Monday, 12 September 2016

Toomas Karmo: Practical Civics: Pollinators in Richmond Hill Parks

One of my four simultaneous Debian GNU/Linux desktops, arranged to show the following (clockwise, from  the image closest to the green (civil-time) and red (UTC) operations clocks): Apis mellifera (one of the true honeybees); one of the wasps (no wasps are true honeybees); comb being removed by an apiarist from a Warré hive (note the absence of frame; bees are left free to take their own decisions on sizing of their hexagonal cells); comb being removed by an apiarist from a Langstroth hive (note the surrounding rigid wooden frame; against the frame, in the manner of fabric against stretcher hoop in embroidery, the apiarist some months, or even a couple of years, ago secured a sheet of wax-and-wire "comb foundation", forcing the bees to build their hexagonal cells in just one prescribed size, on hexagonal ridging stamped at the factory into the comb-foundation wax); my close-up photo from around 2016-09-09, of early goldenrod bloom in the Richmond Hill Centre Street-to-Crosby linear park; my photo from around 2016-09-09, facing north, of the park walkway, likewise showing early goldenrod bloom. The four photos which are not my own come from, respectively,,,  and

Quality assessment: 

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3'5 is "mediocre pass", 4.5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: Kmo had time to do a reasonably complete and (within the framework of the version 1.0.1, 1.0.2, .. process) reasonably polished job. 

Revision history:

  • 20160913T1432Z/version 3.1.0: Kmo expanded his remarks on colony temperature regulation, adding a hyperlink to a summary of recent research. He reserved the right to upload minor (i.e., cosmetic, as opposed to substantive) tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.1.1, 3.1.2, 3.1.3, ... . 
  • 20160913T0305Z/version 3.0.0: Kmo realized that he ought to add remarks on observation hives, and on provisions for monitoring temperatures in the hive interior. He reserved the right to upload minor (i.e., cosmetic, as opposed to substantive) tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.0.1, 3.0.2, 3.0.3, ... . 
  • 20160913T0200Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo added a screenshot illustration. He reserved the right to upload minor (i.e., cosmetic, as opposed to substantive) tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented version 2.0.1, 2.0.2, 2.0.3, ... . 
  • 20160913T0002Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded base version. He reserved the right to upload minor (i.e., cosmetic, as opposed to substantive) tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.0.1, 1.0.2, 1.0.3, ... . 

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some late points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears.]

0. Preamble

While writing, as always, on points pertinent to maths and physics (as with my ongoing essay praising geometer Moise), and on points pertinent to the David Dunlap Observatory and Park (DDO&P) heritage-conservation case, I must also comment on wider civic matters. 

This week I publish the first in what I hope will become a series of "Practical Civics" postings. 

In later weeks it will be helpful to discuss the civic virtues of YouTube. Councillor Greg Beros, while arguing (I think mistakenly) against Richmond Hill's envisaged new (I think laudable) civic centre, nevertheless shows how YouTube can be used appropriately, to argue a political position trenchantly from right within the Chamber. (For Councillor Beros, one can go to Or else one can use the YouTube search interface to look for user "Greg Beros", and for headline "What Councillor Beros said about Council spending $200 million on a new town hall" - actually, it's more than a "town hall" - as the Councillor's upload of 2016-09-08.)

And while myself (a) resolved never to sit in a parliament, legislature, or municipal council, and also (b) rather determined to avoid personal homelessness, I nevertheless want in upcoming weeks to raise the following applied-civics question: Is it legally possible for a homeless person to sit on Town Council? 

This has, admittedly, to be made part of a bundle of questions, including two less radical than the one I have just posed: 

  • Is it possible for a homeless person to address Town Council, from the Chamber podium, thereupon submitting documents through Clerks for inclusion in the public record?
  • Is it possible for a homeless person to vote - municipally, and for that matter also provincially and federally? 

1. Pollinators in Parks

From my place of residence, a basement flat near the main Richmond Hill commuter-rail station, I can reach just one park with a conveniently quick walk. This is the so-called "linear", or long-and-narrow, park linking Centre Street (a little north of the flat) with Crosby (perhaps 800 or 900 or so metres farther north). 

One's first impression of this parklet is unhappy. 

The east-west narrowness (100 metres? less?) is painfully evident, rejoice though we may in the contrastingly generous north-south dimension. 

There can be little silviculture in such a constrained space. And so we see for the most part isolated specimen  trees. There is nothing like a grove with continuous tree canopy, under which people could walk and sit. But closer inspection shows life proceeding even under impoverished conditions. I have on perhaps three occasions in the past half-year encountered a brown rabbit, at the south end of the park, in the late evening or early night. This is surely the same rabbit as one is liable to meet on Sussex, Fesserton, or similar streets a little farther south. I have also on one occasion, well after sunset, encountered a skunk. 

I always address the rabbit in Estonian, politely calling it  "Jänku" ("Bunny"), and trying (so far in vain) to establish bilateral diplomatic relations. In the case of the skunk, on the other hand, I felt a rapid retreat to be more prudent than an attempt at liaison - perhaps particularly since the skunk, far from freezing into rabbit-like immobility, was making its way toward me along the paved path at a quite determined trot or jog, in the manner of a dog seeking a head-rub. 


To gain the full value of our parklet in its poverty, one must visit it repeatedly, as the seasons advance. 

I have already shown, in a cellphone photo accompanying my posting of 2016-05-23 or 2016-05-24, a tree in spring blossom, on wasteland ("brownland") just outside the chainlink fence that marks the parklet's western edge. Within the parklet itself, near its western-edge chainlink, one is struck by changes in wildflower blossom. Abutting the chainlink is a ribbon of scrub, or of micro-prairie, which the Town is fortunately keeping unmowed. The roughness of the ground is likely to be benefiting the rabbit and skunk, and certainly is generating a lively seasonal succession in blossom. 

From late srping, I seem to recall a big expanse of dandelion, looking spooky as the yellow petals disappear and the hundreds or thousands of fragile parachute-sporting seedballs expand, awaiting suitable breezes. 

In high summer, the rough ground harbours Queen Anne's Lace, and also a surprisingly long and broad expanse of thistle. 

Now, with summer ending, comes a time of special visual interest. The goldenrod is beginning. Soon, if  I recall this ground accurately from previous years, there will also be asters. Perhaps nothing in the common flora of southern Ontario's generally bleak suburbs - unless, of course, it be the flaming of maples -  is more vivid than that juxtaposition of aster with goldenrod. 


My first good look at goldenrod this season was in afternoon sunshine last week, around 2016-09-09. I noticed on that occasion a thing I have not noticed before, namely the variety of insects interested in the butter-yellow florets. I saw ants (to my surprise, in my entomological naiveté; do they not, I ignorantly ask, stick to ground level?), plus bumblebees, plus perhaps solitary bees. I also noted what were surely wasps. 

Wasps we may consider a little depressing, as we recall their fondness for decaying fruit, along with their alleged ability to pierce the skins even of hanging apples. But trying to find something to say in their honour, I do recall also the presence in the University of Toronto's "Gerstein Information Centre", somewhere on invertebrate-zoology shelves, of a book with a title redolent of Downton Abbey - Ormerod's British Social Wasps

Such are one's little episodes of hookey, one one steals temporarily away from the maths desk, and therefore temporarily away from Moise's Elementary Geometry from an Advanced Standpoint or Munkres's Topology


One looks above all in such excursions for the common honeybee. 

The honeybees, as opposed to the mere solitary bees, assemble in municipalities of 20,000 or 60,000 or so - in manmade boxes if they are lucky, or in hollow tree trunks if they are less lucky, and in either case building great municipal subdivisions in wax. The hexagon of their comb cell, it is said, proves to be a uniquely efficient geometrical shape for the partitioning of storage space. 

In the colony, however, there is not Mathematics alone, but additionally Linguistics. 

Scout bees return from great distances, even from as far as 5 or 10 kilometres, communicating news of food sources through complex waggle dances. Different honeybee strains are said to dance in different ways, even as different groupings of Homo sapiens speak differently - here the Algonquin speech, over there the Celtic or the Fenno-Ugric. I have indeed had it asserted to me - perhaps some day I can try reading up on this - that scouts subjected to a drug which in humans alters the mood have been observed to give false dance-reports, exaggerating in their dancing the excellence of the food sources they have discovered. 

Of the several honeybee species known, the most familiar is Apis mellifera ("mel" = "honey"; "fero/ferre/tuli/latum" = "I bear-as-a-load," "I carry," "I bring"). So I was most anxious last week to see, if I could, not only the bumblebees, and those much-denigrated denizens of Downton Abbey, but also Apis mellifera. Although visually impaired and unfortunately playing hookey from mathematics with the wrong spectacles from my spectacle pair, I think I did get one sighting. My seeming success called to mind a sighting, I suspect also of Apis mellifera, which I had made a few months before, in low white weed blossoms beside a sidewalk near or on Fesserton. 


So now the question arises: are we lucky enough to have, somewhere in the south end of Richmond Hill, some actual colony of Apis mellifera? I imagine this, if it exists, to be a wild colony, not the (bylaw-contravening?) secret joy of some backyard apiarist. As I imagine it, it is a small but valiant colony, struggling against all odds in some such thing as an abandoned packing crate. It labours in defiance of the oncoming Richmond Hill winter, and in defiance of possible predators, shoring up its city's gaping defences with appropriate combinations of wax and propolis ( 

But I could be wrong. 

Beekeeping is surely legal in the north of Richmond Hill, where there is still a little farming, and where properties can be big. Perhaps the few foragers I have encountered come not from some nearby, struggling, small, hidden colony, but from some thoroughly commercial apiary, five or more kilometres to the north, high on the Oak Ridges Moraine, where Richmond Hill abuts Aurora. 


With Apis mellifera under siege from Colony Collapse Disorder, both in Ontario and farther afield, we must do what we can for the welfare of the species. 

(1) It would be useful for people in Richmond Hill at least to study what pollinators are present from month to month on the local succession of bloom. A formal Staff Report by the municipality is one possibility. (And I will therefore try to bring this blog posting to the notice of our town's Community Services deparrtment.) 

In all civic matters, responsibility must, however, be taken as much as possible out of the hands of government, being placed instead into the hands of duly competent, albeit where necessary appropriately government-supervised, volunteers. A few years ago, a member of the Richmond Hill Naturalists ( set an example through her inventory of David Dunlap Observatory and Park lepidoptera. 

Further, (2) it would be useful for municipality and residents to consider the legal possibilities of beekeeping. 

There are bound to be restrictions on the proximity of hives to residences. But is it, perhaps, legally possible, maybe even under some mild Variance, to put a hive or two into our own Centre Street-to-Crosby linear park, perhaps at the initiative of the high school at the park's southern entrance? Or if this really is not legal, even under creative Variance, then could a hive or two go into the Mill Pond Park, or into Phyllis Rawlinson Park, or into the emerging rump park (the 42-hectare portion, out of a 77-hectare total, presently saved from the developer's bulldozers) at the David Dunlap Observatory? 

I have cited one high school as a possible leader in a possible small beekeeping project. Advice and assistance from the Town would be appropriate, provided assistance could be rendered without burning up more than a few hundred taxpayer dollars - i.e., without burning up more than a small amount of Staff time, and without adding more than some small kilometrage to odometers in the fleet of municipal vehicles.  

The conventional Langstroth hive is of course a possibility for a beekeeping team, such as a biology class. 

A more exciting possibility, however, is the Warré have, in which bees are left free to build comb in any cell sizes they choose, without being constrained by Langstroth's factory-stamped wired-wax sheets of "comb foundation".

In either case, some thought should be given to making an "observation hive", with one side in glass or plexiglass. Due attention would have to be given to interior illumination, perhaps with a row of light-emitting diodes wired into the hive, and with terminals brought to the hive exterior, for connection at viewing time to a battery pack. Due attention would also have to be given to thermal insulation, since an unprotected pane of glass would leak heat hopelessly in the winter, freezing the colony. It might be enough to have a removable thick wooden panel or wood-styrofoam-wood sandwich panel, covering the glass at all times except when the battery pack is connected for the making of visual observations.

A school might also be well advised to have a thermometer port - i.e., an aperture in the hive top surface, normally closed with some stopper arrangement that prevents heat leaks, but able to be opened up for the temporary insertion either of a thermocouple digital-temperature probe or of an immersible all-glass thermometer. (The all-glass instrument would be a thermometer of the type that Efston Science in Toronto used to market for around 15 CAD, confining its error to perhaps within plus-minus 0.5oC, or at any rate likely to within plus-minus 1oC: I don't know about you, Gentle Reader, but I find such Victorian instrumentation more reassuring, because more evident in its principles of operation, than electronics.) The insertion of a thermometer, whether of contemporary or of more austerely Victorian design, would be interesting in the coldest part of February, as demonstrating the colony's ability to keep its temperature above freezing. It would again be of interest outside the school year, in the hottest part of July, as demonstrating the colony's ability to keep things cool: upon measuring, or from reading learning, the melting point of beeswax, one makes a rather sobering deduction regarding the hive-interior temperature above which a summertime colony cannot safely rise. It is small wonder that a colony in summer undertakes a kind of air conditioning, fanning its air with wings. - Some recent research in colony temperature regulation, including the surprising discovery that among a colony's various professions is the role of "heater bee", is summarized at

If the bee-colony project, whether conducted along Langstroth or along Warré lines, also generates some honey and wax for some humans somewhere (for some parents of school pupils, for instance?), so much the better. Here, as in so much of agriculture, the ideal must be a partnership between humans and non-human fauna, working in symbiosis. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are moderated. For comment-moderation rules, see initial posting on this blog (2016-04-14).