February 26, 2015

Featured Guest Interview with Mason Bee Expert and Owner of "Crown Bees", Dave Hunter

Photo copyright Lisa Scherer

You may already know about bumble bees and honey bees, but have you heard about solitary bees? They are bees that do not live in a colony but rather on their own, and they do not have a queen and worker bees. Most solitary bees are native. 

I'd like you to meet Dave Hunter, owner of 'Crown Bees." He is very knowledgeable about  native bees and educates the public on the importance of native bees in our environment. 

A little about Dave in his own words:

Image copyright Crown Bees

As I left the real estate sector in 2008, I investigated the mason bee business and found that it slightly existed, but wasn't taken seriously yet.  Why not?  I was able to find a ton of research that touted the capabilities of this awesome pollinator, but little acceptance. 

Since then, we've been instrumental in founding the commercial mason bee organization, Orchard Bee Association, and have launched a company, Crown Bees, that will revolutionize how the world will gain food through alternate pollinators like the mason bee.

Our model is simple.  Working through online and nursery sales, we'll help the backyard gardener become successful raising the mason bee.  We do this through quality bees and equipment plus our monthly Bee-Mail, that provides tips and advice for the gardener's success.  As the gardener begins to have too many mason bee cocoon's, we're buying these cocoons back to re-home to other gardeners and ultimately to regional orchards.  This spring, in concert with peers of ours, we will have about 500,000 mason bees into about 500 acres of apples, cherries and pears.

As the population of gardeners raising bees becomes more prolific, we hope to help augment 500,000 acres with about 500 million raised mason bees. 

Image copyright Crown Bees

What are mason bees and how are they different than the more popular honeybees?

Mason bees are a gentle solitary bee where every female is a queen.  They live for just 6 weeks (like most all bees do) and just pollinate.  No honey except from the honey bees!

Besides being a bee that you can hold in your hand (very gentled) they pollinate vastly different than the honey bee.  Mason bees carry their pollen loose on their abdomen.  As they cram as much pollen on their bellies, much pollen falls off.  This maneuver in each subsequent flower leaves tons of pollen behind.  Virtually every flower they land on is pollinated.  Honey bees are great pollen gatherers keeping most pollen on their hind legs.  This sticky pollen carrying method leaves little pollen behind.  Most of the gathered pollen becomes honey.  The honey bee is an awesome honey-making bee!

Have you seen a decline in mason bees due to colony collapse disorder?

Not at all.  Lack of habitat (old gnarly trees) is the biggest issue.  Through providing pollen, holes, and some mud, the bees are able to do quite well.  Gardeners should be able to double the amount of their bees annually.

How can people attract mason bees to their backyards?

If you live in most states and provinces other than humid Florida, the mason bees should exist IF there is viable mud nearby.  Mason bees can't gather mud from sand.  We have mason bees available for sale that will work in most backyards through the US/Canada.  Mud is also available as well!

What equipment is needed to raise bees?

The bees are simple... they need available holes about a pencil width in diameter.  The better holes are about 6" deep and can be opened in the fall to harvest the cocoons from.  Avoid plastic, bamboo, and drilled blocks of wood.  All of these have their issues, but if you can't hold your cocoons in your hands in the fall, you typically have mason bee cemeteries.

Holes, house to keep holes dry, and mud.  There are a few other accessories to help the gardener become successful that you'll find in our website.

How do I get bees?

3 paths... you can buy them from Crown Bees, get them from a friend, or try to wild trap them from around you.

I’ve often heard of beekeepers harvesting mason bee cocoons. Why is this so important to harvest them? 

Pests build up within the holes.  These pests overrun the mason bees causing numbers to drop. We want every bee to survive and harvesting them is one of the best methods.  We teach you how to do this in our Bee-Mail.

How do I protect them in the winter? 

We recommend placing them in your refrigerator.  We have a Humidibee, which protects the bees from getting hydrated.

For those of us who want to become a native beekeeper, what words of wisdom do
you have? 

1.Think through a few simple elements of your   yard.  Bees need pollen/nectar.  That means   flowers from as early as possible to as late as possible. 

2.Think about chemicals.  We’re not saying they’re bad at this point, but be very careful with any broad spectrum insecticides or similar products.  When sprays land on pollen or water supplies, insects that visit these death zones wind up dying, or their offspring die. 

3.Think about removing a bit of lawn and replacing this with food growing plants or native/naturalized plants.

4.Try mason bees out.  They are gentle and easy to raise.  We’ll teach you how through our Bee-Mail and website! 

Thank you, Dave Hunter,  for sharing your knowledge of mason bee-keeping with us. We appreciate all of your hard work and commitment to the bee world. If you’d like to learn more about mason bees and other solitary bees visit www.crownbees.com!

Image copyright Crown Bees