Washington-based Rent Mason Bees makes it easy to host non-aggressive native species over the spring and summer by shipping you a kit with everything you need for just $60.

By Better Homes & Gardens
March 16, 2020
Jeremy Christensen / Getty Images

Bees are crucial pollinators for many plants such as wildflowers, fruits, and vegetables. In addition to planting plenty of flowers that produce pollen and nectar for them to feast on, one of the best ways you can help increase their numbers is to give bees a safe place to live in your yard. That doesn't mean you have to don a veil and set up a hive for honeybees; Rent Mason Bees has made it super easy to play host to gentle native bees that don't need hives. The company will send you simple kits that contain all the supplies you need, which you then send back later in the season so you don't need to deal with maintenance.

Rent Mason Bees will ship either mason or leafcutter bees to you. Both of these species are solitary, meaning they don't form hives like a honeybee colony, and they don't have honey to protect, so they're non-aggressive and won't sting. Instead, they'll just help your garden and plants thrive.

Courtesy of Rent Mason Bees

How to Rent Bees for Pollination

Both mason and leafcutter bee kits are priced at $60 and include a wood house (5 inches wide x 10 inches tall x 8.75 inches deep), a nesting block, a tube with 50 to 60 native bee cocoons, and a bag of powdered clay. All you need to do is hang up the house with a nail or a screw, put the nesting block inside, and remove the sealing tape from the emergence tube that holds the cocoons, setting it next to or on top of the nesting block.

"The key with placement of the house is you want to find a nice sunny spot in your yard, because the bees like the morning sun to warm them up so they can start flying around for the day," says Olivia Shangrow, biologist and operations marketing manager for Rent Mason Bees. The bees also need a mud source, which is where the clay comes in; just dig a hole in your yard, pour the clay inside, and water it every few days so that it stays moist. The mason bees will use it to build walls inside the nesting holes to protect their offspring.

Related: City Dwellers Are Saving Bees and Butterflies from Extinction with Plants—Here's How

Once the house is set up, you can leave the bees to their pollinating work for a while. "The females get about six to eight weeks to fly around and pollinate and lay their eggs, and then by June, the mason bees are done," Shangrow says. "Their lifecycle is over, and now their offspring are developing in those nesting blocks."

At that point, you'll get an email from Rent Mason Bees telling you it's time to take the nesting block out of the house and put it inside your garage or shed. This way, they'll be in an undisturbed spot as the eggs hatch into larvae over the summer, then surround themselves in a cocoon. Then, you'll get another email, usually in September, to tell you that the new larvae should be in cocoons, and it's time to send them back to the company with the provided shipping label (you won't pay anything for return shipping). The company will clean the cocoons and nesting blocks, then overwinter the developing bees in a refrigeration unit.

How Renting Helps the Bee Population

Though many bees from the new generation will go back to Rent Mason Bees, some will also stay in your neighborhood. "Some of the bees will naturally disperse and find other nesting locations in people's yards, which is also really great because that’s helping us to reestablish native bees in their native ecosystems," Shangrow says. "Bees are losing their habitat, so the more bees that we can put out into people's backyards to give them more homes, the happier and healthier our core native populations are going to be."

Even if you don't have a garden, almost anyone can host bees. "We have people who live in apartments who rent from us," Shangrow says. "The bees have a relatively small range that they'll travel, but they will go around your neighborhood." As long as you live on the first or second floor so the bees can travel back to their house, you can rent and host them for the season.

Choosing Between Leafcutter and Mason Bees

So if you want to be a host, how do you choose between mason and leafcutter bees? First, your region might play a role. The company doesn't ship mason bees to the southeastern-most states like Florida, Georgia, and Alabama because it's just too hot and humid for them to thrive, and they'll only ship bees that are already native to your region. Second, mason bees pollinate in the spring, while leafcutters like warmer weather.

"Mason bees are one of the first bees to come out in the early spring, so they can fly at much lower temperatures," Shangrow says. "They can fly in the mid-50s, which makes them ideal pollinators for early spring-blooming plants." Leafcutter bees fly and pollinate in the summer, which makes them especially helpful for vegetable gardens.

Farmers on the West Coast also rent some of the extra bees raised by the company. "Those farmers will use these bees to pollinate their orchard crops to help us grow more fruit," Shangrow says. "What we're also trying to do is alleviate some of the stress on the honeybee population by providing an alternate pollinator to our farms."

If you already have your own bee house, Rent Mason Bees also has leafcutter and mason bee inserts that you can rent. By renting a nesting block and sending it back to them at the end of the season, you don't have to worry about cleaning mud, debris, and mites out of the blocks yourself. Hosting bees this spring and summer is one of the easiest ways you can help local populations rebound, and it'll make your own garden even more beautiful, too.

This article originally appeared on Better Homes & Gardens by Andrea Beck.

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