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
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
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?
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
They’re what they call a solitary bee
there’s no queen bee
she’s gonna be flying around visiting fruit trees bushes
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
completing their nesting activity to lay the next generation of bees
looking for little holes in the backyard to lay eggs
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
so these bees have a lifecycle of one year but we only see them flying around for 7-8 weeks as adult bees
at end of season
original population is over
We take care of them for the rest of the year
What we do during the fall
Because we are propagating a large population of bees there are certainthings that can hinder their development
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
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.
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
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?
what we do is we package
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
anything that is going to be blooming in the summertime
host them for the season
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
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
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!
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
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
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
Were do in person handout events
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...