If you want your fruit trees to boom in the summer, raising mason bees might be the best buzz available.
Bob Logue, mason bee expert, knows how much the insects can make a difference in an orchard.
When he first started raising mason bees 15 years ago, his fruit production "went nuts," he said. Logue will give a lecture on how to begin a program of raising mason bees at 10 a.m Saturday, Jan 31.
Wild Birds Unlimited in Gardiner will host the event for a suggested donation of $5 for two people. Donations will go toward a community education fund benefiting the Northwest Raptor Center in Sequim.
The lecture will cover the how-to basics of making and maintaining mason bee habitats and provide general information on the bees themselves. Free materials, handouts and a question and answer session will be available after the lecture.
Christie Lassen, owner of Wild Birds, senses immediacy in the need for more people to raise bees. "So much depends on the bee species if we lose their populations," Lassen said.
She approximates that at least half of the bees in the state of Washington failed to pollinate and propagate in 2008. She attributes most of the decline to the use of pesticides.
Logue says this decline mainly is found in honeybees and that the mason bee population actually is going up.
"They reproduce exponentially," Lassen says.
Boxes for honeybees in the Northwest require maintenance due to mildew and mold. Logue and Lassen feel keeping mason bees is easy and low maintenance.
Wild Birds Unlimited receives its bees in tiny cardboard tubes from a distributor who raises bees in the Edmonds and Clallam County areas. Lassen has ordered 200 tubes for customers with each tube holding seven to 10 bees.
When the temperature is at or above 55 degrees consistently, typically mid-March, bees will rise from hibernation and begin propagating and pollinating. Typical habitats have PVC piping filled with the tiny cardboard tubes so the bees have a place to live and reproduce for years to come.
Lassen owns what she describes as "Lego pieces" of recycled plastic with small holes similarly sized to the tubes. These work the same and are easy to clean out, she says.
Logue says the project is a great activity for youths in 4-H and just for fun. His presentation will "never be above their heads," he says.
"This is a great way to give back," Lassen said.
"If they want to increase their fruit production at home without a lot of hassle, then they should come," Logue says.
_ According to the book, "The Orchard Mason Bee," the average mason bee pollinates 1,600 flowers per day with a success rate of 90 to 95 per cent.
_ Honeybees visit 700 flowers per day with a pollination success rate of 5 percent.
_ Female mason bees do all the pollinating and males live only to propagate.
_ Females live eight to 12 weeks and males live three to six weeks.
_ A sting from a mason bee is less troubling than a mosquito bite.
_ Males don't have stingers but females do.
_ They are not an aggressive type of bee; in 15 years, Logue never has been stung
by a mason bee.
The Sequim Gazette is located at 147 W. Washington Street in Sequim.
Business hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Phone 360-683-3311, or toll free at 800-829-5810. FAX 360-683-6670.
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