Mason bees pollinate like crazy

mason_bee_on_apple_small Mason Bee pollinating an apple flower

Mason Bee pollinating an apple flower

Mason Bees. Of the 4,000 bee species in North America, Mason Bees are among the easiest to raise, while also being gentle and amazing pollinators. By raising solitary Mason Bees, we can increase their population. It’s a great way to supplement the stressed Honey Bee and sustain our future food supply. The following tips on creating safe havens for Mason Bees also protect our environment, our water, and, yes, even our pocketbooks!

The Mason Bee is a very productive pollinator for spring flowers, fruits, and nuts. The female carries pollen on the underside of her hairy abdomen, and then scrapes the pollen off within her nesting hole. Because the pollen is carried dry on her hair, it falls off easily as she moves among flowers.

 

Mason bee with pollen on tube

Mason bee with pollen on tube

 

This results in significantly more pollinated flowers than her cousin, the Honey Bee, who wets the pollen and sticks it to her legs during transport to the hive. The Mason Bee, who efficiently gathers pollen and nectar on the same visit, is also an awesome cross-pollinator. She busily flits back and forth between branches or trees, instead of focusing on stripping pollen and nectar from one source. A little variety makes any job more interesting!

 

Mason bees are gentle enough to touch.

All Mason Bees are solitary, meaning each female is a queen who does all of the chores. She can’t gather pollen/nectar, lay eggs, gather mud, AND defend her hole… so she doesn’t. The Mason Bee is extremely gentle and allows you to confidently get inches from her nesting hole without fear of being stung.

 

Mason bees save time and money.

It doesn’t take much money or time to raise Mason Bees. Nesting material, housing, and bees are quite affordable, and are available in a variety of price ranges. Also, there is no need for protective gear or expensive equipment.

In terms of time, plan about 15 minutes to select a location and set up your house. Warning! When your bees emerge and start pollinating, you’ll have to set aside time to observe them. Time flies as you watch them laying eggs for next season’s bees!

In June, bring the nesting material inside to protect your developing bees from pests. That takes about 10 minutes. In the fall, allow about 30 minutes to harvest the cocoons and store them for the winter. In just 1 to 2 hours a year of your time, you’ll get a healthy garden yield and amazing garden companions.

A bonus is that each year you should typically double your bee cocoons from the number you started with. In order to steadily increase the Mason Bee population across North America, CrownBees located in Woodinville, Washington, would love to receive your excess bees in the fall, and trade you nesting material for next season. Your bees will be re-homed to other gardeners and eventually with growers. Read here about this Bee BuyBack program.

Raising mason bees is simple.

1. Place your house with nesting material facing the early morning sun. The warmth wakes your bees earlier to start pollinating. Follow the setup instructions.

2. The Mason Bee seals each egg with mud. If she can’t find soft mud to carry in her tiny mandibles to the nest, she’ll leave your yard and set up her home elsewhere. This is the number one problem people face. Read the mud section for tips.

3. Harvest your cocoons in the fall to help your bees thrive, not just survive. Leaving them outdoors allows them to be unprotected from pests and weather elements. Find out how to harvest so you get more bees for next season.

The Honeybee Conservancy is grateful to CrownBees for sharing their knowledge.
To learn more about raising Mason Bees, check out this helpful pdf.