Bees and other pollinators play a vital role in the production of most of the world's crops. Unfortunately, the pollinator population has been decreasing in recent decades. Disease, loss of habitat and pesticide usage is to blame for this decline. As people become more aware of not only the decline of vital pollinators but what that means for the global environment, they are looking for ways to help. Mason bees are gentle, non-stinging bees that have great pollinating potential and are easy to provide for. You can keep Mason bees and harvest the cocoons or take a hands-off approach and provide your local wild Mason bees with safe housing options that will encourage them to stick close by and help beautify your garden. Ensuring proper Mason Bee house placement is easy and only takes a few steps.
What Are Mason Bees?
Mason bees are just one of the 4,000 bee species native to North America. There are 140 species of Mason Bee. Their name, Mason, comes from their action of using mud to seal off areas where they lay their eggs to protect them from the elements and invaders. Mason bees are small (smaller than a honeybee) and non-social. Mason bees do not have a queen to protect and do not live in a hive.
Since they are non-social, they also do not swarm. Though they are non-social, they nest together. Mason bees also do not make honey. Male Mason bees are smaller than the females, and they lack stingers. Female Mason bees have stingers, but they rarely use them as they are their egg tube. When they do, people likened their sting to that of a mosquito rather than your typical bee sting.
Mason bees are some of the earliest bees to emerge after the cold winter; being seen as early as March in Illinois. This makes them vital in the pollination of spring flowers, fruit and nut trees. Among bee and nature enthusiast, they know them for their gentle nature and for being great pollinators.
When it is time for Mason bees to emerge from their cocoons, the males always come first. Females emerge in as little as a few days but can take up to weeks after the males. Female eggs are laid further into the nest (behind the males) to protect them and ensure the continuation of the species. Once the females emerge, the clock starts ticking. The life of a Mason bee is rather short.
Mason bees die after mating while the females spend their time busily going from flower to flower collecting a variety of pollen and nectar, preparing their nests, and laying their eggs. When they have finished laying their eggs, they put a final layer of mud to protect their nest, and die shortly after.
Why People Keep Mason Bees?
Many people appreciate the contribution of pollinators to not only their gardens but to the environment. While many people wish to help increase pollinator numbers, the cost and learning curve involved with honeybee keeping can be overwhelming. Keeping Mason bees provides an easy and inexpensive alternative. It is a great project for families and children, thanks to the gentle nature of Mason bees.
If you are looking for increased pollination in your garden or orchard, look no further than Mason Bees. When people think about beekeeping, they typically think about honeybees. While honeybees play an important pollinator role and provide us with beeswax, honey, propolis, and royal jelly, they cannot match the pollinating ability of the Mason Bee.
Honeybees are very meticulous in their collection of pollen and nectar. They only visit between 50 and 100 flowers in one collection trip. They have a pollination rate of 5%. Mason Bees are not as graceful or particular in their pollen collection. They visit upwards of 1,000 flowers and have a 95% pollination rate.
Great For Beginners
Mason Bees require no special equipment or elaborate housing. They are gentle and non-aggressive, making them great for beginners and for teaching children about bees. Pre-made Mason Bee houses are relatively inexpensive. If you prefer to make your own, you can find plans online for free.
They require no special tools to make a basic Mason bee house. Since Mason bees stick close to their nest, you can start with a small garden area and build up the number of nests you have available to them as you become more comfortable with the process.
Increasing Their Numbers
Pollinator numbers are in decline, not only due to their natural predators but because of human impact on the environment. In the wild, Mason Bees place their eggs in pre-existing holes drilled by woodpeckers and beetles or they may use other narrow openings around your property such as gaps in roofing shingles.
Unfortunately, this opens them up to easy availability to predators such as mites and predatory mites and disease. We can help Mason Bees by monitoring their houses and cleaning them after each season to stop the spread of disease. It also us to intervene during predatory invasions.
Help To The Honeybees
Honeybees are a great addition to honeybee apiaries. They are such efficient pollinators it requires fewer bees to do great work. Their efficiency can decrease the workload on your honeybees.
The Importance of Mason Bee House Placement
Mason bee house placement is essential to ensuring you get the most out of your bees. Mason bee houses come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Whether you build your own Mason bee house or to purchase a pre-made one, pick a style you can open and clean. This will ensure the health of future generations.
Many housing options involve removable tubes made from natural reeds or cardboard. You can purchase them with or without paper inserts making cleaning and cocoon harvesting even easier. It is important that the tubes/reeds you choose be at least 6" in length.
Mason bee house placement is important to ensure the health and well being of your bees. It will also help to ensure they remain on your property for years to come. When choosing where to place your Mason bee home, consider that Mason bees travel approximately 300 feet from their nest in search of pollen and nectar. It is important to make sure your choice for their home is a flat surface that also provides:
- Height: Mason bee houses should be placed 1'-6' ft off the ground.
- Sun exposure: Bees are ectothermic which means they cannot regulate their body temperature. Place Mason bee houses facing in a south to south-east direction so the sun can keep the bees warm during the winter months. In Spring, the morning sun exposure will encourage your Mason bees to forage early in the day.
- Protection from the elements: Proper Mason bee house placement should provide adequate protection from high winds. Ideal placement would be under the eave of your home, garage or other outbuildings. If these options are not available to you, there is a variety of bee houses available that provide their protection from the elements.
- Pollen: Mason bees are generalist foragers. They will visit a wide variety of flowering plants and trees during a single gathering trip. It is important to have a variety of native plants blooming at various times through the Spring, so they have plenty to forage from throughout their season.
- Freshwater: Much like humans, bees require a source of fresh water to drink.
- Mud: As their name suggests, Mason bees use mud to seal up the chambers containing their eggs. They prefer mud heavy in clay, and if it is unavailable, they will lay their eggs elsewhere. Do not create a mud pit directly under their house, however. They are weak when they come out of their cocoons and should they fall into the mud; they will die.
Our Final Thoughts
As bee and pollinator numbers continue to decline, it is important for us to do our part to help reverse their decline. There are many ways to do this: stop pesticide use, create more pollinator-friendly gardens, decrease our impact on the Earth and keep bees. While many people keep honey bees because of their honey production, we would be remiss if we ignored the important role that Mason bees play in our ecosystem.
Mason bees are a great option for individuals who want to increase garden and orchard yields while helping the environment. Mason bees require no special equipment, an elaborate set-up or special training. They do not require day-to-day intervention or care through their gentle nature may encourage you to watch their comings and goings as they prepare their nests and collect their pollen. Mason bee house placement is vital but not complicated or overwhelming. Since they travel only 300ft from their nest, it is easy to meet their needs in a relatively small space which makes them a great option for those living in more urban areas.
Creating an environment conducive to the health and well being of Mason bees benefits not only the beekeeper and their local ecosystem but the global environment. Getting started is easy. Set up a Mason bee house today!