A Perfect Gift for Gardeners is a Mason Bees Habitat
Three years ago I bought the mason bee house shown in this picture for my son on his birthday. He and his kids have now made a nice mason bee habitat in his backyard and there are just so many cool things about this! The kids are learning about nature, insect life cycles and the importance of our habitat and bees. Please watch the short video they made of the mason bees hatching and coming out of their cocoons! (Video is also at bottom of this article).
Why Buy a Mason Bee House?
We all know that bees pollinate our flowers and fruit trees. But what many don’t know is that the bees are disappearing! Wild honey bee colonies have been slowly disappearing since the 1990’s. This means smaller fruit and smaller crops.
Fortunately, mason bees can help pollinate city gardens. Simply provide a mason bee house and they will reproduce and pollinate your berries and fruit trees. In addition, mason bees rarely sting!
This is a perfect gift for a gardener, because who wouldn’t want to help our environment and have their own private pollinators!?
Mason Bees Information
- In general, Mason bees are much smaller than honey bees, are black and have an iridescent blue sheen in sunlight.
- Males are smaller than females. They are also referred to as the blue orchard bee or orchard mason bee.
- Mason bees are solitary, in that the females nest on their own without working with other bees in a colony.
- They are active in early spring. In spring they emerge from their cocoons, they mate and the female starts to build her nest by foraging for pollen and nectar. This activity causes pollination.
- When she has collected enough to feed a larvae, she lays an egg, and closes off the area with mud.
- Then she repeats this process until she has laid all her eggs
This is where we humans come in, by providing a convenient nesting tunnel in our yards. These houses with the holes or tubes attract mason bees all on their own! In other words, instant mason bee habitat.
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The Mason Bee house is about the size of a small bird house, except they are filled with small tunnels for bees to nest in. Some people put up a bee box and call it a day. They prefer to let Nature take it’s course and this is called a ‘rustic’ nest. This is a great option for kids or a small city yard.
A ‘managed’ nest is where we intervene by removing the cocoons in the fall, clean the nest and/or provide fresh tubes to nest in, and then set the cocoons out in the spring. The advantage is that you have a larger bee population in the spring.
Here are the steps for providing a managed mason bee nest (not mandatory but a great project!):
- Hang your bee box up in an appropriate location in the garden area.
- In the fall remove the nesting tubes from the bee house
- Remove the cocoons from the tubes and soak in water to remove mud and particles
- Clean the nesting tubes/tray if they are plastic. Replace the tubes if they are not.
- After 20 minutes of soaking, rinse cocoons under a spray of water until they look clean
- Dry for an hour on paper towels
- Store cocoons in a safe cold place, such as refridgerator, cool unheated garage or cellar.
- In the spring, put the cocoons out near the nest for hatching
Keeping Mason Bees Happy!
Is it enough to hang up a bee house? No, not really! Your bees will need flowers with pollen and nectar both to attract them to your yard in the first place, as well as to keep them there once they emerge in the spring.
Here are some tips for your new mason bee habitat:
- Choose plants with a wide variety of blooming times that start in early spring
- Research flowers mason bees like. The best options is to have many colors and shapes of flowers. Bees particularily love blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.
- Do not use chemicals and pesticides in the garden.
- Plant flowers in masses instead of one here and one there. Also be sure there are many plants in the sunny areas of the garden, as bees do prefer sun.
- Try to incorporate as many native blooming plants as possible. If you think about it, a native bee would be more partial to a native plant.
And finally, please watch the short video of this year’s Mason bees hatching and emerging from their cocoons!
Mason Bee Supplies