Mason bees are surprisingly easy to care for – and they’re a lot of fun! Check out a few helpful hints for raising these safe solitary bees in your own backyard.
When you think of beekeepers, you probably think of puffy white jumpsuits, heavy hive boxes, and First Aid kits kept close by to deal with stings. Hey, honeybees produce a delicious treat that makes the fuss well worth it! But many beekeepers pick up the hobby for another reason: the fantastic benefits bees bring to the ecosystem. After all, bees are one of the world’s most productive pollinators, and they are fundamental to a healthy, sustainable environment.
But did you know that there’s an easier way to help bees do their business of saving the planet – and enjoy watching them in the works? Caring for mason bees provides people with an easy, fun, and safe hobby that helps support a healthy environment. Take a look!
See Also: Mason Bee Beginners Guide
What are Mason Bees?
A mason bee is a type of solitary bee – the kind that doesn’t swarm, sting, or set up a massive hive. Solitary bees don’t produce honey, either, which means they aren’t in a fuss over defending their turf. This is great news for people allergic to or afraid of beestings. Because mason bees aren’t prone to sting, they’re a great little bee species for raising in the backyard.
Mason bees live on their own in small, hollow tubes formed in tree bark, clay, dirt, or dry husks. While they don’t produce honey, mason bees do score massive eco-friendly points for being super pollinators. And they’re quite fun to watch! Here are a few tips on caring for mason bees.
Order or Attract
Mason bees can be attracted naturally to the yard by setting up ideal conditions, including flowering foliage and adequate shelter. If you don’t feel confident that mason bees will get the hint, you can also order a batch of mason bee cocoons from special providers.
Building a Better Bee House
Like most solitary bees, mason bees prefer to live in hollow, tube-like structures. In the wild, they find ideal living conditions among dried grasses, husks, and mud. Clay-like soil is a wonderful resource for mason bees to build or enhance their home.
You can also purchase a bee house or build one from scraps. A simple block of wood can be fixed right up by drilling a few channels into it – perfect little tunnels for a mason bee to make its home. Always secure your bee house to a tree trunk, fence, or other secure object that won’t topple. Positioning the bee house behind something to break the wind is a good idea, too.
Flowers, Flowers, Flowers
Mason bees gather pollen from a wide variety of flowering plants, so it’s best to include an assortment. Try and choose plants that flower at different times throughout the spring and summer so that there’s always something blooming. Also, keep the bee house within 300 feet of foliage so the mason bees don’t feel the need to move.
Native plants are a great option for providing a nurturing eco-system that can support mason bees. Every region has slightly different native plants. Not sure what’s native to your neck of the woods? The National Wildlife Federation has an awesome tool on their website called the native plant finder – check it out to discover flowering plants that mason bees in your area will love!
Mason bees are most active between March and June, spending sunny hours foraging for pollen. But by early summer, their focus shifts to laying cocoons for the next year. You’ll notice that the hollow tubes will be capped with mud – a big sign that baby bees are in the works. Moving nesting tubes to a place with better shelter can be a great idea come late summer.
A paper bag or cardboard box placed in a shed can offer a safe place for cocoons to stay protected from predators, like mice. Just be sure to keep the enclosure well ventilated.
In the fall, harvesting consists of carefully sorting cocoons, which are typically light gray with an oblong shape. A flat-head screwdriver is a great tool for scraping out mason bee cocoons – just don’t squish the adult bees that may still be living inside the bee house! Lightly sift the cocoons with sand to help dislodge mites and debris.
Clean cocoons can then be placed in a container with air holes and tucked in a cool, dry space to wait out winter. A refrigerator usually works just fine, as the best overwintering conditions are 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit at 60-70% humidity.
As soon as spring hits with a couple of days in the mid-50s, place the cocoons back into a clean bee house outdoors, and wait for them to emerge. A whole new season of caring for mason bees has begun!