So this post is a bit of a departure from our standard fare. It’s not about food. But yet it is. Because of course, without bees, all those delicious fruits and vegetables we rely on would be a lot fewer and farther between.
Colony Collapse Disorder is not news at this point, but it’s still disturbing, especially its implications for the food supply. Our Aunt Barbara’s response was to try to nurture back nature–so she was excited to invite us over the day after we arrived in Seattle to help “hatch” her newest project, a colony of mason bees.
Mason bees don’t produce honey or beeswax–but it turns out there are a lot of upside to this. Our aunt did her resarch and learned that they are “super-pollinators”–because every female lays eggs, there is no queen bee to collect honey for. They do of course collect pollen, but since there’s not so much hoarding involved, much more of it gets distributed among plants to pollinate. Which of course means fruits, vegetables, and generally helping nature do its thing.
And since they don’t have honey to make or a queen to protect, they don’t tend to attack like the typical honeybee. They can sting, but it’s rare, and if it happens, it typically doesn’t hurt as much as other bee stings.
Obviously (hopefully obviously at least) I wouldn’t be offering up my sons to a hive of potentially skittish, nervous, and therefore liable-to-attack-en-masse insects. Meanwhile, what four year old boy wouldn’t jump at the chance to play with bugs?
So how do you hatch mason bees? The kit came equipped with paper tubes, and our task was to insert one cocoon into each (though we discovered a few had already hatched when we opened the package!) We then slid the tubes into the little wooden hutch (also supplied) that we then hung from our aunt’s porch. Think of each little bee as getting a studio apartment to start its independent life, and the hutch as a sort of apartment complex.
If they like their digs at my aunt and uncle’s in West Seattle, they’ll stay, but otherwise they’ll move on, finding their own new homes in hollow twigs or excavations left by other insects. In fact, as a precondition to getting the bees from the Washington state extension service, our aunt had to research the food supply in her neighborhood and ensure it was adequate.
They don’t just let anyone into the club, it seems. But our aunt and uncle are pretty hospitable folks, so hopefully these new “neighbors” will stick around.
You can link to more information, provided by the extension service, here.