Archive for June, 2015


written by Alison Malouf

Photo Feb 21, 12 19 49 PM

whimh_logo_smallThe grassy islands that divide Dolores Street are one of the most visible casualties of San Francisco’s drought. Last October, Patricia noticed withered brown patches spreading through the once lush medians, the result of the city staunching their sprinklers in an effort to conserve water. The solution seemed obvious – to tear out the thirsty turf and populate the medians with plants that have evolved to thrive under drier conditions. Vivid California Poppies, Sages, spiky Spider Aloe, and other bright, drought tolerant, and pollinator friendly plants can create a much needed habitat for our bees. The pollinators, essential to the reproductive cycle of a third of our food crops, can take advantage of the continuous ribbon of Dolores Street as a pesticide-free urban garden sheltered from the heavy pesticide use on agricultural lands. As mono-culture farming and careless use of pesticides make agricultural habitats less hospitable to pollinators, cities have the potential to play a valuable role in their conservation. We believe every garden/open space in the urban environment should be a pollinator haven!


When Patricia reached out to the city with this idea, she was met with an enthusiastic expression of interest and a couple of caveats. First, the city, while excited by the proposal, was unable to fund the project. Second, Patricia would need to secure the neighborhood’s support. Starting at the northern end of Dolores, she approached Prado Group, the developers and management of the new 38 Dolores building, and Whole Foods. She found them eager to contribute to a lively new median through partial funding and future maintenance. Support from the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association (MDNA) followed only after the commitments of Prado Group and Whole Foods were enshrined in writing and the design had been approved by a historic consultant. The median is in the process of becoming a historic landmark, but it was determined that its historic character will not be compromised as long as the iconic palms remain untouched.


MDNA also expressed concern that the gathering places featured in the original design would change the medians from stately, distant oases to congested satellites of Dolores Park, so the design was modified to fully blanket the median in flowers. Finally, Patricia set up an information booth at Whole Foods and hosted a community meeting at 38 Dolores to supply information and answer questions about the project. The community members who stopped to talk to her showed their excitement by providing signatures, letters of support and willingness to volunteer on the project. We submitted these to the San Francisco Department of Public Works, and we are thrilled to announce that the proposal has been approved and we will begin work on the pollinator garden at Market & Dolores this summer!150624 - Planting Plan_Page_1Planting Plan-2Bloom Chart

The design is done, with low water, pollinator friendly plants carefully chosen to bloom in an unbroken relay all year long. The next step is to tear up the old turf and lay down sheet mulch. Sheet mulch is a permaculture technique to build soils rich in organic matter and control extremely weedy areas. Layers of nitrogen and carbon rich materials are spread over the soil, breaking down naturally over time and creating nutritious soil without the addition of commercial fertilizers. It is also a natural way to eradicate weeds, vital at a site like this where the turf has been established for decades and filled the soil with its seeds. The sheet mulch will sit for six months to suppress any lingering grass seed and condition the soil to receive the new plants in December. Several community members have generously offered to help prepare the median for planting. Prado Group will fund the turf removal, BayView Green Waste will provide the mulch, and Whole Foods will donate cardboard for the mulching and dedicate one of their quarterly 5% days to fund the purchase of boulders, signage, and some low protection for the area.

But there is still more to do! In August, we will apply for an SF Community Challenge Grant to cover the cost of plants. Fingers crossed by October we will receive the grant to purchase all the plants that we need.

We’re starting small, with the first block of Dolores at Market Street, but we’re dreaming big!!! We imagine the barren strips that run the rest of Dolores’ length frothing with plants and pollinators, a network of gardens wriggling its way over and through the San Francisco hills to wash the streets in sweet scents and shifting colors. We want this pollinator boulevard to become San Francisco’s pollinator neighborhood, connected to the new pollinator garden at Dolores Park and to all the school and church gardens along Dolores. We’d love your help – please feel free to contact us if you would like more information, or to be a part of this project!

Work Plan

Jepson Bee Workshop

I had the great honor to be invited to the Jepson Herbarium native bee workshop hosted by the Urban bee lab at UC Berkeley. The event took place at the UC Hastings reserve nested deep in Carmel Valley. The workshop had attendance from all over the United States, and even someone from Australia and New Zealand. Most people were entomology researchers, and some museum docents. Photo Jun 07, 9 38 24 AM

The setting was not only magnificent to enjoy but it is also one of the areas with the highest diversity of native bees. About 400 different species can be found there. Keep in mind that there is an  estimated 20,000 different species of bees in the world. California has about 1600. Identifying this bees is no easy task, I learned. But it is important work to keep track of the health of the species.
Photo Jun 06, 1 42 53 PM
The workshop focused on learning to identify native bees and looking at which bees are attracted to which plants. This is helpful to understand what plants to use to support pollination in agriculture and healthy bee diversity. Our time there included lots of lectures about bee identification and the different research that the legendary Dr. Robbin ThorpDr. Frankie, Jamie and Sara are doing at the UCB bee lab. There was also a lecture on how to photograph bees up close by Rollin Coville. I was especially excited about that lecture because it gave me a good excuse to buy a macro lens that I have been dreaming about for years. We spend a lot of time in the lab looking at bees under the microscope but also a lot of time in the field observing and collecting bees.
Photo Jun 04, 4 04 45 PM
It became very apparent to me that this group of bee entomologist had low tolerance for anything non scientific. I asked about the healing properties of native bee venom compared with honey bees and got a what-are-you-talking-about-there-is-no-scientific-proof-for that response. So, for the most part, I kept my spiritual connection to the bees to myself. But I did share some of my apiteraphy success experiences and some people were interested on hearing my “non-scientific” bee stories.
Photo Jun 06, 9 48 17 AM
During out five day workshop, we were guided through the scientific process that they have developed to asses the population of native bees. We placed traps with with soapy water on different color plates in the field at 8′ intervals, and came back to collect the bees after 4 hours.
Photo Jun 05, 9 52 46 AM
We also collected bees with nets in specific plants. One of the research that they are doing is bee/plant relationship, looking at which bees are attracted to which plants.
Photo Jun 04, 3 01 00 PM
We then took those bees back to the lab, most of them were already dead but to be sure they were placed in jars with ethyl acetate/nail polish remover. We then placed them in a tea ball and dried them up with a hair drier to get their hair and wings all fluffy again. high tech!
Photo Jun 05, 3 45 35 PM
Then, the hardest part, pinning the bees. We had to careful insert a pin in the abdomen of the bees and place them with the wings, legs, antenna, etc. extended so they can dry up like that and be identified.
Photo Jun 05, 4 59 23 PM
We specified which bees were found at which plants and line them up so they can keep track. I gather all my bravery to do this work, in the name of science! This was hard enough for me and then one of the bees that I pinned started coming back to life and was moving on the pin. I was terrified. They took the bee away from me and put it on the freezer to make sure it died. They tried to convince me that since bees have no brains they feel no pain. Nice try! I was done pinning bees. There was no sharing circle or any other outlet to express my feelings and emotions with this group of scientist so I just went on a walk and waited outside until happy hour. I needed a drink!
Photo Jun 06, 10 40 50 AM
However looking at the bees under the microscope is really fascinating!!! They are so incredibly beautiful and colorful. Native bees come in all colors, amazing metallic blues and greens, bright yellows, orange, black. They have iridescent wings that go from pink to purples to oranges. They have 3 third eyes! National Geographic did an amazing story called Intimate portrait of bees that show some of this amazing bees up close. Looking at the bees under the microscope kind of reminded me of diving and being suspended in another reality seeing incredibly beautiful creatures. As I looked at them, I kept wondering how do we look to them through those big and tiny eyes.

Photography by Sam Droege, USGS

 Out in the field we collected nectar from different flowers to measure the sucrose level, this gives us more information on why different bees are attracted to different flowers. We can also see how some flowers release all the nectar and pollen at once while others do it at intervals throughout the day or at a certain day after opening.
Photo Jun 05, 10 24 02 AM
The flowers get covered with a paper bag early in the day so the bees can not take the nectar. We then remove flower petals gently to reveal nectar at the base of the flowers and we collect the nectar from the flower using a microcapillary pipette. The nectar is then released onto the prismatic surface of a pocket refractometer and with that we get the sucrose results. It was not as easy as it sounds….
Photo Jun 05, 10 37 44 AM
Turns out pollination is not just bees going from flower, it is a lot more complicated than that. Pollination is a multifaceted, complex relationship between an enormous diversity of plants and animals. And not all bee pollination happens in the same way, some bees carry pollen on their legs, soma carry it on their bellies, and some bees vibrate as they approach the flowers to release the pollen.
The Clarkia unguiculata  is one of such flowers. It has eight long stamens, the outer four of which have large red anthers. The stigma protrudes from the flower and can be quite large. It also moves as the days progress as you can see on the picture above. On the first day the stigma is low but by the second day the stigma curves up. A specific type of native bee is attracted to this flower, it lands on the flower and it vibrates onto the stigma, the vibration releases the pollen from the four outer anthers. Once the pollen gets released other bees, such as this bumble bee can collect it and move it around. There it was, in front of us, the oldest love affair in the planet, pollination.
IMG_8212I realized that the beauty of this phenomena, weather we see it trough a scientific or a spiritual lens, is our
ability to witness the magic of it. Life happening, transforming, unfolding in front of our eyes.
Photo Jun 07, 9 57 15 AM
In deep gratitude to the Berkeley bee lab team for inviting me to this exciting week filled with bees, science and magic! With honey in my heart!

“Life without wonder is not worth living.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel