Mason Bees R Us! by Kelly Maier

April 29, 2020

The KYH is part of a growing community in Kelowna, contributing to the ecological health of our environment by helping conserve pollinators of every stripe.  
Last year our gardeners erected a Mason bee house on the north fence in the back yard of the little house, and after setting out cocoons in the spring, several of us had the great good fortune to see a couple of the little hatchlings emerge from their cocoons! 
People sometimes ask the gardeners what being a “Bee Ambassador” means for KYH.  In short, it means KYH has taken a commitment to help with the conservation of native bees by doing the following: 
Ø  Planting bee-friendly flowers,* native where possible, that bloom from early spring to late fall to feed the bees,
Ø  leaving undisturbed space for bees to make nests in the ground
Ø  stopping or reducing pesticide use,
Ø  spreading the word about becoming Bee Ambassadors.
Each of us can help by…being curious about who the wild bees- where they are, where they live, what they feed on and how they reproduce.  Because as one environmental conservation put it, “How can we protect something we don’t even notice?” When you hear the word pollinator, or  “bee,” what comes to mind? 
I don’t know if bees can do yoga, but here are some tidbits of bee info, for the curious yogis and yoginis in our KYH community:
For most people, bee is synonymous with the iconic yellow or orange and black Bumble bee or the well-loved Honey bee.  But most people don’t yet realize that honey bees are actually not native to North America (they were imported by the early settlers), or that they are only one of the ~20,000 bee species found on the planet!  
I grew up in the Okanagan but only recently learned that the Okanagan is a biodiversity hot spot for native bees.  In the Okanagan valley alone close to 500 species of native bees have been recorded, which is more than half of the 800 bee species in all of Canada!  Or put another way, (especially if some of you are bird nerds, not bee nerds), there are more bee species found in the Okanagan than the roughly 451 bird species in Canada!
Native bees come in all sizes and colour patterns, can be social or solitary, can be gentle or not, primarily live in the ground (70%), but most are unknown or invisible to the average person.  As many people know, native bees are in peril and are dying in droves from habitat loss, pesticide use, mono agriculture and diseases.  Out of this awareness, the question arises, how can humans specifically help native bees, such as Blue Orchard Mason bees, Bumble bees, Metallic Sweat bees, Miner bees, or Leafcutter bees--to name only a very few species? 
The charismatic native Mason bee is smallish (2/3 the size of a honey bee) with an iridescent blue-black or even greenish sheen, a bullet-shaped hairy body and belly, is gentle (won’t sting unless threatened) and is solitary (prepare and provision their nest alone) vs social (have queens and workers).  Like all bee species, Mason bees have four wings, six legs, five eyes, and two antennae.  Mason bees are often mistaken for flies (but flies have only two wings, have short-stubby antennae and ski-goggle eyes that wrap around their head).
In early spring, once the weather has warmed and there is food to eat, overwintering Mason bee cocoons will start to hatch.  The males emerge first and hang around warming up, waiting for the females to emerge.  The fully formed bees chew their way out of the paper-like cocoon--I have had the amazing experience of actually hearing them chew their way out!  It sounds like a bunch of tiny animals chewing crackers!
They mate and the male dies soon thereafter, leaving the impregnated female to begin the new reproductive cycle, which is four-six weeks long.  Mason bees will use reeds, plant stems (like hydrangea) or holes in trees to nest.  Or they sometimes take up residence in human-made nesting houses with straw-like tubes (no less than 6” long) such as we have at the KYH!
Each individual female Mason bee has the sole responsibility of finding a nesting site, laying eggs, provisioning each little cell with food and doing this for 8-10 cells per tube nest with 1-3 tube nests.  They are super single moms!  The mason bee lays female eggs first, closest to the back of the tube, provisions the egg with a ball of food (nectar/protein) and then seals up the little cell with mud—hence the name “Mason Bee.”  The Mason bee is also a super pollinator, with one bee said to pollinate an area it takes 100 honey bees to do!  Early fruit blossoms are a favourite food source—hence the other name they are often known by, that is, the Blue Orchard Mason bee.  The male eggs are laid last and will be closest to the front of the nesting tube with a total of about 8-10 eggs per tube.  Females will fill 1-3 tubes over their short life cycle.
The cocoons develop and overwinter until the cycle begins again in spring when the male Mason bees begin to hatch.        
Yours for keeping the bees,
Kelly Maier, Volunteer Grounds Gardener
Citizen Scientist, Mason Bee Keeper, Artist
PS*Take a list of bee-friendly plants for the south Okanagan! (located by the white board in the big house). I’m attaching the list here for people interested since the Yoga House is temporarily closed

Click this link for the list: :/app/webroot/files/Elle_Bees_Flowers_Okanagan%20(002).pdf


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