Friday, March 6, 2015

Mason Beepalooza at John Henderson Elementary: Bees are Life!

The plum trees are blooming in the John Henderson Schoolyard, the Oregon grape shrubs are just starting to show their yellow blooms, and the pieris are coming into flower too.  The pussywillows will soon be producing yellow powdery pollen. That means it's mason bee time! Erin Udal from the Environmental Youth Alliance and Madame Beespeaker spent an inspiring day with students from the school learning all about mason bees so they can install this condo on their school and take good care of their blue orchard mason bees.

The garden club met with us over lunch time and each named a mason bee cocoon becfore putting them in the secret cocoon release compartment in the condominium. Many were named after flowers: daisy, daffodil and rose. It's still a too early to put out the cocoons. I usually wait until I see a mason bee flying in the flowers before putting out cocoons. Master Beekeeper Brian Campbell also suggests putting them out in stages 1/2 early, 1/2 two weeks later, just in case the weather turns bee unfriendly. Most of the trees you see blooming right now are the plums, but when the cherries come into blossom, hopefully it will be warm enough for the mason bees.

Then we acted out the life cycle of the mason bee, the joyful ups and downs growing from egg to larva to pupa, laying eggs, gathering pollen, sipping nectar, and making mud walls to keep our babies safe from woodpeckers.

Each class told us why they were grateful for bees: because  through pollination they provide us with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables for our plates. That's called biodiversity, folks!

The grade 6/7 class made seed packets that would inspire gardeners to plant flowers that feed the bees.

The students came up with some great advertising slogans for their seeds: bees are life!

Erin brought out her fabulous bee box with examples of real bees, wannabees and wasps. Upon discussion we decided that wasps were omnivores rather than carnivores because they sip nectar as well as eating other insects. I've always called wasps carnivores, but I stand corrected. Bees are vegans, wasps are omnivores.

We also planted microgreens with the grades 4/5 which they will water and grow once they get back from spring break. Plants like overwintered broccoli produce flowers in the spring that feed mason bees. Then they produce seeds which you can grow into micro-greens for a nutritious snack. (Radishes are great for bees too).

As we learned, all good things must come to an end, even the sweet little mason bees. (Although not every one gets a proper Christian burial). They only live a few weeks, but they play an important role in keeping our fruit trees brimming with cherries and apples. Thanks bees and bee-lovin' students and thanks to the bee-loved adults who helped make this project possible with a Neighborhood Small Grant.