If you were a Mason bee, you’d want a friend like Thyra McKelvie.
She loves these gentle bees, has created videos promoting them in the home garden (youtube.com/c/RentMasonBees/videos) and can check off their attributes faster than you might remember them. She wants you to be a fan of theirs, too, Hot News Today.
“My big platform is to teach, teach, teach,” she says. “More people need to know that all pollinators need the attention they deserve. They work so hard for our planet and solitary bees are incredible.”
McKelvie is a spokesperson for Rent Mason Bees, a Washington state, family-owned company that rents and ships Mason bees to pollinator-loving gardeners.
“We’re the only company in the country that offers a way to be involved in your food sources and promote healthier urban and rural ecosystems with a minimal commitment,” she says.
So while gardeners can purchase solitary bees and houses, they also have to clean the cocoons, remove predators that can decimate solitary bee populations and sanitize the boxes.
Renting a kit from Rent Mason Bees gives gardeners the benefits of pollination without the annual maintenance work, Hot News Today.
“Host” families simply hang the nesting block in a sunny south-facing location, with the tube of cocoons, when they receive the kit in the spring and send the house and nesting block back in fall.
“The success of our program starts as soon as you release solitary bees back out into the environment,” McKelvie says. “By hosting bees, you will help solitary bee populations, which have been on the decline and enrich your habitat.”
Mason bees are “adorable little bees gaining popularity with gardeners and farmers because of how easy they are to care for and their incredible pollination skills,” she says. “Before honeybees were brought over from Europe, native bees pollinated our continent and helped our habitat grow.”
Unlike honeybees that collect pollen on their back legs,” Mason bees belly flop onto flowers and collect pollen all over their bodies,” she says. “This enables them to pollinate 95% of the flowers they land on, and they can visit over 2,000 flowers a day.”
This helps honeybees.
“Honeybees are overworked in the pursuit of keeping up with our high demands for food,” McKelvie says. “By using more solitary bees on our farms, we can lessen the stress on the honeybee populations and utilize the amazing hardiness of solitary bees to keep our grocery stores stocked with fruit, Hot News Today.”
Native to North America, Mason bees are solitary bees, so they live alone, forage for their own food, find their own nest and each female lays her own eggs.
“Without a hive or a queen to protect, they are non-aggressive, low-maintenance and are known as the ‘stingless’ bee,” says McKelvie, adding that they are friendly and easygoing. “They are safe around people and pets and you don’t need protective gear when you’re around them.
“You can stand right next to their nesting block and watch them work. It’s a fun way to teach kids about pollinators and get them involved in nature.”
Male Mason bees, she points out, do not have a stinger and the females will only sting if trapped or squeezed.
“If you accidentally squish one, it feels more like a pinch or mosquito bite, and they do not have the venom that causes anaphylactic shock or an allergic reaction,” she says.
Here are some other fun facts from McKelvie:
• There are about 140 species of Mason bees and 242 species of leafcutter bees that are native to North America.
• Mason bees are spring pollinators and emerge from hibernation in early spring. They will seek pollen and nectar and stay within 200 to 300 feet from where they emerged during their short life.
• Their mandibles are too weak to cut wood, so they search for hollow stems or pre-made holes.
• Once they’ve found their nesting cavity, they seal the end with mud and build a series of chambers that each include an egg, pollen loaf and another mud wall. They repeat this about seven times in each nesting cavity.
• The egg hatches into a larva, consumes the pollen loaf, spins a silken cocoon, transforms into a pupa, hibernates, and emerges as an adult bee in spring.
• A Mason bee lays about 15 eggs in its lifetime and will die four to six weeks after emerging.
• The blue orchard Mason bee has a greenish iridescent sheen on its back and is often mistaken for a housefly.
• Like Mason bees, leafcutter bees are also solitary native bees but, but instead of weaving a cocoon, they “overwinter in their ‘sleeping bag’ and emerge the following summer,” McKelvie says. “Sleeping bags” are created when the female bee wraps the egg in masticated pieces of leaves or flower petals.
Rent Mason Bees’ Mason bee kits ($60) include a Mason bee house, nesting block, bag of clay, pollinator flower seeds, and 50 to 60 Mason bee cocoons sent in spring.
The pollinator package ($95) includes both Mason and leafcutter bees and nesting blocks.
(Readers can use “Marin22” as a coupon code for a 10% discount off a pre-order.)
Rent Mason Bees also offers free printable online worksheets and workbooks for children at rentmasonbees.com/school-programs and educational videos at youtube.com/c/RentMasonBees/videos.
If you have a beautiful or interesting Marin garden or a newly designed Marin home, I’d love to know about it.
Please send an email describing either one (or both), what you love most about it, and a photograph or two. I will post the very best ones in upcoming columns. Your name will be published and you must be over 18 years old and a Marin resident.
PJ Bremier writes on home, garden, design and entertaining topics every Saturday. She may be contacted at P.O. Box 412, Kentfield 94914, or at [email protected].