Raising a horde of mason bees to rent out to homeowners and farmers is not the first thing most people would think of for running a business.
Yet that’s exactly what Gordon Cyr does through his business www.masonbeecentral.com. He has won a small business award through the Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corporation, NEDC, for the Best Environmental and Sustainable Business his efforts.
Cyr raises mason bees for a very good reason.
“I started this because so many people weren’t getting trees pollinated,” he says. “Mason bees are an extremely efficient pollinator. They’re 60 times more efficient than honey bees. You can have a honey bee visit a flower and it doesn’t get pollinated.”
That’s because mason bees land directly on the anther of a flower.
“Basically it’s like diving into a shallow pool,” says Cyr. “There’s pollen everywhere.”
He says the mason bees gather all the pollen they need which is used to feed larvae.
“Right now we have adult bees in the cocoon. They don’t come out until springtime.”
When they do, there is a flurry of pollinating activity for a 6-8 week period.
The mason bees are used for pollinating fruit trees as well as berries like raspberries and blueberries.
The difference they can make is phenomenal.
Cyr says a friend has a purple plum tree that only produced 10-12 plums a year. He used mason bees this past spring. “Then he got 45 lbs of plums,” he says.
Cyr started the business 10 years ago with 20 bees, then really started to increase business six years ago and now has 200,000 bees.
“I’m likely the largest producer in Canada,” he says.
Cyr rents the bees and all the supplies needed to 500 homes in the North Island communities of Cumberland, Courtenay, Campbell River, Quadra Island, Cortez Island and Gold River. He plans on expanding down to Port Alberni and the Cowichan Valley.
Cyr is also working with local farmers to help them increase their crops and is pollinating a large 55 acres raspberry field next year.
This begs the question – won’t the bees just fly away? Some of them do, but not very many.
“That’s nature’s way to spread,” says Cyr. “Most bees only fly 100 metres when they’re nesting. A honey bee will fly four miles away.”
Another thing about these bees – they’re friendly. Maybe not in a cuddly sort of way, but if they sting it’s only like a pin prick, doesn’t hurt like another bee’s sting.
Cyr says many of his customers are retired folks who enjoy a cup of coffee while watching the bees work.
When the bees have done their job, the bees and supplies are returned to Cyr who makes sure everything is cleaned properly before passing it on to the next person.