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Mason bee houses create a buzz in New West parks

Surrey man’s passion project supports New Westminster’s pollinator programs and helps with plant planning

The City of New Westminster has put out a welcome mat to mason bees – and they’re creating quite a buzz.

As a way of highlighting the importance of mason bees – and all bees – for food supply and for the environment, Surrey resident Werner Klann has provided the city with mason bee houses and mason bees. This spring, 19 houses have been set up in city parks from Queensborough to Sapperton.

“The mason bee is probably the best spring pollinator because they don’t collect honey like honeybees do; all they do is pollinate and lay their larva and create the next crop of mason bees for the next season,” he said. “There is no queen – they are all self-employed.”

Klann founded the Mason Bee Company, which aims to save the environment – one bee at a time.

“Out of every three bites of food that we take, one is pollinated by bees,” he said. “So that’s a big deal.”

A former contractor, Klann became interested in mason bees after retiring about 14 years ago. He tried golfing and other hobbies, before a friend told him about mason bees – and started him on the path of building mason bee houses, offering workshops and doing whatever he can to educate people about the importance of mason bees.

“They have a 97 per cent success rate in pollinating, where your honey bees are in the high 50s,”he said. “One mason bee will out-pollinate 600 or 700 honeybees. One mason bee! That’s how good they are with pollination.”

Klann stresses that mason bees are safe for people to have in their yards. He said the males don’t have stingers (and die after mating) and the females have a stinger but it’s mild – as he discovered when he sustained his first-ever sting a few weeks back.

“They are docile and independent,” he said. “If they do sting, it is like a mosquito bite. It’s not like a major bee bite.”

Klann knows of people who have placed mason bee houses on a small balcony and have had no issues.

“You can sit next to them and they will never bother you,” he said. “You can have a meal, you can have a drink. The odd time one might land on you, but don’t even bother with it because it will not sting you.”

Klann started off by building mason bee houses, which he provides at no cost to cities, including New West, Surrey, White Rock, Langley and Abbotsford so they can place them in parks and educate people about the importance of mason bees. He’s also sold some of his houses to nurseries in the region – not as a money-maker but as a way of recouping some of the costs of building the houses and buying mason bees.

“I bought a lot of bees last year and other years, because I never had enough of my own,” he said. “We are getting more and more now. But this is going to be a bad year for bees; it’s very cold.”

Weather woes

Klann estimates he put about 6,000 mason bees into his houses this year, but likely lost about 2,000 because of the cool spring weather.

“I put them out early this year when the weather looked like it was going to be nice, and then it got really cold. Then my bees emerged, but the flowers and plants didn’t blossom as quickly as I thought they would,” he said. “So, when the bees emerged they had no food and they flew away, and when they flew away they probably starved to death.”

While the mason bees tend to stay inside their houses on cool, cloudy or rainy days, Klann said they emerge on nicer days – flying “like rockets” and pollinating fruit trees and flowers within a 300-foot radius.

“When it is cold like that, there are no bees flying at all,” he said. “If they are flying, they are pollinating.”

Klannn said one of his dealers told him he’s unlikely to be able to sell him any bees next year because of this year’s weather.

“This year was the worst year for bees,” he said. “Everybody has got the same problem.”

Fearful for their future

Klann regularly visits his mason bee houses to see what’s happening inside and to check for intruders. His specially-designed mason bee houses include Plexiglas topped trays, so he can see how much larva the females are laying and if intruders like the Houdini fly are making their way inside.

“The Houdini fly is just as bad for the mason bee as the (murder) hornet is for the honey bees. It kills off everything,” he said. “That’s why it is so important to take your houses apart and clean them out. If you don’t do that you are just killing the mason bees off.

If action isn’t taken to help mason bees fight off their predators, Klann fears that mason bees in nature will be eliminated within 10 years.

In addition to removing predators that destroy the bees, Klann will also remove this year’s cocoons from the houses and store them in special coolers. In the spring he’ll bring some of the bees back to New Westminster and place them in the homes that will once again be set up in parks.

New West accommodations

Klann is thrilled with the response he’s had from New Westminster Parks and Recreation – and from local residents.

“I have got bee houses in most of the parks because the city is so supportive, and the public is too,” he said. “Every time I go there to check on them, I’m always there for a good part of the day; I never get out because people, they stop and they thank you. They are excited about the bees.”

Of all the cities he’s dealt with through his mason bee program, Klann said he’s received the most support from New West. The city has helped by putting up and monitoring the bee houses.

Dan Jokic, the city’s superintendent of parks operations, said the mason bees are a good fit with other initiatives being undertaken in the city, such as pollinator gardens. He said the houses are placed in locations where there are plenty of early spring flowers.

“The mason bees are a spring pollinator,” he explained. “We have many species of pollinators that we cater to – we try to keep it going all seasons. These particular ones are the early spring flowers.”

Jokic said the city benefits by gaining a better understanding of the types of plant choices that are mason-bee friendly.

“We have actually had some surprises in that way,” he said. “Areas, like the waterfront, where we have lots of flowers, we learned some lessons – that we can make some better plant choices.”

Jokic said the city has received a lot of positive feedback from residents, who are excited that the city is supporting mason bees in city parks and is supporting pollinators with its plant choices.

“For us, he’s kind of providing us with a service. It’s letting us know how we are doing and it’s educating people,” he said. “We have learned that in a lot of our areas we don’t have enough spring-pollinating plants, so that’s why we are talking about having some no-mow areas or areas that we don’t mow until later in the summer. It’s like real-life evidence of how we are doing.”

Next year

Folks who spot mason bee houses in city parks, including the rose garden at Queen’s Park and near Century House in Moody Park, may be in for a bit of a show.

“People love watching them,” Klann said. “I’d rather watch them than watch television. I never get enough of it. Whenever I see a lot of bees flying in and out of the house, I am so excited. Go girls go.”

But the mason bees’ days are now coming to a close for spring 2022.

“They will usually be done somewhere by the end of June. This year they might be longer,” Klann said. “People put them out later because of the weather, so they might run a little further than June, a little bit later. Normally by the end of June, if you don’t see any activity around your house that means they have probably died off already.”

But, like the mason bees, Klann and the Mason Bee Company will be back in New West next spring – even cutting his winter holiday short by a month so he can return in time to deliver the bees.

“It’s all about education. That’s my goal,” he said. “The bees are a very, very important project. If you don’t have bees, you are done.”