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Female mason bee

Female mason bees, like this one, use thick, sticky mud to build a wall. She collects pollen to make a pollen ball on which she lays her egg. Then she closes the cell with another mud wall and repeats the process. Mason bees will be a focus of the third annual Linn County Master Gardeners pollinator conference.

They don't meet in lodges or carry tiny trowels — but mason bees do perform acts of community service, and the Linn County Master Gardeners are looking for a little recognition.

The Master Gardeners are focusing on the mason bee as part of their third annual BEEvent Pollinator Conference, set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 4, at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center.

The entry fee is $30 per person and registration is available online at

This year's keynote speaker is Robbin W. Thorp, professor emeritus of entomology of the University of California at Davis. Thorp will speak on different pollinators, their habitats and life cycles and tell audiences how they can be "habitat stewards" for each.

Other guest speakers include Melissa Scherr of the entomology department at Oregon State University, who will speak on alternatives to pesticides; Andony Melathopoulos of the OSU Horticulture Department, who will speak on planting a pollinator garden; and Rich Little, who teaches a variety of pollinator and pest management classes for Master Gardeners and the public, on providing habitat and other issues of yard management.

The conference will include vendors with mason bee supplies such as houses, tubes, blocks and cocoons, along with books, photos, prints, honey, lavender products and more.

Guests can buy raffle tickets for prizes of a bee-themed lap quilt and a bee-themed bicycle (fully functional, with removable decorations).

Each year, the conference focuses on a variety of pollinators and how to help them, said Ranee Webb, president of the Linn County Master Gardeners Association.

Little is particularly interested in native mason bees, solitary pollinators who don't make honey, rarely sting, travel only about 100 to 300 yards and don't live in hives. 

Mason bees get their name because of their building skills. Females collect pollen to make a ball on which they lay their eggs, then use mud to build a wall around the ball and start again. The pollen ball provides food for the hatching bee.

Mason bees are considered to be very effective pollinators, even more so than honeybees. They get out early in the season, can fly in lower temperatures and are particularly important for fruit tree pollination, according to the OSU Extension Service. 

Linn County Master Gardeners are working to teach home gardeners how to help these pollinators, which need early blooming plants, water and mud to survive, Webb said.

The first pollinator conference brought in just 57 people, Webb said, but interest has been growing. Last year's attracted more than double that total, and organizers are hoping for at least 200 people this year.

"We're concentrating on native bees and pollinators, and how to encourage pollination in the garden," she said.


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