The Importance of Mason Bees
To bee or not to bee, that is our question. While it may sound funny, it is coming to the time of the year where we prepare for our personal gardening efforts. We think about what we want to plant within our gardens and more importantly how we want that garden to thrive. We think about pollination and those insects that perform the best job.
Let us introduce to you, the Mason Bee!
Science teaches us that bees, specifically the Mason Bee, supports a healthy properly pollinated garden. Mason Bees are significantly more effective at pollinating a garden than the fabulous Bumble or Honeybees. Unlike the Honey or the Bumble bee, Mason Bees do not have a hive, so all pollen they collect stays in their possession.
When do the Mason Bee gets to work?
In the early springtime when temperatures are a still a bit cool, Mason Bees start to emerge, far earlier than their counterparts. Usually when fruit trees begin to bloom, you will see the Mason Bees getting to work. Thus because of their activities, there is an increase of pollination yielding an increase of blooms for both herbs and flowering plants.
Anatomy & Housing / Nest
Mason Bees have special hair on their bellies called scopa, which collects pollen simply crawling over blossoms, though they do lose more pollen when returning to their nests. They build nests inside tunnels that have been left behind by other tree insects, as they cannot make tunnels themselves. They are the perfect “upcyclers”, and love a good home of wood (with or without drilled holes).
Characteristics & Behavior
They are very unpredictable in their flight patterns, you will often see them fly back and forth between trees and plants. They also avoid traveling more than a few hundred feed from their nests.
Now, Mason Bees do not produce honey, nor are they particular about what plants and blossoms they visit, nor do they fly more than a few hundred feet from their nesting tubes. This doesn’t mean they are not good worker bees. Their entire lives are dedicated to collecting pollen and laying eggs, with the all the work being done by the female mason bee.
Your Bee Houses
It is recommended to use attractants with your cocoons, as it may attract more bees to your home. When it is about 50°F outside in your local area, you may release your bees. Be sure to place your Mason Bee Houses in an area near the spaces you want pollinated and leave enough room above the tubes. Consider releasing your bees in 2 waves, to extend your pollination season.
Mason Bees love morning sunshine, so you should look for an east or south facing spot. A fence or wall or side of a building is good. Avoid a spot under a swaying branch since the bees don’t like dappled shade. Your spot should be well above ground.
Your male bees will emerge first and will forage for the nectar. They will be waiting for the female bees. Before releasing your population of bees, be sure to have more small cocoons verses large, to ensure that there are enough males to mate with your females.
End of the Mason Bee Season & Harvesting Requirements
You will know your Mason Bee Season is over with when the tunnels are completely capped with mud. This usually occurs around early summer. Once they are capped, you may choose to move the tubes into a protective and breathable bag to prevent parasites and predators. Store this bag in a warm area and in an area, they will not be disturbed.
You will leave them until the next harvest which is in the fall. To harvest open the tubes scrape out nesting materials. Take your time sorting the cocoons from the debris, making sure this in a cool place! If you do this in your warm house or location, you will awake your bees early!
IMPORTANT: Any c-shaped cocoons should be separated immediately: these are likely affected by chalkbrood, a fungal spore disease that spreads readily.
Wash the cocoons in a gentle cold-water bath, continuing to look for chalkboard. If any is found, add a ¼ cup of bleach per one gallon of water to kill fungal spores. A helpful tip is that any cocoons that sink should be separated and disposed of. Please also be aware of any small holes, as there may be an infection of parasites by wasps, and they should be separated from your healthy bees.
Storing Your Cocoons
Store your cocoons in a refrigerator between 30 and 40°F, in a maintained enclosure with approximately 60 to 70% humidity. You can store as such through the winger, and until the temperature consistently breaks the 50-degree mark.
Getting Started in your Mason Bees
You can purchase your Mason Bee Kits now in the gift shop come visit!