Mason Bees at the Library


Have you seen this sign around West Vancouver?

The sign above is part of a project aptly named "Bee a Part of Your Community". This project was initially conceived as a way to foster a connection between the students at Collingwood School and the larger North Shore community through art participation. In addition to painting rocks, primary students at Collingwood learned about declining bee populations, how this is effecting global food production and how each of us can take part in conservation efforts.

At the school’s annual April Spring Fair, the pebbles were further embellished with stripes and wings by fairgoers that included participants from 24 other schools and the public. Many of the rocks are decorated with bee facts, jokes and questions that students asked while learning about a few of the over 800 species of native bees in Canada. People are encouraged to interact, pick-up and discover something new about the wonderful and interesting world of bees.

As of June 2018, anyone can visit the finished bee rocks in garden spaces located at the West Vancouver Community Centre, the Ferry Building Art Gallery and on the Storyhouse balcony of the West Vancouver Memorial Library.

 

MASON BEES AT THE LIBRARY

It all started with our Mason Bee tree located on the Storyhouse balcony. Here are our favourite resources for learning about and managing these friendly backyard pollinators! We've included booklists, videos and web resources.  

Storyhouse Mason Bee Tree

(Clockwise from left) Roseanne investigating the Mason Bee Tree. Close-up image of mud plugs protecting newly laid mason bee eggs. Peek-a-boo from a male mason bee taking a break. Freshly hatched bees from the spring cocoon release box.
  

West Vancouver Memorial Library abuzz with Mason Bees

By David Carson

Bee background

Mason bees are powerful little pollinators. Native to North America, these wonder bugs visit an average of 1,600 plants a day and pollinate almost every flower they contact. Mason bees are solitary insects, meaning they have no queen and no colony to speak of. Each female finds her own nesting hole, collects nectar and pollen, and lays her eggs. The insects are also non-aggressive and will not sting like other bees.

All of these characteristics make it easy to raise mason bees at your library. With a few supplies, a suitable environment with easy access to pollen-producing plants, and some tender love and care, your library can offer this sustainable experiential learning opportunity to patrons.

Building buzz at the library

The idea of keeping mason bees at West Vancouver Memorial Library (WVML) started when Circulation staff member Taren Urquhart, who raises mason bees at home, pitched the idea to the library’s Youth Department.

“We are keen to incorporate the unique skills and individual passions of our staff in any project we undertake,” explains Head of Youth Services Shannon Ozirny. “When Taren approached me, I was excited for the experiential learning opportunities the bees could bring. The bees presented an opportunity for patrons of all ages to learn through observation about this little-understood native species. The project promotes being stewards of our environment and opens the door for great educational programming for kids and adults alike.”

A bee’s hole is its castle

A balcony adjoined to WVML’s youth programming space provided the perfect environment to raise the bees: windows and a glass door give the bees privacy while being observed and the balcony’s proximity to a park full of flowering plants provides the bees with a readily abundant food source. Patrons are not permitted to use this balcony, so the bees are undisturbed.

With a location in place, the next step was to build a bee house. Since a major driver behind the bees was the promotion of sustainable initiatives and environmental stewardship, the library’s Maintenance Supervisor Chad Arsenault searched for recycled materials, including:

  • A Douglas fir log salvaged from the West Vancouver Operations Centre, which became the bees’ home base
  • An old library paperback spinner, which provided the structure for standing the log up
  • Decorative flowers forged from copper left over from a roof replacement project
  • More salvaged red and yellow cedar, cut into handmade shingles, which formed the roof

Once built, Arsenault drilled four large holes into the log, fitted each with a tin can, and filled the holes with hundreds of cardboard tubes specially designed to house mason bees. All that was missing were the bees!

Bring on the bees!

In the spring, Urquhart brought the inaugural mason bees wrapped up tight in their protective cocoons. They can also be purchased at most garden stores and cost approximately $1 per bee. These stores also sell the cardboard tubes in which the bees will lay their eggs. For $200, the library purchased enough tubes to supply the bees for the next couple years.

In the spring, the cocoons were placed next to the log, inside a box with two holes cut in the roof. Once the outside temperature reached 12-13 degrees Celsius, the bees emerged from the box to go about their business of foraging and mating. Since then, larval bees have formed cocoons inside the cardboard tubes and are waiting until next spring to hatch as fully developed mason bees.

Watch a video of a female mason bee landing on the Library's Bee tree to construct the final mud plug at the end of her drilled hole.

Bee clean

Keeping mason bees is straightforward. The costs are low and the bees are essentially self-sufficient. Aside from the time and resources to build their home, there is a small amount of maintenance required to maintain healthy populations. Before placing the box of cocoons outside, each cocoon needs to be removed from its cardboard tube, washed under a faucet, and then dipped in a heavily diluted water/bleach mixture—removing any problematic pollen mites from the cocoons.

Bee-themed programming

As part of WVML’s April Earth Month programming, the library ran two bee-themed events to raise awareness about these vital insects. Author Mark Winston, a 2015 Governor General’s Literary Award-winner, discussed his critically acclaimed book, Bee Time, and provided an insightful discussion about the important role that bees play in our lives. This highly successful event increased awareness about the serious challenges facing global bee populations and the implications to our food supply in a world without bees.

The library also held a program for 5-9 year-olds called Bee Aware that focused on experiential learning and got kids excited about raising bees of their own. Participants built homemade bee houses, learned bee facts, and officially welcomed the library’s mason bees to their new home. Library staff are excited to plan more bee programming in the months ahead.

Mason Bee workshops 2018

 

If you would like more information on mason bees please contact Arts and Special Events Programmer, Taren Urquhart at turquhart@westvanlibrary.ca.

Original article above was published in Vol 8 (2016) Issue 3 of BCLA Perspectives

 

Booklists About Bees:

How to Raise Mason Bees & Honey Bees

Stories About Bees (Fiction and Non-Fiction)

Children's Books About Mason Bees & Honey Bees

On the Web

Choosing Plants for Pollinators

This guide is specifically for gardeners and farmers of the Lower Mainland including the Greater Vancouver Area, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Powell River, Harrison Lake, and parts of the Similkameen Valley.

How to Harvest Mason Bee Cocoons

This simple video tutorial will show you how to unravel mason bee tubes, harvest the cocoons and wash them prior to storing them in a Spring release box or tray.

Introduction to Solitary Bees

This short video created by bethinking.com discusses many interesting facts about solitary bees (mason and leafcutter bees), including their life cycles and how the differ from honeybees.

Mason Bee Resource Guide

Resource guide compliled by UBC graduate student, Nicole Read.

Pollinators of Southern British Columbia

Learn about the research taking place at SFU's Pollination Ecology Lab.

Rearing Mason Bees on a Commerical Level

For those interested in learning how commerical farmers are using mason bees to pollinate larger crops like blueberries and almonds, this YouTube video is an excellent resource.

Simple Video of the Mason Bee's Life Cycle

Beautiful macro-photography accompanies this simple yet informative video about the mason bee's life cycle.