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Mason Bees Are Easy, Home-Grown Pollinators for Your Garden

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Gardeners are becoming more and more aware of the importance of pollination in our gardens. We are now planting early flowering plants for bee feed and adding areas of native plants to encourage native bees to populate our gardens. Mason bees help us go one step further.

Ignite a passion

A few years ago I discovered how easy it was to have mason bees in my garden. Of course, like many other things, I started small and gradually got more and more involved. The first house for my mason bees was a PVC pipe with a cap on it. I nailed the cap to a post outside and then added the tube. The wooden block for the bees went in, I bought the bees, warm weather happened and then the bees appeared! It was really that simple. Well, there is a little more information that you should have.

Started

I bought my first kit from my local Valley Nursery in Poulsbo, Washington. It’s a Crown Bee Kit and the bees come from there too. You can buy the house separately or make one yourself. The kit contains a wooden block with holes already drilled, a piece of cloth sprayed with an attractant and a box of bees. I also bought paper tubes to fill in the blocks and create more space. The bees can be kept in your refrigerator until the weather warms up to 30 ° C at night.

A cycle lasting several years

If the weather is right, the attractor goes on top of the block and the beehive on top. The bees will emerge to look for food (pollination), and the attractant will help them find their way back. The bees pollinate and collect pollen to feed their young. You lay eggs in the tubes, wrap some pollen, add some mud, and then start again until the tube is full and end up with more mud. They will last for several weeks. After they’re done, they die and the eggs remain dormant until the next spring when new bees emerge from the tubes and start the cycle again.

This grid protects bees from hungry predators. Photo: Susan Calhoun

Maintaining the right conditions

The houses should be tilted down slightly to protect the pipes from rain. They should face east or south so the morning sun will warm them before they start working. A good supply of water or mud should be pretty tight. I have a stream on my property for this to work. Watch out for predators like birds that love to eat eggs. In the spring I put a plastic grille over the front of the house to keep birds from pulling out the tubes. The grid needs to be big enough for the bees to fly through.

Some options for wintering

In the first few years I cleared out the boxes and bees, kept them in the refrigerator over the winter and started the cycle all over again in the spring. (For more information on this process, visit Crownbees.com.) Last year I had more bees than there was room in the houses. Since they were very hardworking, they decided to use the corrugated polycarbonate sheets for my greenhouse. I now have a perfect view of the mason bees colony on the sides of my greenhouse. Many farmers do not clean the boxes or bees, but leave the houses outside protected over the winter.

Mason bees in a greenhouseSome mason bees have settled in the slats of my greenhouse and I get a front row seat for their activities. Photo: Susan Calhoun

Why mason bees

There are a few reasons why you should consider adding mason bees to your yard this year:

  1. A mason bee can pollinate as many flowers as 100 honey bees.
  2. They are solitary bees, which means they don’t swarm in a beehive, have no spines, and are not aggressive.
  3. Most species of mason bees are native.
  4. They are fun to see and interesting to learn about their behavior.
  5. You will live in the places you provide and in your surrounding garden.

Mason bees are one of the best things to see in spring. Fascinating to watch, they are busy bees doing so much good in the garden.

– Susan Calhoun is the owner of Plantswoman Design in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

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Robert Dunfee