This article is used in collaboration with Crown Bees
Mason bees are the perfect pollinators for backyard gardens, farms, and orchards because they are gentle, easy to raise, and fun to watch. Not to mention, they are super cross-pollinators that can double or even triple your yields!
This guide covers the fundamental questions about mason bees and provides step-by- step guidance to help you become a successful bee raiser. The guide is kept simple on purpose.
Mason Bee Characteristics
Mason bees use a variety of nest-building materials. However, they are famously known for using mud-rich clay to build protective walls and seal nests. This unique mud- building behavior led to the common name: mason bee.
Mason bees are solitary bees, and every female is a queen. Since solitary bees do not need to defend their nests, they are gentle and rarely sting - making them safe around kids and pets.
A single mason bee can do the work of 100 honey bees! Masons can visit thousands of flowers a day with a pollination rate of 99%. Contrast that with honey bees, who visit around 700 flowers a day and only pollinate about 5% of flowers visited.
Read also: These Birds Pollinate Flowers
So, what makes masons such effective pollinators?
- They’re active in early spring, making them extremely important for spring
- Masons forage in cool and wet weather, whereas honey bees tend to be fair weather
- Masons meander from tree to tree, facilitating cross-pollination.
- All female mason bees have pollen-collecting hairs covering their body, allowing them to carry pollen loose and dry on their hairy bellies. As they belly-flop from flower to flower, some of the pollen falls off, aiding in pollination.
What Spring Mason Bees Need
Mason bees are cavity-nesting solitary bees, meaning they build their nests inside pre-made nesting cavities. They spend most of their lifetime inside these cavities and emerge from their cocoons as fully mature bees. You can help keep solitary bee populations healthy by providing adequate pollen and nectar sources and using nesting materials that are easy to open and clean, like wood trays or natural reeds.
What you will need:
- A sturdy bee condo or cabin mounted to a solid object.
- 8 mm diameter nesting materials that are sealed at one end, breathable, and easily opened.
- Healthy, region-specific mason bee cocoons.
- Cocoon hatchery to protect cocoons from birds, sun, wind, and rain.
- Dry storage location which mimics natural temps.
What your yard and garden will need:
- Moist, mud-rich clay for females to build and seal their nests.
- Open blooms within 300 ft (100m) of bee house or hotel – native plants are best.
- Daytime temps at least 55°F/13°C.
- Protected location with morning sun.
- Yard and garden free of chemicals.
Why you should consider planting native plants:
- Native plants provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native insects and birds.
- Native plants can help you save money and water.
- Native plants are often more resistant to insects and diseases, so they are less likely to need pesticides.
The Mason Bee Raiser Calendar
Mason bees hibernate as adults and are ready to emerge once spring daytime temperatures are a consistent 55°F/13°C or above. Since climate varies widely across North America, this calendar breaks down mason bee raising tasks by season (and temperatures) to ensure this guide is helpful no matter where you live!
Late Winter, Early Spring
Inspect and take inventory of your 8 mm nesting holes. You should have about one nesting hole per mason bee cocoon. If you raised bees last season, your cocoons should be safely stored in the refrigerator or unheated garage. If you are new to bee raising, order mason bee cocoons two weeks before spring blossoms open. If you want to paint your bee cabin, do it now so it can cure before the bees move in.
When blossoms are open, and daytime temps reach a consistent 55°F/13°C, (nighttime temps don’t matter), it’s time to release your mason bee cocoons. Place cocoons in a small open container or cocoon hatchery to protect them from sun, wind, rain, and predators. Be Patient! Depending on the weather, it can take up to three weeks for bees to emerge, but they are a lot of fun to watch once they do! You can extend your bee season by releasing your cocoons in stages. Just make sure all your mason bee cocoons are released by mid-May.
Mason bees will not nest if they do not have a moist, clay-rich mud source nearby. Click here to learn how to test your soil texture. If it is not clay-rich, then add Mason Bee Mud Mix.
Late Spring, Early Summer
Once mason bee activity stops, which can be as late as July, depending on where you live, it’s time to place the developing bees in a protected area. Gently remove the nesting materials from the bee house and store them in a tightly woven yet breathable mesh bag, mud-capped end up. The bag protects developing bees from summertime parasites. The summer heat is essential for bee development, so ensure the bag is stored in a dry area with natural outdoor temperatures.
Harvest and store cocoons until next spring. Harvesting cocoons is the best way to ensure bee health because it prevents the spread of disease and reduces pests. Harvesting cocoons should be done in the fall, between October and December.
Late Fall, Winter, Early Spring
Mason bee cocoons are waterproof and can be washed and stored in your refrigerator to help the bees conserve their fat stores. Check on your mason bee cocoons 1-2 times a month to ensure they are not dehydrated or growing excess mold (a little mold is OK). If mold forms, you can wash them in a mild bleach solution.