If you are looking for a bee species that is gentle and easy to raise, consider the Mason bee. Not only are these North American bees docile and easy to care for, they are fantastic pollinators, too! Like 25% of the world’s bee population, Mason bees nest in pre-made holes. It’s easy to increase the population by giving them a home in our yards and gardens. And raising and increasing the Mason bee population takes stress off of the already stretched-thin honeybee population, which help to maintain food supplies in North America.
The Blue Orchard Mason Bee is particularly active at pollinating spring flowering plants such as fruit trees, berry bushes, and nut trees. This makes them very important to the native plant life of North America. Unlike honeybees, who carry wet pollen on their hind legs, female Mason bees will carry dry pollen on their undersides. The pollen falls off easily as the bees touch plants, and is also scraped off when they fly into their nesting holes. Mason bees aren’t picky, either. They will visit a wide variety of flowers from many different types of plants, flitting back and forth from one branch to another, instead of only gathering pollen and nectar from one place.
Another reason Mason bees are easy to maintain is because of their solitary nature. Like 90% of the world’s 21,000 bee species are solitary, meaning that they do not live in a hive. Female Mason bees build their own nests, gather their own food, and lay their own eggs. With all this work to do, Mason bees are far too busy to be aggressive towards people. They only sting as a last resort, and the venom they release from a sting is very mild. If you’re allergic to honeybees, Mason bees are a great alternative. You can watch them work without fear of being stung.
Mason bees are easy to care for because they will nest in pre-made holes and will spend the winter hibernating in their own waterproof cocoons. The materials needed to start and maintain your Mason bee population are affordable and come in a variety of price ranges. You will not need to buy protective gear to handle the cocoons or to protect yourself from these docile bees, and you can have their housing materials set up in as little as 15 minutes! Pick a spot in your yard, set up their house, and watch them start gathering pollen and laying eggs for next season. You will spend more time watching these gentle, industrious bees than you will caring for them!
If you can dig up some soil and plant a flower garden, you can provide a welcoming environment for native bees. Remember that native bees like native plants. In fact, they are four times more likely to be attracted to native plants than to other blooms. Bees will need blooms throughout their active season, so try to grow a variety of plants. Make sure you have some that bloom in the spring, some that bloom in the summer, and some that bloom in late summer or fall, if possible. Bees can even use some flowers as natural remedies to keep themselves healthy. So do your research and don’t limit yourself to one or two kinds of flowers. Also, avoid harsh lawn chemicals, as these can hurt native bees. Bees rely on their sense of smell to navigate, and strong chemicals can confuse them.
In addition to flowering plants, Mason bees need moist, clayey soil to survive. They use this soil to protect their egg chambers. When you see Mason bees flying around in your yard, take your shovel or spade and turn up a patch of soil for them. Remember, they will not be able to nest in your yard if your soil is too dry or sandy. If you have sandy soil, you will have to bring in a clay mud mixture for the bees.
Mason Bee House
Natural lake reeds are the preferred housing material of the Mason bee. Each mason bee species varies in size, and they want a home that is the right size for them. Lake reeds vary in size and also offer great protection against parasitic wasps. Mason bees will also nest in bamboo tubes or in drilled blocks of wood, but these materials cannot be opened for cleaning or inspection.
Set up your Mason bee house off the ground, roughly at eye level, so that you can look into it and inspect it easily. The morning sun will warm up the bees, giving them a boost of energy to start their day. So make sure your house faces east, towards thesunrise. Birds and bees don’t always mix, so make sure not to install your bee house near any birdhouses. You may also attach bird wire with one-inch openings at the front of the house, leaving a few inches of space at the front of the house to ensure that bees have enough room to take off and to land. If you are using loose nesting materials such as lake reeds, place them haphazardly in your yard. This may sound messy, but female Mason bees use sight markers to find their hole. This arbitrary look will actually help them find their tubes more quickly.