Ed Marshall waits for mason bees to emerge from his wooden box full of cocoons. The Port Alberni man raises and sells the bees and wooden mason bee boxes to help pollinate gardens.

The ABC’s of mason bees

An Alberni man cultivates an alternative to honey bees for pollinating flowers and plants - Mason bees.

Ed Marshall grows garlic and other vegetables in his  backyard garden in Port Alberni. But above eye level, he is cultivating another integral part of the growing cycle: mason bees.

Marshall started out with 10 cocoons a few years ago, more out of curiosity and the desire to give nature a helping hand than anything.

“I’ve got thousands now,” he says.

Marshall’s interest in mason bees increased a few years ago, when he began reading more and more about the honey bee crisis—they are dying off by the millions due to Colony Collapse Disorder.

In the past three years, Marshall hasn’t seen one honey bee in his backyard garden. “I’ve seen bumblebees, mason bees and summer bees, but no honey bees,” he said.

Mason bees are smaller than some other bees, and they don’t sting. “Some people mistake them for flies,” he said.

Although honey bees have had a lot of press in the past few years because they are mysteriously dying off, they are not the only bees that pollinate flowers and plants. In the publication Farming for Bees, the author notes bees native to their respective regions are as effective—if not more—than honey bees in pollinating flowers and crops.

For instance, 250 female orchard mason bees can pollinate an acre of apples—a task that would take up to two honey bee hives, or nearly 20,000 foragers. In Nova Scotia, there are 67 species of native bees that pollinate blueberry bushes.

Mason beesIn Port Alberni, the mason bees will last until the beginning of June; then they give way to summer bees, Marshall said.

“These guys are already native to this part of the country,” Marshall said.

Mason bees are also easy to look after: “In nature they look after themselves anyway and they’ve always been here,” he explained.

He said the bees favour sunlight, so many of the bee houses he has up at his home are placed for maximum sun exposure. He says securing them up near the eaves is ideal.

The egg-laying season is relatively short: mason bees began hatching in mid-April and they will be finished by early June. The females lay eggs inside the tubes of a mason bee house, packing mud in between the eggs until the tubes are full.

Mason bee houses can either be turned around to protect the incubating eggs from predators like flickers, or stored in a shed (not in the house) until next spring.

Marshall has his own system for cultivating his mason bees. He lines his houses with homemade parchment paper tubes and in October and November he removes the tubes, takes out the cocoons, washes and separates them (male cocoons are smaller) then stores them in small wooden boxes he buys at the dollar store. “I like to separate them so I know what’s what,” he said. “I know for sure my bees are clean.”

Next March, Marshall can be found at the Farmer’s Market and at Arrowvale Farm Market.

editor@albernivalleynews.com

Twitter.com/AlberniNews

Just Posted

Hurricane Katrina inspires Alberni author’s new novel

Jacqueline Swann brings message of climate change to life with story of fictional journalist

Port Alberni RCMP searching for missing teenage girl

16-year-old Lasheena Seward was reported missing from a group home on May 9

ARTS AROUND: Learn basket weaving at Port Alberni workshop

Campbell River artist Amy Dugas will teach Japanese random weaving techniques

Industrial Heritage Society takes vintage trucks to show in Reno, Nevada

Alberni Valley truckers to promote area’s resource-based heritage

Two Port Alberni dancers headed to provincials

Jordan Simpson and Nyah Fox dance at Elite Dance Academy

Killer of Calgary mother, daughter gets no parole for 50 years

A jury found Edward Downey guilty last year in the deaths of Sara Baillie, 34, and five-year-old Taliyah Marsman

Most British Columbians agree the ‘big one’ is coming, but only 50% are prepared

Only 46 per cent of British Columbians have prepared an emergency kit with supplies they might need

B.C. man to pay Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party $20k over lawsuit

Federal judge shut down Satinder Dhillon’s ‘nonsensical’ motion to bar use of PPC name in byelection

Sitting and sleeping on downtown sidewalks could net $100 fine in Penticton

The measure, which still requires final approval, would be enforced between May and Sept. 30

Survey finds 15% of Canadian cannabis users with a valid licence drive within two hours of using

Survey also finds middle-aged men are upping their usage following legalization

B.C. man killed in logging accident ‘would have done anything for anyone’

Wife remembers 43-year old Petr Koncek, father of two children

Ottawa spending $24.5M to research on health benefits, risks of pot use

$390,000 will fund two cannabis public awareness

Most Read