As you stroll the grounds of Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, it’s easy to get lost among the lush forests and blooming flower gardens, but there’s more than restful beauty at work here.
Key to the Reserve’s purpose is Conservation & Stewardship, and in the spring and summer, that means supporting the many pollinators like honeybees and mason bees that are vital to native plant populations and fundamental crops.
“The many native herb, shrub, and tree species growing in and around our wetlands and wildflower meadow depend upon robust pollinator populations for their ability to set seed and perpetuate themselves,” says Haley Wiggins, who manages the Buxton Bird Marsh and Pollinator Meadow.
Local beekeeper Bryan Kramer has more than 15 honeybee hives at the Reserve, with four visible to the public and the others tucked away in more inconspicuous spaces.
“I just got fascinated by the bees. You have to be patient and you have to be calm – they can sense when you’re not calm,” Kramer says about beekeeping. And besides mason bees, “honeybees are one of the main crop pollinators – they’re very important for fruit industry, seed producers and others.”
Of course, Kramer’s honeybees also produce highly desirable honey, some of which will be donated to the Reserve for the enjoyment of staff and friends.
Despite the recent emphasis on supporting bee populations, misconceptions still remain, with many people confusing bees with wasps and hornets. The latter two are much more likely to sting, for example, as bees are typically more focused on their own work than worrying about us, says Kramer, who also undertakes bee education and outreach.
“One of the things that really surprised me is that a bee is an individual, but the colony is a super-organism; the bee understands that what’s most important is the survival of the whole colony.”
Meet the hard-working native Mason Bee
Honeybees are actually just one of more than 25,000 bee species worldwide, Kramer notes, with Washington state home to about 600 native bee species, including super-industrious mason bees that also have a home at the Bloedel Reserve.
Mason bees are solitary – meaning they live alone, not in a hive, forage for their own food, find their own nest and each female lays her own eggs – but they’re busy nonetheless, explains the Bothell-based team at Rent Mason Bees.
In fact, with a mason bee visiting up to 2,000 flowers a day, 400 mason bees will do the pollination work of 40,000 honeybees, making them essential friends of farmers and home gardeners alike.
The Bloedel Reserve hosts mason bee homes in four areas, thanks to Rent Mason Bees, which rents early-to-emerge mason bees and later leafcutter bees to orchardists, farmers and home gardeners, who can rent a mason bee kit to pollinate their yard and help increase solitary bee populations. In the fall, hosts return their nesting block to be harvested and cleaned to rid them of harmful pests and predators – a critical step when raising mason bees.