2: Yes, I am working on a novel. So I'm turning to fiction about bees.

Speaker 1: Oh, fantastic. Stay tuned for murder. A mischief. Well, thank you so much for dropping by. Thank you so much. I don't need this. Or to, I'm looking forward to reading a novel. Thanks so much for listening. Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oregonstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you and there's several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode-specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that can be featured in a future episode. You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, you can tweet questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating.

It makes us more visible, which helps others discover pollination. See you next week.

This week we catch up with Lori Weidenhammer about her book Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to Saving the Bees. Lori was recently through Corvallis for the Oregon Bee School and this offered an opportunity to talk about the book before class one morning. Lori is a Vancouver performance-based interdisciplinary artist and educator. As you hear in the show, she is originally from a tiny hamlet called Cactus Lake, Saskatchewan. It is in this place, bordered by wheat fields and wild prairie, that she first became enchanted with bees. For the past several years she has been appearing as the persona Madame Beespeaker, practicing the tradition of “telling the bees”. As a food security volunteer and activist Lori works with students of all ages on eating locally and gardening for pollinators.

Listen in to learn more about victory gardens, the cultural importance of bees over time, and how artists and scientists work together to educate the world.

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“If you want to grow food to feed yourself, you also need to feed the bees. We need to feed the bees.” – Lori Weidenhammer

Show Notes:

  • How Lori became so passionate about bees
  • Why it has been so important to “tell the bees” about birth and death
  • How the conversation around and awareness of bees has changed
  • What the victory gardens of World War II have to do with bees
  • The many ways Lori’s community cooperates to make a community pollinator habitat
  • What makes a garden a victory garden
  • How herbs can make your garden more vibrant with pollinators and help your vegetables thrive
  • Why a pollinator garden in a very small plot can still be extremely effective
  • What Lori sees as the future of collaboration between artists and scientists
  • How to engage kids into wonder and learning of pollinators

“Community gardens come and go, so what you really need to do is also have herbs, which are perennials that come back year after year to give a really good supply of pollen and nectar, and they can also act as medicine cabinets for bees.” – Lori Weidenhammer

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