Put up a house and mason bees will move in. Credit: Photo courtesy of Crown Bees.

Free seeds and native bees

Updated: March 27, 2015 – 6:45 pm

Yes, it’s that time again. Time to start seeds, or at least gather together the seeds you’d like to plant once you can get outdoors and dig. If you have seeds to share, or would like to see what others have to offer, I hope you’ll stop by the Little Free Seed Bank at my house. As some of you know, the top shelf of the Little Free Library box at my house is reserved for seed sharing in the spring and fall. You’ll find our library on the boulevard at the Northeast corner of Washburn Ave. and 45th Street in Minneapolis.

If you’re dropping off seeds, please bring them in labeled envelopes so people can take when they need and leave the rest for others. I’ve put coin-sized envelopes and pencils in the box for people taking seeds to use. As always you’ll find lots of swamp milkweed, which butterflies love, as well as purple and white cleome; Mexican sunflowers; wildflower mixes; and several varieties of nasturtiums, poppies and zinnias. There are also lots of vegetable seeds, including snap peas, bush and pole beans, spinach, chard, arugula, beets and lettuce.

For best results, test seeds to make sure they’re still viable before you plant them. You can use the same simple germination experiment your teacher had you try in middle school. Put about five seeds from one variety you’d like to plant between two wet, but not soaking, sheets of paper towel. Leave a little space between each seed and pat the towels together so the seeds are snugly inside. Place the towels with the seeds in them inside a plastic baggie and seal it. Keep the baggie in a warm spot and check on the seeds every day to see whether they’ve germinated. If most of them do, you’re good to go for planting. If they don’t, you’ll need to get new seeds of whatever the dud varieties are.           

Native bees

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the plight of honeybees, but few people realize that there are actually about 4,000 species of native bees in the U.S. By supporting them, we can take some of the pressure off honeybees, and help ensure our food supply, too. On March 18, Washington-based Crown Bees (www.crownbees.com), which specializes in solitary bees such as mason bees, launched a crowd-funding campaign to fund the expansion of a network of “bee boosters.”

The goal is to connect and mobilize people who want to raise non-stinging native bees, like mason bees, or help others who are willing to do it. Unlike honeybees, raising native bees requires no equipment and most houses are as easy to put out as a birdhouse. Part of the plan includes creating a new Bee With Me website that will feature an interactive directory of bee-friendly backyards across the country. The website will also offer information on how to raise native bees, as well as helpful tips on supplies and other things.

Crown Bees is hoping to raise $100,000 for this Save the Bees campaign by May 1, so we don’t have much time. To donate, go to Indiegogo (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/you-can-help-save-the-bees) and give what you can. If you like, you can also sign up to be part of the network, or just take some time to read about native bees and how to raise them. One thing I’ve learned about mason bees since I first started writing about them is that you don’t need to buy a house and bees. You can just put up a house and the mason bees will find it. If raising bees isn’t for you, consider buying a couple of native bee houses from Crown Bees to donate to community gardens, local farmers and others.           

Check out Meleah’s blog: www.everydaygardener.com for more gardening tips or to email her a question or comment.