If you were a mason bee, you would want a friend like Thyra McKelvie.
She adores these sweet bees, has created videos to promote them in the Home Garden (youtube.com/c/RentMasonBees/videos), and can check their attributes faster than you might remember. She wants you to be a fan of theirs too.
“My big platform is to teach, to teach, to teach,” she says. “More people need to know that all pollinators need the attention they deserve. They work so hard for our planet and the lonely bees are amazing. “
McKelvie is a spokesperson for Rent Mason Bees, a family-owned Washington state business that rents and ships mason bees to pollinator-loving gardeners.
“We’re the only company in the country that offers a way to participate in your food sources and promote healthier urban and rural ecosystems with minimal commitment,” she says.
So, while gardeners can buy solitary bees and houses, they must also clean the cocoons, eliminate predators that can decimate solitary bee populations, and disinfect the boxes.
Renting a kit from Rent Mason Bees gives gardeners the benefits of pollination without the annual maintenance.
‘Host’ families simply hang the nesting block in a sunny south-facing location, along with the tube of cocoons, when they receive the kit in the spring and return the house and nesting block in the fall.
“The success of our program begins as soon as you release solitary bees into the environment,” explains McKelvie. “By housing bees, you will help solitary, declining bee populations and enrich your habitat.
Mason bees are “adorable little bees that are gaining popularity with gardeners and farmers because of their ease of maintenance and their incredible pollination abilities,” she says. “Before honey bees were imported from Europe, native bees pollinated our continent and helped our habitat to develop. “
Unlike bees which collect pollen on their hind legs, “Mason bees fall on the bellies of flowers and collect pollen all over their body,” she says. “This allows them to pollinate 95% of the flowers they land on, and they can visit over 2,000 flowers per day. “
It helps the bees.
“Bees are overworked to meet our high demands for food,” says McKelvie. “By using more solitary bees on our farms, we can reduce the stress on honey bee populations and use the incredible hardiness of solitary bees to keep our grocery stores stocked with fruit.”
Native to North America, mason bees are solitary bees, so they live on their own, seek their own food, find their own nest, and each female lays her own eggs.
“With no hive or queen to protect, they are not aggressive, require little maintenance and are known as ‘stingless’ bees,” McKelvie explains, adding that they are friendly and easy-going. “They’re safe with people and pets, and you don’t need any 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 sting and females will only sting if they are trapped or squeezed.
“If you accidentally crush one, it looks more like a pinch or a mosquito bite, and they don’t have the venom that causes anaphylactic shock or an allergic reaction,” she says.
Here are some other McKelvie fun facts:
• There are approximately 140 species of mason bees and 242 species of leaf cutter bees native to North America.
• Mason bees are spring pollinators and emerge from hibernation in early spring. They will search for pollen and nectar and stay within 200 to 300 feet of where they emerged in their short lifetimes.
• Their mandibles are too weak to cut wood, so they look for hollow rods or prefabricated holes.
• Once they find their nesting cavity, they seal the end with mud and build a series of chambers that each include an egg, a pollen loaf, and another mud wall. They repeat this about seven times in each nest cavity.
• The egg hatches into a larva, consumes the pollen bread, weaves a silky cocoon, transforms into a nymph, hibernates and emerges as an adult bee in the spring.
• A mason bee lays about 15 eggs in its lifetime and will die four to six weeks after emergence.
• The blue mason bee of the orchard has an iridescent greenish sheen on its back and is often mistaken for a house fly.
• Like mason bees, leaf-cutter bees are also solitary native bees, but instead of weaving a cocoon, they “spend the winter in their ‘sleeping bag’ and emerge the following summer,” McKelvie explains. “Sleeping bags” are created when the female bee wraps the egg in pieces of chewed leaves or flower petals.
Mason Bees Rental Mason Bee Kits ($ 60) include a Mason Bee House, Nesting Block, Bag of Clay, Pollinator Flower Seeds, and 50-60 Mason Bee Cocoons sent to spring.
The pollinator package ($ 95) includes both mason and leaf cutter bees and nesting blocks.
(Readers can use “Marin22” as a coupon code for a 10% discount on a pre-order.)
Rent Mason Bees also offers free printable online worksheets and exercise books for kids 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 house, I would love to know.
Please send an email describing one (or both), what you like the most, and a photo or two. I will post the best in future columns. Your name will be published and you must be over 18 and reside in Le Marin.
PJ Bremier writes every Saturday on topics related to home, garden, design and entertainment. She can be contacted at PO Box 412, Kentfield 94914, or at [email protected].