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Help the dwindling NW bee population by renting a bee house for your yard

Beekeeper Siobhan Hutchison (Sunflower Bee Company) tends to The Common Acre honeybees in the Sea-Tac flight path. (Rachel Belle, KIRO Radio)

We’re right smack dab in the middle of bee season and hives full of of honeybees are buzzing in a pretty unexpected place — the flight path at Sea-Tac airport. Non-profit The Common Acre made a deal with the Port Commission to host honeybees, study wild, native bees and plant more native plants on 80 acres of their land to provide more food for dwindling bee populations.

“This habitat is unique because it was once a golf course,” explained The Common Acre’s executive director Allison Rinard as we stood in a field with bees buzzing nearby and planes flying overhead.

“What we’ve done here so far is remove a lot of that turf and what we’ve found from our bee studies is about 80 percent of our local bees actually nest underground,” she said. “So just removing our turf grass meant they have a lot more areas to create nests. So we saw an immediate increase in the nesting sights. Whereas usually these kind of habitat strategies are looking at three to five years for results. So it was really exciting to see immediate results in the bees.”

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Since 2014, Rinard says they’ve discovered more than 100 species of bees and those populations have increased significantly. The Common Acre is hoping to encourage airports everywhere to use their open space to support bees and, in turn, local food systems.

Rent a bee hive

Meanwhile, if you’d like to help bolster bee populations you can do it in your own backyard with Rent Mason Bees.

“How do you rent a bee?” laughed operations specialist and biologist, Olivia Shangrow. “We work with mason bees which are a native bee here in the Pacific Northwest. Basically, how our program works is we provide the nesting material, the bee cocoons, everything you need to successfully host bees for the spring season. So you get the pollination, you get to watch the bees flying around and then you return the nesting material to us at the end of the season and we take care of the bees for the rest of the year and then offer them to local farms as pollinators.”

The cool thing about mason bees is they don’t sting. Which makes them totally safe to buzz around your yard where kids and pets might play.

“They are fantastic pollinators so if you have anything that’s fruit producing in your yard like blueberry bushes or fruit trees, they will definitely help you grow more food,” Shangrow said. “And they’re a native bee which means they’re also going to be pollinating a lot of our native trees and shrubs around the Pacific Northwest, which lends to the overall health of our ecosystems.”

If you choose to rent mason bees, you’ll get a small 6″x3″ bee house filled with everything they need. The bees will lay their eggs in the box this spring and die by June. Over the summer their babies will grow inside the cocoons, they’ll hibernate in the fall and when winter comes you’ll send your box back to Rent Mason Bees so they can take care of the bees until they’re ready to hatch next spring.

“There’s only a couple of things that you need to provide for the bees to be successful,” Shangrow said. “The first is you want to find a sunny spot to hang your bee house. All of the bee kits come with a little hook on the back, all you need is a nail to hang it up. The bees will also need some pollen sources. Could be an apple tree or a blueberry bush but it could also be our native Bigleaf maple tree or dandelions or anything else that’s blooming during the springtime.”

“The final thing you need to provide for them is a source of mud. So they’re called a mason bee because after laying their eggs in these holes, they use little mouthfuls of mud to create little mud walls to protect those developing bees. So we tell people to dig a hole in your yard and keep it muddy throughout the spring season so the bees have what they need.”

Thousands of people are participating in the bee rental service, the only one of its kind in the country. Rent Mason Bees is based in Seattle, but they can ship bees to households across the country, except in the southwest where the climate is too hot.

“We have been able to at least double our bee population every year even on a not so great weather year,” Shangrow said.

Right now is prime bee season and the perfect time to rent a bee house. They can mail one to you or there are a couple of pickup locations this weekend.

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