Usually, the term “save the bees” refers to honeybees – the bright-yellow insects depicted in popular culture.
For Girl Scouts Izzy Sehnert and Dhrithi Vishwa, however, their bee-focused Silver Award project is set on reviving and spreading awareness about a lesser-known species – the native mason bee – through building and installing bee houses throughout the community, including in backyards.
Former Los Altos resident Izzy, an eighth-grader at Senha Intermediate School in Half Moon Bay, and Mountain View resident Dhrithi, an eighth-grader at Bullis Charter School, are members of local Troop 61025. After earning the Bronze Award as a troop by financially assisting social workers, Izzy and Dhrithi were inspired to pursue the Silver Award together. It’s the highest award a Cadette (a middle-school-aged Girl Scout) can earn, achieved through a project focused on improving the community.
“I really liked the fact that we could actually help people,” Izzy said. “We did (the Bronze Award) as a troop, but I wanted to challenge myself and do it with others to make a big difference in the community.”
When Izzy and Dhrithi started planning their project last summer, they wanted to focus on the more well-known honeybees after a suggestion from their troop leader but soon realized such a project would not be feasible.
“Our original plan was to have a beehive on top of a library or in a community garden where they could harvest the honey and sell it to fund the place,” Dhrithi said. “But then we realized that wouldn’t work, since people weren’t too keen on the idea of having just bees flying around.”
One of their advisers, a beekeeper, suggested using the lesser-known mason bees. Through research, Izzy and Dhrithi found that mason bees are nonaggressive, solitary and pollinate at a higher rate than honeybees. However, their numbers are declining because they can only fly a few hundred yards.
“Whenever they’re living on a produce farm, they can only get nutrients from one specific plant. That’s why they’re dying off easier,” Izzy said. “We decided to put them in the backyard to have them get more nutrients without flying so much.”
Dhrithi added, “I think that also people tend to kind of forget about (mason bees). “It’s usually about honeybees because people want the honey, but I think it’s also important to spread awareness that there are other types of bees, and ones that are native to California, that are slightly declining in numbers that we need to focus on.”
Izzy and Dhrithi built bee-house kits that include 10 mason bees, a bee house, mud or clay (for the bees to protect their eggs), a water dispenser to keep the mud moist and an instructional pamphlet on how to care for the bees.
They received 14 bee houses from their adviser and bought the bees online, negotiating a discount as a result of their project. The bee homes can be installed in backyards – with some specific requirements.
“You need to have it on a wall, hung up 6 to 7 feet above the ground, and it needs to be on a wall that gets sunlight from the morning – specifically the south or southeastern side is the ideal place,” Izzy said. “You also need to have plants and flowers in your backyard that produce pollen and nectar.”
With the bee houses ready, Izzy and Dhrithi advertised their project on Nextdoor, drawing enthusiastic replies.
“We got a lot of responses, so we had to stop it. ... We have a wait-list too now, and we really weren’t expecting that much of a response from everybody,” Dhrithi said. “It was kind of overwhelming at first, but it was also really cool because we thought only a few people would respond.”
The girls hope their project spreads awareness about and improves the plight of mason bees.
“They’re not quite endangered yet, but they are slowly declining,” Dhrithi said. “So we hope to make even a small impact to stop that decline a little bit.”