We all need bees. We may take them and other pollinators like butterflies and hoverflies for granted, but they're vital to stable, healthy food supplies and key to the varied, colourful and nutritious diets we enjoy.
Bees are perfectly adapted to pollinate, helping plants grow, breed and produce food. They do so by transferring pollen between flowering plants and therefore keeping the cycle of life turning.
The vast majority of plants we need for food rely on pollination, especially by bees: from berries to apples to squash. Bees also pollinate wildflowers, so our countryside would be far less interesting and beautiful without them.
But bees are in trouble. There's growing public and political concern at bee decline across the world. This decline is caused by a combination of stresses – from loss of habitat, food sources and exposure to pesticides and the effects of climate breakdown.
More than ever before, we need to recognize the importance of bees to nature and to our lives. And we need to turn that into action to ensure they don't just survive but thrive.
Your fruit trees and berry bushes bloom in the spring. Mason Bees are one of the few bees that can fly in cool and wet spring weather. Mason Bees are excellent pollinators that only fly 100m from their bee house, so you know they are working hard in your garden and orchard.
When a flower does not get enough pollination it will produce small or misshapen fruit or no fruit at all. I have had many people say they did not grow fruit on their trees for years and when they raised Mason Bees, the trees cropped in abundance. Many people are surprised to see their old apple tree loaded with fruit after using Mason Bees.
Mason bees winter as adults so hatch in spring whereas Leafcutters winter as larvae and need spring and summer warm temperatures to develop into a hatching adult, so when the Mason bees are dying off in late spring the Leafcutters are just getting going. Leafcutters will pollinate your summer garden veggies and many other summer flowering plants and will generally be around and active into early Fall.
All of our Mason bee homes will raise enough Mason Bees to pollinate the average garden and orchard. It only takes 250 female Mason Bees to pollinate an acre of commercial orchard apple trees.
Mason Bees emerge from their cocoons beginning in the early spring. The life span of female Mason Bees after they emerge is only about 6 to 8 weeks. The new generation of Mason Bees will develop inside the nesting holes The egg hatches into a larva, slowly eats its pollen wad, spins a cocoon, and over the summer transforms in to an adult bee who hibernates through winter until spring. The new generation of bees will emerge next spring and the cycle begins again.
No, they are easy to raise and all you need to do is make sure they have plenty of blossoms available and moist clay based soil near their bee house. Harvest time in the winter can be accomplished in a few hours.
Hosting mason bees is very easy. You need to provide them with three things:
- Sources of pollen and nectar during April and May within 300 feet from their nesting block. This could be fruit trees, flower beds, a yard of dandelions or a green belt. Remember, they won’t just stop on your property line, they will travel into your neighbors’ yards for food too.
- A Mason bee home in the sun, you want to ensure that they will get morning suns they will warm up and get to work.
- A mud source. We have small bags of clay available if you want to supplement your sandy soil with some clay for the bees to seal their nesting holes with. Make sure you keep it moist while the bees are nesting.
If you have not harvested and cleaned your cocoons, the home may contain some bees, but I guarantee you it will be loaded with parasites. If the nesting holes are Bamboo or drilled in wood it is not possible to clean the holes. Just before the fruit trees blossom place the home in a cardboard box closed up tight and dark with a 3/8 inch hole in the side near the bottom. Place it under a covered area so it stays dry, when it is warm enough the bees will hatch and exit through the hole and look for a new home. Dispose of the now empty nesting you don't want the parasites it contains around.
Monodomtomerus wasps will lay their eggs inside the cocoon. Pollen mites will eat the pollen meant for the Mason bee larvae. Houdini flies will lay their eggs on the gathered pollen. These are the major parasites there are also a few minor parasites. Without harvesting and cleaning the nesting holes, these parasites will take over in a single season.
No, only Honey bees make honey, they need to store food to keep the colony alive over the winter. Mason Bees do not need to make honey because each bee is hibernating over the winter inside their cocoon.
You don't have to worry about getting stung! Mason bees are extremely docile bees. All the females are fertile, which means there is no queen bee for the other bees to protect. They will happily go about their day visiting flowers and carrying mud to the nesting block and not be bothered or aggravated by your presence. You can easily stand in front of the bee house and watch them fly in and out without having to worry about getting stung. Recent experiments out of the USDA Bee Lab have shown that Mason bees do not contain any venom which is unlike honey bees or wasps. This means that even if they were to sting you (which might only happen if you handled them roughly) it would feel more like a mosquito bite than a sting.
Mason bees do not look like a typical “bee.” They are small black/blue metallic insects. The males have a white hair on the front of their forehead. You can distinguish them from a fly by looking for their three-part body (head, thorax, and abdomen), two sets of wings (flies only have one set), two separate eyes, and segmented antennae.
Mason bees use clay based soil to pack the holes where they lay their offspring. They start at the back of the nesting hole and after many trips to gather pollen and nectar build a ball of pollen and nectar. They lay their egg on top of the food source and then build a mud wall, creating a small cell. They will repeat this process until they have reached the front of the hole, and then plug it with a ¼” of mud that they carry with their mandibles. At the end of the nesting season in each nesting hole there will be between 5-8 mason bee offspring behind a plug of mud. When you host mason bees in your yard, you will need to make sure that your clay based soil stays moist while they are nesting.
The lifecycle of a mason bee takes about 1 year. They start when a newly hatched adult lays an egg in the spring, then they develop from the egg into larva, into a pupa finally into adult bee inside a cocoon. Once they reach maturity in the early fall they hibernate until spring temperatures reach around 55 degrees and spring blossoms start to appear. The males will hatch first and wait around for the females to hatch, they breed, then the female nests for 7-8 weeks. So even though we only see them flying around for a few months out of the year, a single mason bee lives for one year.
They range about 100 meters in any direction from where you hang the Mason bee home. That means that when you hang the home, it doesn’t necessary need to be right next to your berries or fruit trees or your mud hole. The bees will seek out the resources they need. It is important to hang the home in a sunny spot.
Even thought the bees are hibernating over winter they still produce waste so in the spring when they wake up and hatch the first thing they do after they emerge is poop which is the beige spots you will see on the release site.
Absolutely! Each bee depending on size, shape, behavior, and emergence times fall into their own ecological niche. This allows different kinds of bees to forage on different resources and nest in different places so that they can co-habitat in the same places. That means you can host mason bees in your yard and not have to worry about them taking resources away from other bees or vice versa. When planning your garden, it is a good idea to plant a diverse combination of plants to support different kinds of native bees
No, Mason bees are not destructive they only use existing holes.
The Mason Bees will scatter out and find nesting holes elsewhere, which will be a great benefit to your neighbours and the environment.
Sometimes it can take weeks for the bees to hatch so be patient. If you are seeing brown spots on the release box this mean the bees have started hatching, the males first and the females to follow, days or weeks later. If the females find what they need, pollen sources and clay based soil, they will nest. It is natures way to spread out so not every bee will use the nesting block, they will find other places to nest in your area. The nest needs to be in full sun if possible. Do not use pesticides or spread granular fertilizer on the lawn before or while the bees are nesting.
TO DO WITH YOUR BAG OF POWDERED CLAY:
- Dig a small hole (about a foot deep) somewhere in your yard. It should be at least 20 feet away from where you hung your bee house. The bees will travel 300 feet in any direction from the box searching for pollen and mud.
- Wet down the hole.
- Add small amounts of water to the bag to wet the clay until it forms a paste. This part is a bit messy as the clay gets very sticky when its wet.
- Line the bottom of the south side of the hole with the sticky clay about .5" to 1" thick. The clay does not need to go all the way around the hole. The bees will go into the hole to find muddy clay.
- Keep the hole moist while the bees are nesting. As temperatures dry out, fill the hole periodically with water when you go out to water your garden. This will keep the clay and native soil moist and enable the bees to use it to seal their nesting holes which protects the developing offspring.
- If your yard has clay based soil all you need to do is ensure there is moist soil available.
No, when the bees first hatch they take an orientation flight so when they fly around gathering pollen they know where to return to. If you move the nest they will be disorientated and may just fly away.