MASON BEES – We are all aware of the decline in our bee population due to mites, environmental issues and the over-use of pesticides. There is one bee however that we can easily help cultivate and in kind it will help our early crops. It is the mason bee: known in Japan as the horn-faced bee, in Europe as the red mason bee and in the Americas as either the blueberry bee or the orchard mason bee.
They are one of the earliest bees to emerge in spring and have a very short-lived life; between 4-8 weeks. Because it is an early pollinator they are drawn to areas with orchards but will adapt to your yard with the addition of a fruit tree (cherry, apple or pear) or early spring flowers such as crocus, hyacinth and snowdrop. Early blooming trees such as Eastern Redbud are also beneficial for these hard workers. In their short life, the female will mate, pollinate and lay on the average 45-50 eggs. Mason bees, unlike other bees are not aggressive and are not known to sting even in self-defense. This being said, they are extremely helpful without the danger or drawbacks normally associated with other bees.
Mason bees are not hive builders, but prefer to make their homes in trees or in wood that has been drilled by woodpeckers, or other small insects. You can buy a mason bee home or build one easily. Grab a block of wood-untreated and not cedar since it has natural repellent properties- or a good sized log and watch the video below. After making your bee house, the time to place it would be an early spring. Be sure to post it 3 ft. Off the ground,facing southeast so that it receives morning sun. When the mature female emerges she will mate and within 4-8 weeks time will fill each tube with 6-8 eggs and seal with mud. Masons require mud for sealing their nests and you can help by digging a small mud hole or setting out a saucer with mud in it. Be sure to check often and keep watered. Within 4-6 weeks you should notice mud covering the openings in your wood. Leave in place until early October.
Keeping a steady temperature is vital to protect your young bees and with winter weather patterns being unpredictable it has been found that the best way to insure this is to take down the nest in late Oct. and prepare it for storage by placing in a shed, garage or a refrigerator until spring.
In early spring bring your nest back outdoors, again hang it facing Southeast and leave until you see all nesting holes have been opened. Take down the nest, clean out the old tubing and debris with a dry rag. Refill with fresh paper tubing and hang for another season.
Note: In warmer climates, mason bees will actually make their nests in a mud trough. Simply trench an area 4–6 in. deep and keep moist. Be mindful of where you make your mudding trough if you decide to try this instead of a wood home.
Bees are a vital element to our way of life and being mindful of them and their needs will help us to ensure being able to meet our own.