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264. Power Polinators Improve Your Yields | Rent Mason Bees | Rockstar Millennial Olivia Shangrow | Bothel, WA
26th February 2019 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 00:42:22

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Olivia Shangrow is an Awesome Rockstar Millennial and the biologist and operations specialist for Rent Mason Bees. She completed her bachelor of science degree in biology from the University of Washington. She’s passionate about teaching the public about wild bees and her research focuses on increasing the value of rural and urban habitats for native insects.

I can share information on the mason bee lifecycle, what to grow in your garden to support them, and the best ways to care for/host them in your backyard

We’re up north of Seattle in Bothel, we do some propagation in Oregon too!

We travel a lot but when we’re actually hands on in Washington

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’ve always been interested in bees my whole life, myself have been hearing the bees are struggling and our bee populations are down. 

I just decided when I was finishing school I wanted to do more to help bees and that’s how I ended up running a program where I rent bees.

I have to back up a little what made you want to go to college and get a science degree and what about bees? Watching Bee movie?

I think I’ve always loved all types of animals!

I can’t remember when I first decided that I thought bees were awesome! 

I had heard of the honeybee before but I ended up I took a class in between high school and college where I learned about the Mason bee. 

That opened up my world to something I never knew existed. When I went to college I went back and forth between different programs, I finally settled on biology that coupled my love for nature but would help me get a job in the future. I wanted something that was applicable and hands-on

Anytime I got to do any kind of independent focus where I got to pick what I was studying I always chose bees

When I was senior research project

went out to one of the

power pollinator patches

stuck my head in big bushes of flowers and counting the bees


  • honeybees
  • bumblebees
  • anything I could find

had so much fun with all of those projects it landed after I was in college I ended up with a job in bees.

I always say you never know what you are going to learn in college what jobs that you will learn about, I always tell them take any job you can to travel. I got to take a class in Olympia in Washington where we studied starfish and all sorts of cool sea anenomes. I love how you picked places to learn about bees. I don’t actually know anything about mason bees other then their a native bee?

So sure, they’re a native bee found in the US

there are a lot in the pacific northwest, their range is pretty broad.

a bunch of different species

75 different kinds of bees around the area and we focus on one in particular

blue orchard mason bee they are much different from honey bees!

They’re what they call a solitary bee

there’s no queen bee

  • don’t live in a hive
  • don’t make honey
  • all females lay their own eggs

Which makes them non-aggressive so you never have to wry about getting stung!

super pollinators and visit up to 2000 flowers everyday

she’s gonna be flying around visiting fruit trees bushes


Really important for the overall health of our ecosystem because they are pollinating your backyard!

So why renting them? What’s that all about.

And a little about their lifecycle the reason why don’t make honey

hang out in hive eating honey reserves

instead the mason bees are going to hibernate inside their own cocoons in the winter time

How their lifecycle works

  • they’re hybrinating in winter
  • hatch out of their cocoons
  • mid to late march
  • males and females

completing their nesting activity to lay the next generation of bees

looking for little holes in the backyard to lay eggs

  • woodpecker hole
  • hollow stem of bush
  • in between siding of your house

They’re gonna use those small holes that’s what they’re doing in the springtime while doing pollination work laying eggs for next generation

once they’ve done that process they’re done flying around, their life cycle is over

adult bees

so these bees have a lifecycle of one year but we only see them flying around for 7-8 weeks as adult bees

Mason Bees Renting Program

  • provide nesting material
  • adult bee cocoons
  • host them for springtime
  • they get pollination
  • watch the bees flying around
  • some of the bees will return to nesting block

at end of season

original population is over

What they are giving us back is the next generation of bees

We take care of them for the rest of the year

There is a little bit winter maintenance just like a honeybee hive

What we do during the fall

  • take the nesting material out
  • scrape cocoons out
  • wash them they’re waterproof
  • bathe our bee cocoons
  • wash all the nesting material to make sure there aren’t any pests or predators that could be harming the bee populations
  • put them in a walk-in refrigerator to simulate hibernation process

Wow isn’t this fascinating? So do you find you have more success then leaving them out in nature?

We do!

Because we are propagating a large population of bees there are certainthings that can hinder their development

  • pollen mites 
  • chalk brood fungus

can be really harmful

So of course there are bees out in nature  who don’t get washed that are staying dormant in a tree in a backyard

offer to more farmers as an alternative pollinator to alleviate the stress in bee populations

Do they go down in the almond farms in California?

so we actually just starting to pollinate farms with the almonds

Our bees are really great for that


a little bit heartier

can fly at 55º F! 

The don’t  mind it when it as bit windy or rainy so we have seen great success in the almond orchards because often honeybees wont leave their hives in that temperature.

So we’ve had really great success and farmers are seeing an increase in crop yield because these bees don’t mind the cooler temperatures.

One of the other cool things about the program

We’re not putting a bunch of bees in one spot so because we have renters all over the country putting bee kits, not all of the bees are going to return. 

Some are going to naturally disperse and lay their eggs so over time we are seeing native bees being able to repopulate

particularly urban areas where our green spaces are getting smaller and we’re building construction so we’re trying to bring them back to those areas

not only are people getting the pollination

apple tree blueberry bushes

native plants that are growing just in people’s yard

That means that those plants can

  • grow taller
  • grow larger
  • healthier

Which means they are going to be filtering our air and water better

crux at the health of our ecosystems! Really really important for that. They do a lot more then enable us to have fruits and vegetables

doing a lot of good stuff in people’s backyards!

I love that if you have a flower garden you don’t realize how much your garden is going to bloom and I’ve had lots of guests talk about bees made their vegetables thrive so much and when we were at the Brooklyn Grange the pollinator border was just so pretty and cool! I know it was there to encourage pollination and beneficials.

so how does it work? Do you ship them? 

People sign up for their rental kit

what we do is we package

  • nesting block
  • house to hang in the backyard
  • one inch pvc pipe with a cap on the end

rent a kit everything is included

Also we work with a leaf cutter bees

you can sign up for one or both

Mason bees are the springtime in April and May

leaf cutter bees fly in July and August

vegetable garden pollination

  • tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • squash

anything that is going to be blooming in the summertime

host them for the season


youtube videos

everything to be successful

I send you an email

included with every package is a return label

pack it up in the box

tape it on the front

drop it off at the Post Office

Goes to Seattle where we do all of the cleaning of the bees in the fall

really straight forward

relatively inexpensive we charge $50 and that’s everything you get for a season.

That’s a great deal because compared to honeybees, let me tell you, we’ve invested a lot of money in honeybees here and again we’re without any bees. They were doing good for a while and then IDK what happened. We bought local hives, got hives from Washington and other Montana places and IDK…

one of our biggest goals is to grow the population of bees because we want to work with more farmers

even though using mason bees in ag industry is a relatively new industry

new thing

because you need so many fewer bees to pollinate the same amount of acerage.

For instance if you have an acre or apples you may need 1-2 honeybee hives that would be upwards of 50-60000 honeybees!

Our mason bees are such efficient pollinators you really only need about 400 females to do the same pollination work.

So what we are finding because you have to use so many fewer bees

The farmer’s we are working with have to agree to use less chemicals during the time the bees are flying. They are more sensitive to those chemicals if you only have 400 you don’t want to wipe out your pollinator so we’re actually starting to see fewer chemicals used on these farms because

it’s worth it to the farmers!

  • they’er getting an increase yield
  • it’s less work
  • don’t have to rent honeybee hives

So we are seeing some systemic changes in the portion of the agriculture industry  that were working with! 

What else can I ask? Is it going to be kind of like a franchise? how did you start this? Did you just start working for this company? How did it start?

It started about 10 years ago, around 2008. It was just this little business this woman started in her garage

She was going around the area teaching mason bee classes

I think I thought the class was about honey bees when I showed up I learned all about this idea of mason bees

it started catching on

she wanted to raise more bees

I don’t have to worry about getting stung

so many perks to the program

Eventually she needed to charge a little bit of money to provide the supply

so many people wanted to participate

She ended up selling the business to a man named James Watts from Watts Solitary Bees

His family has been in the business of large scale pollination and working with apple and almond farmers and he thought this idea could go somewhere because it’s so accessible and easy for people who want to do something good for the environment and good for bees and through one of those projects I was introduced to Jim

Fast forward a few years later this has been my full time job and I learn as I go and we are trying to figure out how to make this as accessible as possible

do a lot of local events in Washington State

go to farmer markets

different conservations

Were do in person handout events

I show up with the truck and the bee houses and I answer everyone’s questions.

local scale

recently we started mailing bees

So we’re just trying to figuring out how to get this in people’s backyards

people can find out more about your program

platforms like the Organic Gardener Podcast

We’ve got the bees we just need the backyards

Cool when can people order them? You can’t ship us any now. What about people in Florida or Texas? 

I have a big range of ship dates. You can go on right now. It’s open for reservations

mason bees or leaf cuter or both

We have a pollinator package as well

different ship dates

We start shipping in early feb

places where it warms up sooner

Like down in California...