You’ve probably seen it in the news and if you’re a gardener you’ve noticed it first hand. The bees are in trouble. Pollinators are disappearing. Our food supply is in danger.
What can you do?
Become a Mason Bee Keeper! While you don’t get the benefit of honey, mason bees require much less maintenance than honey bees. Simply make a bee house and hang it in your garden!
Mason bees, also known as solitary bees or orchard bees, lay their eggs in small holes instead of building a hive. They don’t work in groups but will raise their eggs near each other so a bee house is the perfect way to protect and encourage these amazing pollinators.
Just one mason bee can pollinate hundreds of flowers each day.
Mason bees are not to be confused with carpenter bees. Carpenter bees make their own holes while mason bees must find their own holes to lay eggs.
Did you know that woodpeckers aren’t necessarily making holes to find bugs? They are actually making holes for bugs, like mason bees, to lay their eggs in and the birds come back later to eat whatever may have found its way into the holes.
You can make your own mason bee house!
First find a container. A coffee can or 2 liter bottle with both ends cut off (so it is basically a plastic tube) works great and is an excellent way to reuse your bottle or can.
Then fill the bottle with paper straws, bamboo sticks, reeds or anything else that has holes. You can even use a larger piece of wood and drill holes of different sizes.
Finally, hand the bee house in your garden. On a fence or against a shed at least 3 feet off the ground is ideal. Make sure the house is clear of any bushes or tall grass and if possible facing east to get the morning sun.
[Don’t want to make your own house? Fort Kits for Kids/STEMplay has Bee Houses for sale! Look for them at the next craft fair or contact Beth to order one!]
You should see evidence of mason bees in early spring.
You will notice mud, leaves or even bits of fluff in the holes – different species use different materials – as the bees prepare their new nest for eggs. As soon as the first flowers start to bloom keep an eye out of the bees. They look a lot like flies with a black body and iridescent sheen.
Don’t worry about getting stung by mason bees. The males don’t even have a stinger and the females only sting if they are trapped or squeezed.
You can even experiment with mason bees.
Mason bees are perfect for observation and experiments.
- Look for pollen on the female as she returns to the nest (a clean belly means that she has mud to take home).
- Use a variety of hole sizes in your house and see which size the bees prefer.
- When the food supply is complete, the female will come out of her nest, turn around, and then back herself in to lay another egg.
- If a mason bee accidentally goes into another bee’s hole, the intruder will quickly back out and find the correct nest. Their individual pheromones help them identify their own hole.
- When the female is adding her final mud plug, she’ll go around and around the hole’s opening as she works to close the egg chamber.
- Using a flashlight at night or in the early morning, you can see the bees at rest in the front of their holes, with their eyes looking out at you.
- Watch your mason bees as they work on blossoms in the yard, and notice which plants they like to frequent.
- Look for the antennae that distinguish them from flies.
- Learn to distinguish the males from the females by spotting the white hair on the males’ heads.
- NC Cooperative Extension
- About Mason Bees from Gardner’s Supply Company
- Blue Orchard Mason Bee from USDA Forest Service