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What are Mason Bees?

Did you know that bees are responsible for one of every three bites of food we eat? Those little pollinators are important! No wonder there is concern in the news about the declining populations of the European Honey Bee.

Enter the Mason Bee. At a glance, you might mistake this amazing, docile, pollinating pal for an ordinary house fly because of its deep blue color but resist the urge to grab a flyswatter, because this is definitely an insect you do not want to harm. Mason Bees are found naturally all over North America with 402 species in the United States.

What is the difference between a Mason Bee and a Honey Bee?

Mason Bees are excellent pollinators – each one can do the pollinating work of 120 honey bees. Additionally, Mason Bees are not susceptible to the same problems facing honey bees, such as the varroa mite, colony collapse, nor do they interfere with the important work of honey bees.

Honey bees can become aggressive and sting because they instinctively need to protect their hive and its honey. However, Mason Bees have no honey to protect. It is the mission of each bee to finish its own nest. Therefore, Nature designed them to be builders and pollinators, not warriors. They are safe around children and pets. Males do not sting, and females sting only if handled roughly or trapped under clothing.

Other bees carry most of the pollen they collect back to the hive. But because Mason Bees do not have a hive and are more “scruffy” than honey bees, the pollen they collect stays on their hairy little bodies and easily transfers from flower to flower.

What are Mason Bees good for?

They pollinate and pollinate and pollinate!

Mason Bees emerge in early Spring when temperatures are still cold, long before honey bees become active and fruit trees begin to bloom. This increased pollination will improve the yield on fruit trees and the quantity and quality of blooms on flowering plants and herbs.

Mason Bees are often referred to as “solitary bees” because they do not have a social structure like other bees. The females prefer to find holes in wood or walls that have been made by other insects, cleaning out these holes to lay their eggs. They are not territorial, being perfectly happy to build nests right next to each other.

What is the Mason Bee life cycle?

According to the Oregon State University Master Gardener Association:

Mason Bees are active for about one month beginning early spring. During the cold weather months, a fully formed adult bee stays in its cocoon in the nest. When temperatures rise in early spring, the adult bees begin to emerge for up to two weeks.

When eggs were laid the previous spring, the male eggs were placed near the entrance of the nest while females were placed in the back. Thus, males emerge first, as their sole purpose is to wait for females to emerge in order to mate. Females begin nesting about 3 to 4 days after mating, preferring to use existing holes slightly larger than her body (perfectly provided within your Mason Bee habitat). She will place a mud plug at the bottom of the hole and begin to bring in nectar and pollen.

When she has stored enough food for the young, she will lay an egg on the pollen and seal the cell with a thin mud partition (thus earning its name – “Mason Bee”). She then repeats the process until the entire length of the tunnel is used. The female only fertilizes the egg if she wants a female offspring. An unfertilized egg will become male, and typically 2/3 of cocoons will be males.

A few days after eggs are laid, larvae hatch. Larvae feed on the pollen and nectar stored in the nest. After 10 days, the larvae spin a cocoon and pupate within the cell. Near the end of summer, the bee transforms to the adult stage called an imago but remains in the cocoon throughout the winter.

Female Mason Bees live about 1 month and lay 1 to 2 eggs a day. Males live shorter lives; their only purpose is to impregnate the female.

How do I Care For My New Mason Bees?

Mason Bees are the happiest when the garden is optimized for them. Be sure to provide many flowers; they especially love nut and berry trees, as well as native plants. Mason bees are excellent for pollinating early blossoms and strawberries, raspberries, and fruit and nut trees that produce early in the year. Consistent, healthy watering will provide your mason bees with materials to build their homes in the habitat you will install.

Mason Bees emerge in the early spring, usually in March or April depending on your location. After following the simple steps in the package and in the video above, your new creatures will pupate in their cell and usually, four males and two females will emerge from the tunnel as adult Mason Bees. They mate and quickly begin foraging for food, pollen and nectar. Then, females will return to make a nest in the other tubes that are ready and waiting in your habitat, which starts the process all over again.

Place your habitat in a south or east-facing spot, as the bees love to bathe in morning sunshine instead of dappled shade. Installing it at a slight downward angle will protect the habitat from excessive rain or dew. Keep it away from the direct path of sprinklers.

The nesting tubes in your habitat are suitable for the blue Orchard Bee (Osmia lignaria), Horned Mason Bee (Osmia cornifrons), Blue Mason Bee (Osmia caerulescens), Alfalfa Leaf-cutter Bee (Megachile rotundata), Rose Leaf-Cutter Bee (Megachile centuncularis)

So let’s recap the benefits of incorporating Mason Bees in your yard or garden:

  1. They are productive pollinators, increasing the yield and beauty of your garden.
  2. They don’t sting – safe around children and pets.
  3. They are a fascinating way to learn about nature, first-hand.
  4. They are available for purchase in a Starter Kit at your local garden center or independent nursery.
  5. They make a great, and unusually entertaining, gift.

Where to Buy Mason Bees?

The easiest way to incorporate Mason Bees into your garden or yard is to purchase a Mason Bee Kit. These starter kits are available for purchase now through March, and they are most effective when set up at the beginning of the spring – so they make ideal holiday gifts! Find a dealer near you with this link – Dealer Locator

Each Mason Bee Kit contains all of the tools you need to become a Mason Beekeeper this spring: a Mason Bee habitat, a certificate to arrange safe delivery of a tube containing your new bees; 35 nesting tubes, and a book by Chris O’Toole detailing everything you need to know about these fascinating native bees.

Here is a video about how to get started with Mason Bees in your garden.

Look for this box at your favorite local garden center or nursery. Click here to find a garden center near you that carries Organic Control products.