I did an AMA last February (link below) and I had a great time commenting and explaining why pollination matters and what's going on in the industry. I'm thankful that reddit has such an interest in the world around us. Food matters. Bees matter. There are more bees in the world than the one.

I am Dave Hunter, the owner of Crown Bees (http://crownbees.com), a small company in Seattle, WA, that will change the future of worldwide pollination. (fingers crossed)

A lot has happened in the past 10 months. A few peers and I have enough mason bees to begin pollinating this spring in WA/OR/CA orchards. Large and small orchard owners are signing up to begin using an alternate bee.

Worldwide researchers continue to study the mason bees accelerating in the past few years. The Mason bee is quickly becoming a well researched bee.

I'm excited to share more information with the reddit community. Please continue to ask pointed and great questions.

  • I know most information about the native mason bees and how these bees will be used in worldwide pollination in the years to come.
  • I know a bit about honey bees, but have done extensive Q&A with researchers from UC Davis and elsewhere to learn how the honey bee pollinates.
  • I know how we can raise a billion mason bees, but it will take years. I'd like to discuss with anyone how we can shorten that time frame.

Past AMA: (http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1xe5en/iama_expert_on_solving_the_honey_bee_crisis_i_run/)

My Proof: https://twitter.com/crownbees/status/548737728376893440

Comments: 76 • Responses: 35  • Date: 

nattywalls9 karma

How do we shift conservation efforts from ecologically unimportant megafauna (like the giant panda) to vitally important species like the mason bees?

crownbees7 karma

Great question. People support things important to them. Losing the panda, while tragic, wouldn't help the human species much.

Losing food is a bigger deal. The honey bee continues to be challenged, though isn't going to disappear.

The mason bee isn't facing a crisis yet, other than pesticides and lack of awareness that they exist.

crownbees5 karma

I believe word of mouth and simplicity of message create awareness to an issue. Food is a big deal. the mason bee message is relatively easy, though is competing with the honey bee "challenge".

rottenbanana1278 karma

Dave! I just watched your feature on Growing a Greener World and found it absolutely FASCINATING! I think your message, mission and knowledge is something that more people need to be aware of.

I would love to get involved in your mission by maintaining my own hives at home in Michigan. I'll be ordering some products from your company in the near future!

Other than keeping hives at home - what can us regular people do to keep this going?

crownbees4 karma

Thanks for this shout out. That episode link is here.

I believe there are two paths to gain as many mason bees as possible. Just like you're doing through raising bees at home and then sending excess cocoons to us through the Bee BuyBack program we have.

The second program will be tougher, but may gain more bees To have bee-farming in optimal wild settings may help us gain more bees/state.

A third solution would be to spread the word that there are more bees in the world than just the one, and that gentle mason bees are an easy solution for world hunger. Just unknown at this time.

rottenbanana1272 karma

I hope many more people get involved in this - it deserves a lot of recognition.

Before I'd seen the show, I had NO IDEA there were harmless/docile bees that would be more beneficial to the pollination issue than regular honey bees. So cool! Thanks for responding!

crownbees1 karma

As an aside, working with Joe Lamp'l and his filming/editing partner Carl was awesome. Two professionals that bring out the best of a topic and through "magical" editing take out the rough spots for the guests.

crownbees7 karma

Mason bees are native to most of the world and are easy to raise. Why don't we know about them?

crownbees4 karma

Here are a couple of topics: Surprisingly, the honey bee isn't that great of a pollinator. See an article on why: reddit

Accolades40004 karma

What if your bees take pollen from genetically modified plants which are patented and pollenate unmodified plants in a different field? Would this cause problems for farmers who use certain patented seeds and farmers who don't?

crownbees4 karma

Although this is a risk with all bees, there is a substantial difference where this becomes less likely.

The honey bee, after it strips a field of pollen, will travel 2+ miles to find more pollen. As a result, anything within a 2 mile radius could be impacted.

With the mason bees, their flight radius is at max 300 feet. If the pollen is closer, they travel between 0- 200'. This has them far less likely to spread patented seeds.

HelloThatGuy1 karma

Holly fuck, do people actually think this is a problem?

crownbees1 karma

The problem more resides with honey bees and their 2 mile range. When trying to raise hybrids, farmers need to have their specific crop a honey bee flight away from any other similar crops. Mason bees, with their limited flight range are far less an issue.

HelloThatGuy1 karma

No it is not but I guess if you trust the Internet

crownbees2 karma

You're right. I just looked up myth busting and stand corrected. Thanks for that info.

214b3 karma

Can Mason bees be easily raised on suburban or urban lots? How about on a building rooftop or balcony?

Are they less conspicuous than honey bees, and does the fact that they don't sting make them more acceptable to neighbors?

crownbees1 karma

Yes. The majority of gardeners raising them across the country are regular urban/suburban homes. The bees fly in a radius of 300', so they'll gather pollen from all yards. Green grass doesn't count... as that is just "green desert" to all bees. (no pollen in grass)

Rooftop, not as good unless a small quantity. With only a 300' radius, they tend to fly horizontal, but will fly up 2-3 floors to their nesting holes.

VERY much less conspicuous than honey bees. They are gentle because each female is a queen and has nothing to defend... they don't care if you stand in front of their holes. It's really different having a bee land on your hand as you rest it in front of their holes. Not what you expect when dealing with bees.

mountainlucas3 karma

I live in Montana and have a hive of honeybees just for pollination and hobby purposes. I love our bees! Are Mason bees fit for Montana?

crownbees7 karma

There are over 4,000 species of bees across North America. Mason bees are native to Montana and do well for orchards & flowers there. The mason bee is a solitary bee and is only active in the spring. They live for about 6 weeks before they die. They bring in pollen/nectar to holes and lay eggs for next year's bees.

mountainlucas3 karma

Also, would it be safe to introduce them to a yard that already has honeybee hives?

crownbees3 karma

In general, all bees get along together. The only issue that might occur is that honey bees tend to strip all yards of pollen starving other bees.

The honey bee's primary job is to gather pollen and make honey. With mason bees, it seems like their primary job is to pollinate. They aren't great at gathering pollen and it falls off everywhere.

Because of their differences, 400 mason bees can pollinate an acre that requires a full hive of 20-30,000 honey bees.

zetematt3 karma

Why is a mason bee better than a honey bee?

crownbees9 karma

I can't say that mason bees are "better" bees than honey bees because the honey bees have wonderful byproducts like honey and wax.

Mason bees are superior pollinators over honey bees. Honey bees gather pollen and place it on their hind legs with saliva so that hardly any falls off. They are a great pollen gatherer, but a lousy pollinator. This is why it takes 30,000 honey bees to pollinate an acre of cherries/apples/almonds/etc.

Mason bees are horrible pollen gatherers. They cram dry pollen on their abdomen hairs. Pollen falls off everywhere. When they fly to the next flower, again, pollen falls off as they try to cram more pollen on. They are an awesome pollinator, but a bad pollen gatherer.

Mason bees also flit from tree to tree gathering pollen where a honey bee works a branch before going back to their hive. Mason bees are superior cross-pollinators, something we need in most fruit trees.

Lastly, mason bees work in colder temperatures and windier environments. Honey bees, with their hives, tend to stay inside during these times.

DenIb_Qatlh1 karma

Where I am the honey bees are all dead over the last ten or so years. I think it has something to do with what they spray on the cotton.

crownbees3 karma

Chemicals are not good for any insect. I'm sorry to hear that. Read what I just said above about chemicals affecting different bees differently. It's ugly that we only pay for research to mostly just the honey bees.

DenIb_Qatlh1 karma

On my fruit trees I still get a kind of tiny bee and the big bumble bees. Have not tried to ID them, they seem to be happy.

crownbees2 karma

Awesome that you even noticed them. Good for you. You must be in the southern area. In the north, there are few additional bees in the spring.

crownbees3 karma

Does anyone have thoughts on how to mass-raise mason bee?

Shaeos3 karma

Put bee boxes in the middle of a grasslands, empty. Everywhere. Then put one thing of bees in one box and watch them spread.

crownbees3 karma

Now you're thinking!

Using public or private lands?

What do suggest to raise money for this? It's going to cost a bit for the house, bees, and marketing of this.

Shaeos3 karma

That depends. Now, if we could get this on cattle ranging land, that might work. I was thinking the grassland parks down in the lower 48. We don't have many but it may help the native grass species repopulate.

There's a part of me that wants to set up competing sub species and we do yearly wellness checks and people can buy in and bet which one will control the most territory each year.

I would love to see how cold of a climate they can stand. Do they like wetlands? Forests? What's their best area? What's the coldest they overwinter on their own? What do they take to winter over?

Can I start a business in alaska wintering over bees?

Edit: What's the grant money look like for this?

crownbees2 karma

I think for AK, the best bees are native leafcutters. The mason bees, I think, will not do well in AK due to the long hibernation requirement. They do fine in Michigan, and most all provinces. I think Alaska has too long of a winter.

Best area is a belt across North America where there is good clayey-mud for nesting.

Grant money... I haven't found any yet.

Shaeos1 karma

Hm. Got in touch with a good grant writer and try the "social experiment to raise the profile of a polinator" angle. They get sent back to you when someone has too many. I got lost on your site and agree. Ever have some near a low aboreal forest with swamp before? Let me see how many flowers come up this year and how my wild rose seeds take, or I won't have enough nesting material. But Holy cow your bees are cool.

I have mud.

Oh man. The mud.

crownbees2 karma

We'd love to team with you... let us help you be successful!

Keep in touch with us through email.

Thav2 karma

What other types of bees are out there that we might not have heard of?

crownbees2 karma

There are basically two kingdoms of bees. Social, where the hive works as a sophisticated unit and there is one queen and a bunch of workers. Honey, bumble, and a few others represent this group. Hornets and many wasps are also in this group. These bees can be in holes of trees, or underground.

The other group is solitary, where each female is a queen and they live independent lives. They typically all emerge at the same time and expire about six weeks later. There are thousands of these species and they will nest in the ground or in existing holes ranging in size from 3mm to 8-9mm. A few create their holes like carpenter bees, and many will use existing holes like the mason bees in paper tubes, reeds, or wood trays.

When impacting commercial pollination, you need to introduce the bees into the crop. Thus, having bees that you can carry in tubes are most manageable.

We have learned what size hole, how deep, and how to ensure that the mason bees are most healthiest after years of research.

timelines992 karma

What are your thoughts on beeswax vs. honey as a profit motive?

This came up over the holidays as a dilemma between my daughter, who loves slow-burning candles, and my neighbor, who beekeeps.

Incidentally, we had a swarm in our backyard last year, it was pretty amazing!!

ETA: the noise was outrageous!!

crownbees2 karma

My expertise isn't on honey bees, but I believe that humans are in charge of the earth and we can create profits with most anything. IE, it's ok to raise a cow for profit. it's also, in my opinion, ok to raise bees for honey and wax and be able to profit.

crownbees2 karma

The honey bee is an amazing insect, with quite a bit of things exclusive to that bee. For example, the mason bees just pollinate. No honey, no wax, etc. They are super pollinators, but nothing more

touristoflife2 karma

Ulee's Gold...great movie or the greatest movie?

crownbees1 karma

Ulee's Gold

I think any movie that highlights bees is great. Vanishing of the Bees is a good one... as is The Bee Movie with Seinfeld.

It would be nice to see a movie about all bees rather than just the one. Might be boring?

jacquesfu2 karma

I like consider myself an entrepreneurial scientist so please bear with me if my proposal seems a bit outlandish. A brief wikipedia search yields that each female can make their own nest, this should simplify I imagine the cultivation method. I don't know what this is, but I can make an assumption that A) you have found the most efficient nests and B) you are mostly limited by manpower and space (land). Without knowing the specifics of your method, and assuming bees are capable of adjusting to various altitudes, could you not go vertical and increase the density of both habitat and food? Perhaps by building alternating food and habitat housing using the most economical energy or pollen rich plants that you can find, that would be a potential way to scale your bee production?

crownbees1 karma

Great thoughts Jacques. A) True, we have accepted that wood trays with 8mm holes by 15cm (5/16" x 6") are best. Nest scents are kept, you can clean them up easily, and we are able to harvest cocoons from these wood trays in the fall without damaging the hibernating bees.

B) Peers of ours have large acre enclosures where the bees are confined in spaces with optimal pollen and must nest there. My company "farms" with the bees in suburban and urban areas using backyard gardeners to raise the bees for you. In this manner, labor is local and free as the gardeners gain pollination. There is plenty of pollen in that area for the amount of bees nesting. You can also place bees in large space where there are natural huge pockets of pollen. In the west coast, the big leaf maple is such a source and we're able to produce bees with relative ease, though we have to find and drive to these places.

Trying to not have to plant things is lowest cost. Over time, one might be able to add seed here and there to enhance the natural environment.

Good thinking. One thought a while back was creating an indoor bee-center where you would have vertical walls of hydroponic plants. Energy to keep the plants alive is cost prohibitive.

intronert2 karma

Central Texas here. Is there any way in which Mason bees might validly be considered an invasive species in my area? I am concerned about introducing non-native species to an area. Is this a valid concern?

crownbees1 karma

Good question. Mason bees are native throughout most all of North America. The three species that we are working with for pollination are: *Blue Orchard (native in Texas) *Hornfaced (japanese introduced in 80's, found in Texas) *Leafcutter (European introduced in 60's, found all in Texas).

We try to carefully control what bee goes where. We want people to raise bees that will do well.

I use to be persnickety about the hornfaced bee until I realized there was nothing that could be done. It's in all states and a great pollinator. To kill it wouldn't stop it progressing across the US any slower. And to kill it would have us killing all other bees as well. Thus, I've learned to embrace rather than fight.

intronert2 karma

So it sounds like The blue orchard mason bee is the way to go. Is this also known just as the blue orchard bee (BOB), Osmia lignaria?

crownbees1 karma

Correct. O. lignaria is native to Texas.

shhhhhoe1 karma

While developing alternative agricultural pollinators is important, I feel like you are being a bit disingenuous about your whole process.

On your website you highlight the benefits of pollination services of your bees for regular gardeners, but probably 99% of them are already getting all their pollination needs met by native bees and they're just not aware of it. Also, you say that 2/3 of the bee species you use are not native to the US. I think that artificially inflating the number of non-native bees is more likely to hurt than help our native pollinators.

It seems to me that you are trying to take advantage of peoples general feelings of goodwill towards pollinators in order to further your own commercial aims. How does pushing unnecessary pollination services of non-native pollinators help bees?

crownbees1 karma

I disagree. The website doesn't say that that I'm aware of. Out of the 4,000 species of native bees across the US, a few are non-native and most are very local.

In the spring, most bees have not emerged to handle the early spring orchards. That's where the tough pollination occurs. The native Blue Orchard and non-native cornifrons are the best pollinators in that time frame. Blue orchards are most prevalent across the US.

I don't quite agree with you. Similar to the UK, we've knocked off most of our bees due to lack of habitat, available food, and chemicals. While there are native bees across the US, we're trying to get people to learn there are more than one bee in world.

Today, learn about mason bees. Tomorrow, learn there are ground nesting bees. It's all about awareness.

Most of the bees that we rehome are from each local area. If today there are non-native bees mixed with native, there's nothing we can do about it but accept that that is the current situation.

We truly care about the future. Yes, we're a for-profit company. It would be great if we were non-profit, but the organic seeds that you sow in your yard were also raised and created by a for-profit company. Is that wrong?

Our long term mission is to have the backyard gardener be successful raising too many bees that we can shift those to commercial orchards for future fruit sold to local communities. Win for the gardener due to excess food in the yard, win for the farmer who creates excess food for you to buy, win for my company creating the cooperation and opportunity for this to occur. There should be nothing wrong with this.

Look again at our website. We accept what is occurring and blend with what happens in the US rather than fight what's occurring. Look to your yard. If you have apples and cherry trees, are we saying pull them out so that you're completely native? Both were imported, both are important to our food selection today.

welkom1011 karma

how important is it for the pollen to be fresh? what if u store the pollen en use it later. Will the results than be the same?

crownbees2 karma

Great question. In discussion with Dr. Mussen, UC Davis, dry pollen is fairly viable for quite some time. When the honey bee gets the pollen wet to store on their hind legs, it is no longer viable... just bee food.

crownbees2 karma

Also, from what I understand, fresh pollen provides the best fruit. When trying to pollinate a fruit, temperatures are extremely important as well. Too cold and the pollen doesn't get down the stigma through the pollen tube.

DeaD_bAU51 karma

In your opinion what is the biggest danger to bee colonies in our day and age? Pesticides? Urban sprawl? Monsanto?

crownbees3 karma

This might be a bit complicated, but when you're talking about honey bee colonies, the root problem is too many hives next to each other.

1) when hives are healthy, they split, swarm, send out scouts, and then relocate about 1/2 (1km) away. That's natural. I believe this is due to needing more foraging, less competition from other hives, and potentially reducing sickness from other honey bee hives.

2) Honey bees aren't great pollinators, but wonderful pollen gatherers. They strip orchards of pollen after about 3 hours and then search in about 2+ miles for more pollen. This is the downfall.

3) We've learned that sick drifters (bees that wander into wrong hives) will give their disease/virus/mites/etc. to healthy hives. Also, last December, European researchers concluded that sick bees are leaving diseases (nosema, deformed wing virus) in flowers to be picked up by healthy bees.

4) Lastly, when you stack hives upon hives and crowd them in, we see (look at google map image on my blog, you see that millions of honey bees overlap when we overlap the 2 mile flight radius of the honey bee.

That's it... the root problem is really crowding the bees on top of each other. when you add up the diseases, over crowding, need to forage further bringing in chemicals from other orchards, etc... they all weaken the honey bees causing them be killed by things they should be able to handle.

All bees are facing chemical issues. A recent Penn State study (see research paper. A horrible assumption is that what is best/worst chemical for honey bees isn't the same for other bees. This says that a "safe" chemical for honey bees might be lethal for other native bees. Ouch.

DeaD_bAU50 karma

Very interesting!

Is there anything "normies" like me can do to help?

crownbees3 karma

Yes. In a couple of ways.

1) Mason bees are gentle, and extremely easy to raise. We help you know what to do with a monthly Bee-Mail advice. (we want you to succeed.)

2) Your bees should increase over a few years. We'll buy them back from you with free stuff and cash. These bees are then rehomed to other gardeners or nearby orchards.

3) Simply spread the word that there are more bees out in the world than the one. ...and a few are phenomenal pollinators over the honey bee.

4) Support one of our mason bee farmers. We haven't hired them yet, but we'll need help in a bit...

Thanks for asking!

throwawayyourballs1 karma


crownbees1 karma

You're doing just fine. The issue isn't you, it's the honey bee range and the gardeners beyond your yard.

Honey bees travel 2+ miles as they search for pollen. They get into nearby hives that aren't as clean as yours. It's not fair, but reality. Also realize that there is about a 400' umbrella around the honey bee hive that isn't pollinated by your bees purposely. There is no wiggle dance that is tight enough to say "right next to the hive." Thus, your bees wind up elsewhere.

Mason bees are a tight-radius bee that stays within a 300' circle. Try mixing the two together.

Your yard must be wonderful! Be careful of praying mantis. They are catchers of all things flying, including bees. Releasing lady bugs is also a marketing gimmick. The bugs that you release are final stage and the true predator is the 2nd stage lady bug.

ReturnOfThePing0 karma

So... no Mason Bee honey?

Is there an aggressive African version of the Mason Bee that you could mate with the American version?

crownbees2 karma


Honey bees make honey, mason bees make food. It's that simple.

Ouch. Let's do experiments to make life worse for ourselves. Take a good insect and destroy it. Pisses me off that researchers didn't realize what they were doing years ago.


How much do you make in a year?

crownbees2 karma

My company is relatively new. I'm in the hole about $250k right now. We hope to be profitable within a year.

crownbees2 karma

As we are trying to accellerate the use of mason bees in the country, there are three avenues of business where commodity will exist: * wholesale to nurseries * online retail * working with farmers to pollinate their orchards