With Spring in full swing and lots of blossoms at the Bloedel Conservatory, it is a perfect time to introduce Mason Bees into the lush iconic dome. Mason Bees are an early Spring pollinator. Unlike Honey Bees that live and work in a community, Mason Bees are solitary. Because there is no Queen bee, they do not sting. This makes the Mason Bee ideal for public places where visitors of every age can be in close proximity to observe their work.
Mason Bees are considered superior pollinators (especially for fruit trees), true “work horses” of the garden. They are a fast bee, visiting approximately 17 blossoms per minute. In fact 1 mason bee pollinates as many flowers as 100 honey bees! This is encouraging many people to introduce these bees to their own gardens by providing man-made nesting sites like the one seen below.
Mason Bees emerge from their cocoons in the spring. The male bees are the first to come out of the nest. They remain near the nest waiting for the females. When the females emerge, they mate, then the females begin provisioning their nests. Every female bee is fertile. In nature, she makes nests in long cylindrical holes about the size of a pencil – typically in hollow twigs or abandoned nests of wood-boring beetles or carpenter bees.
Females visit flowers to gather pollen and nectar. A mother bee then lays a single egg in a nesting tunnel and deposits a ball of gathered pollen and nectar for food when that egg hatches. Next, she builds a wall from mud or clay to close that chamber before laying the next egg and depositing the next food ball. Building these walls are how Mason Bees got their name!
Amazingly, the mother bee can control the DNA to produce approximately 50% males and 50% females. Once a bee has finished with a nest, she plugs the entrance to the tube, and then may seek out another nest location. Each female can lay approximately 25 eggs. By the end of June, the nesting period is over. By late October or early November, the lavae pupate and spin silken cocoons within the nest chamber where they will lie dormant over the winter months.
Pollinators have declined in many areas but the exact causes are not known. Factors include habitat changes from growing cities, spread of disease (mites and viruses), and pesticide use.
The Pollinator Project, started in Vancouver in April of 2014, by the Parks Board and City Council, aims to make Vancouver parks and gardens friendlier to all bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Staff began work with stewardship groups and community gardeners to raise public awareness about the value of pollinators, to facilitate habitat enhancement projects, and to assess and monitor pollinator populations. Staff also collaborated with the Environmental Youth Alliance and Hives for Humanity to help promote pollinators across the city. For more information, visit the Pollinator Project at: http://vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/pollinator-project.aspx
When sourcing out pollinator friendly plants for your own garden, please avoid plants and seeds sprayed with nicotine-based insecticides (neonicotinoids). These will kill the beneficial bees and butterfly pollinators along with unwanted pests. Man-made mason bee nests, cocoons and supplies can be found at many local garden and wild bird stores in the Vancouver area.