Homestead Junction

Bumble Bee Homes During the Housing Crisis July 15, 2015 09:08

Last Sunday I had the privilege of attending a workshop led by Brian Campbell, a beekeeping master and holder of an incredible amount of experience and information. The topic was native bumble bees, and ways we can support them as their populations free-fall across the globe. Turns out, just like a lot of humans, bumble bees are also facing a major housing crisis, so at the end of this article are how-to's for bumble bee nest making. The Bumble Bee is an extremely important figure in the process of pollination often overshadowed by the domesticated and European-introduced Honeybee. Brian explained some reasons why we can’t depend solely on honeybees - as non-native species to this territory, honeybees aren’t adapted to native ecosystems and miss out on pollinating native plants. Also, bumble bees and honeybees have different pollinating techniques that serve different plants in different ways, which reaffirms why biodiversity even among pollinators is important. Brian demonstrated how bumble bees buzzing in flowers isn't just another random cute thing they do, but they are actually buzzing the C note because those frequencies vibrate out pollen!

Bumble Bee

In learning how incredible and important bumble bees are, I've also been learning some of the reasons why they are on the decline. A big "agh!" moment for me during the workshop was when Brian mentioned that in the spring of 2014, new research results showed the global pollination deficit grew to more than than 60%. Tool Box NestLoss of habitat, fragmentation of ecosystems, urban sprawl, use of pesticides, climate change, spread of disease from domesticated, introduced, and factory-bred bees, these are all contributing factors to the absence of bees we are currently witnessing and feeling. Humans, bees, animals, flowers, we all depend on the process of pollination in order to survive - which is why learning to make homes for these little buzzing buddies is the least I can do to try and help them out. Bumble Bees are opportunists and not very good diggers. They don't make their own nests. Instead, they fly around until they find a suitable squat. Sometimes they squat old mouse nests, bird houses, tea pots, anything warm and den-like. They like sunny and warm spots. Mostly, they cannot handle the stress of being moved or disturbed. Brian mentioned one of the problems with bumble bees' loss of habitat is that many of the species here are too sensitive to be moved around and dislocated. Brian sometimes offers services in Bumble Bee rescue when folks find nests in places that are for sure going to get disturbed - like the compost bin. Brian will arrive with his yellow bumble bee nest made universally suitable for most of the 39 species in BC, and move them to a safer spot. Though only displaced meters away, Brian explained how sometimes the bees would get so discouraged and depressed after the move, they would stop foraging and they would die after the food in their nests ran out. For these reasons, it is of absolute importance that nests are put into spots that are most likely to not be disturbed, moved or agitated while they are in there.

Affordable Bumble Bee Housing during the Bumble Bee Housing Crisis: Right now, there is a huge lack of homes for bumble bees - so much that many of them are still flying around looking for suitable nests in June and July until they can't go on anymore and they die. This is why it is important to make room for them. So, how can we make Bumble Bee homes that we can afford? Luckily, we can do so using mostly repurposed and easy-to-source materials!


What You'll Need:


-1 Gallon Plastic Nursery Pot with drainage holes at the bottom of the walls on the side, rather than at the bottom facing down (See picture--this is the type we sell)

-1 Plastic Saucer

-1 Bolt

-1 Nut

-2 Washers

-2 Big Staples (that will peg the nest into the ground) OR a Brick

-Upholsterers cotton OR Wool OR cut up white cotton t-shirts (bees don't like too many colors in their homes)

-Straw, gravel, woodchips or bark mulch

Directions:Drill a hole in through the middle of the saucer and through the middle of the bottom of the nursery pot. Put the bolt through the first washer and place them through the saucer and then through the bottom of the nursery pot. Then secure the second washer on the inside of the nursery pot with the nut. At this point, when you turn nursery pot upside down, it will have a little raincover protecting the holes at the top, which will be the bumble bees’ entrances.

Nut, bolt and 2 washers

Inside the nest, put some unupholstered cotton, wool, or cut up white 100% cotton t-shirts that will act as insulation and ventilation. When ready to install, this will be resting in the middle third of the nursery pot. Underneath it, and what the cotton will be resting on, will be the gravel or mulch, which will act as drainage. This will take up the bottom third. The top third will be empty (this is where the bees will do their thing!).

Installing the Bumble's Nest

When installing it, look for a lot of flowers that bumble bees like (rhododendrons, heathers, violas, poppies, wildflowers, dandelion, huckleberry, clover, lupins, foxglove, buckwheat, sunflowers, thistles, sedum, mallow, blueberry, golden rod) in a sunny spot - south-facing is ideal - that is unlikely to be disturbed, protected and somewhat hidden since bumble bees don't like anyone knowing where they live. Dig a shallow hole - enough to cover the bottom third of the nest. Ready with the cotton and drainage mulch/gravel already in, place the nest into the hole and secure it with one staple pegged on in each side. This is so that raccoons or other animals don’t knock it over, which they may try to do being the scavengers they are. You can also place a brick on top instead of buying the staples as a cheaper and less wasteful option though it is potentially less secure. Once secured, fill in the soil around bottom of the nest so it is partially buried. And there you have it - a bumble bee home!

Bumble Bee Nest

As winter approaches, the Bumble Bees in the nest will die off and disperse. The mated queen will leave the nest and bury herself in soil for the rest of the winter. She'll emerge the next season in early spring to look for a nest. During these winter months, it's recommended to bring the nest in and freeze the cotton inside. If the nest was lived in by bumble bees, they'll leave traces inside which will attract new ones when you bring it out again in the spring. You can even break your cotton apart to inoculate new nests that have never been lived in.

Second Nest by the Echinacea

Oh yeah, and you can leave as many nests around as you like! Bumble Bees aren't territorial. Guerrilla Bumble Nesting Project?! I hope yes.


by Kelsey Cham Corbett
July 15, 2015

New Series: Second Sunday Show and Tell October 06, 2014 10:59

Hey Homesteaders!  

Whether you're a seasoned back-to-the-lander or just got your first community garden plot, we know you're doing interesting things and we want to hear about it.  We're starting a new monthly series called Second Sunday Show and Tell so you can come share with us and your fellow urban homesteaders samples or pictures of your cool projects.  As the name implies, Show and Tell will take place on the 2nd Sunday of each month.  We're envisioning an informal gathering of local DIYers, homesteaders, and urban farmers. Actually, this series was created in response to the many people who have come through the store and expressed an interest in teaching workshops.  Many people in the homesteading community want to share what they've learned through workshops, but they don't know where to start.  Maybe you've thought before about teaching workshops, but you don't have access to a classroom space or an audience... then consider signing up for a presentation time slot to get your feet wet! Each month we want to pre-book two or three urban homesteaders to speak for 15-30 minutes.  Topics could be loosely tied into the theme of the month (as in, October is "Fermentation Month"), but don't have to be; you could present a slide show, bring in samples of something you've made, or show people how to do a craft... whatever inspires you!  These presentations will be followed by an "open-mic" opportunity for community members to briefly share a pet project.  Whether you built a straw-bale house in the 70's or you just canned your first batch of jam, you're sure to inspire someone with your story.  Of course, you don't have to share if you're shy; you may just want to sit back with a cup of fresh home-roasted coffee and listen.  As an incentive to share, speakers' names will be entered in a draw for a Homesteader's Emporium gift certificate! The inaugural Second Sunday Show and Tell takes place this Sunday, October 12th.  Come meet others in this amazing community and be inspired! Give us a call at 604 568-7675 or email for more information or to sign up to speak.

Summer Gardening Workshops August 24, 2013 11:45

If you haven't made it out to one of our summer gardening workshops, you're missing out!

 Summer Harvest
A share for the DTES Neighborhood House

Last week everyone got to go home with a bag of mixed-variety tomatoes, some sprigs of rosemary, and one or two deliciously crunchy cukes. Participants learned all about plant sex and how it affects seed saving on a small scale.

 Snap peas are eaten whole--pod and all--and these were so sweet and delicious!
Snap peas are eaten whole--pod and all--and these were so sweet and delicious!
In July, we pigged out on super-sweet Oregon Giant snap peas; luckily, we overcame the urge to eat them all so we could save some for seeds, which we planted last week for a late fall crop.  Now, the question came up whether pea seeds need to be exposed to freezing temperatures before they'll germinate and I didn't honestly know the answer.  Essentially, would August be too soon to plant peas that had just been harvested in July?  In Nature, of course, most seeds dropped at the end of a plant's life cycle would be exposed to winter weather before conditions are right again for them to germinate.  Some seeds, like asparagus, seem to require this, but many others clearly do not or else seeds stored indoors over winter would never germinate.
 Planting peas for a late fall crop.
Planting peas for a late fall crop. These pea plants were harvested in July and hung upside-down to dry.

 Will the lack of a winter rest period prevent our peas from germinating or will we get a bumper crop because the seed we used was so fresh?  We'll see... Experimentation is part of the fun of gardening and the results can be surprising! I did consult one of my favorite gardening writers on this question of whether pea seeds need some freezing temperatures before they'll germinate.  In her book The Zero-Mile Diet, Carolyn Herriot does recommend freezing pea seeds after they're thoroughly dried out, as a way of killing the eggs of an annoying garden pest, the pea weevil; but she doesn't say freezing is necessary for germination.  

In looking through The Zero-Mile Diet I did, however, find the answer to another question that came up in the gardening workshop: what is the difference between snap peas and snow peas?  Basically, both are edible pea pods, differing from shelling peas in that you don't remove the peas from their pods.   Snow peas are harvested when the pods are full-sized but the peas inside have only just begun to swell, whereas snap peas are harvested and eaten with fully formed peas inside. Peas, by the way, are one of the easiest garden plants to save your own seed from because they have "perfect" flowers, meaning they're self-fertile.  

Participants at last week's gardening workshop got a lesson on flower anatomy and will remember that self-fertile plants reproduce true-to-type, meaning the next generation of plants will be like the plants from which seeds were saved.  Self-fertile plants like beans, peas, tomatoes and lettuces are the best place to start for small-scale gardeners wishing to save their own seeds. Participants at last week's workshop also went home with a list of things to do in their own gardens at this time of year.  Late summer garden chores include: Sow seeds for a fall crop and over-wintering for a spring crop Add compost or manure to top-off fertility for late-season fruit production "Deadhead" flowers and herbs to keep them producing longer Harvest herbs to use fresh or hang them to dry for later Leave some annuals to self-sow for next year Plant trees, shrubs and perennials and keep them well-watered Start saving seeds as they become ready

 The addition of a few ripe mangoes makes a great salsa out of home-grown tomatoes, onions, peppers, and herbs.
A few ripe mangoes makes a good salsa great!

To this list, you might add harvest-relevant food preservation projects.  If you're into home canning, you've probably already put up some jams or jellies since we're coming to the end of the season for all of the local berries--although you'll still be able to find lots of blackberries!  Mangoes are apparently in season somewhere since they're so plentiful and cheap right now at local markets; of course I'm a fan of local produce rather than imported, but I do love the way a few ripe mangoes dress up a home-grown salsa recipe.  We're now into tomato harvest season, so get your quart jars ready! I'll address in a later post the question of how to save seeds from tomatoes.  The farmer's market is brimming with interesting heirloom tomato varieties and since many of them won't be available from seed catalogues next year, saving the seeds from your favorites is sometimes the only way to be able to grow them yourself.  Stay tuned!

Workshop report - it's honey extraction season! August 26, 2012 18:23

Photos are in from last week's honey extraction workshop. Lianne Shyry of Two Bees Apiary showed us how to uncap frames full of honey and run them through a centrifugal extractor (similar to the one we have for rent at the store). Check it out!


 Lianne tips the extractor to help the honey pour out.
Lianne tips the extractor to help the honey pour out.


 Lianne inspects a frame that we just extracted. Looks good!
Lianne inspects a frame that we just extracted. Looks good!


 Loading the extractor  
Loading the extractor


 Turning the crank to spin the extractor cage. A bit of a workout, but easy compared to crush and strain (or so I hear)  
Turning the crank to spin the extractor cage. A bit of a workout, but easy compared to crush and strain (or so I hear)


 Rick shaves the cappings off a full honey frame
Rick shaves the cappings off a full honey frame


 Lianne uses an uncapping scratcher to open any honey cells the knife missed.
Lianne uses an uncapping scratcher to open any honey cells the knife missed.


 We found these dark coloured pollen cells among the honey. We figured they’d add some extra nutrients to the mix!
We found these dark coloured pollen cells among the honey. We figured they’d add some extra nutrients to the mix!


 Using a self-heating knife to peel the caps from the honey cells. This was when the honey aroma became awesome.
Using a self-heating knife to peel the caps from the honey cells. This was when the honey aroma became awesome.


Reno complete, business license in hand! June 22, 2012 14:57

It's official - the renovation is complete!  With the shelving finished, products flowing in, and only a few paint touchups remaining, we're shifting gears to registering inventory, merchandizing, and finishing touches.
The service counter and work desk 95% complete.  Since taking this photo we've nailed up the rest of the siding.
Duncan cutting grooves for the shelves with a plunge router.
The first shelf complete!
Getting closer: a few more shelves up, a few less boards in the stack.
Nate and Duncan assemble one of the free-standing floor pieces. 
Check out these sweet signs Duncan made.  I think he's going to carve a snazzy little cheese graphic on the right there; hence the empty space on the right of the Cheese & Dairy sign.
The first of the beekeeping supplies are in, courtesy of Two Bees Apiary!
A wider angle showing the finished shelves and service counter.  A little corner of the coop even made it in.
Nate ceremonially removes the paper from the window, with great pomp and circumstance.
Our booth at Car Free Day!  Lianne and Trevor were able to make it down from Two Bees Apiary.  In a classic blunder, I neglected to bring the sign.  This coral coloured apron was pressed into service as a marginal stand-in.
New shop computer and POS equipment.
Mushroom growing kits from Vancouver's very own Scott Henderson (The Mushroom Man). Foreground: oyster mushroom kits. Background: shiitake mushroom kits.
That's it for today!  We've got more product coming in nearly every day now so I'll do my best to put up pictures whenever I get a chance!

I love T-Shirts almost as much as I love making them! June 12, 2012 00:18

With Car Free Main Street approaching, we're scrambling to get everything ready for the booth.  Among other things, we've got a variety of Canadian-made bamboo / organic cotton t-shirts which, when duly silk screened, will allow you to turn your useless, slovenly torso into a functional, sharply-dressed mobile billboard for the store!
To paint the screen accurately, it's important to close one eye to prevent your perspective from shifting as you peer through the screen at the pattern below.
Crafts are so fun.
The finished design.  Coming soon from my living room to your shirt!
My screen printing jungle guide Lisa has advised me that this is a multi-step, highly involved process, so I predict many more shirt-related photo-ops in the imminent future. Shirts will be available in a variety of sizes, in Natural, Olive, Brown, and Charcoal grey. UPDATE: shirts now in!
The screen pressing setup.  Completed shirts can be seen drying in the background amid tools and other paraphernalia.
Ta da!  Colors are brown, olive, natural, lavender, and charcoal.  Available in men's S-XL and ladies' S-L.  Shirts are Canadian made from 70% bamboo, 30% organic cotton. Only $15 until launch, what a deal!