I just read an interesting article in the March/April edition of Urban Farm Magazine on Mason Bees. I just started a subscription to this magazine. Overall, it is a pretty entertaining read. There are a lot of great photos. There are some good articles; however, I think there are too many articles that don’t have enough depth to them. But I am a bit picky, and this is not a review of this magazine.

Unfortunately, this article is not available online, or I would have provided a link. But here are the highlights (with some knowledge gaps filled in by me):

  • Mason Bees belong to the Osmia genus of the Megachilidae family… the (mostly) Solitary Bee family.
  • Many Mason Bees are native to North America, but these species are truly worldwide in distribution.
  • Being a solitary bee, they rarely sting… why die when you have nothing to defend (a large hive)? Just fly away.
  • Their name comes from their habit of using mud in their nests (hollow reeds/twigs or narrow holes in wood).
  • Mason Bees collect pollen and pack it in their nests. It will be eaten by the Mason Bee larvae once the eggs hatch.
  • One Mason Bee can do the pollinating work of 100 European Honeybees.
  • In one day, a Mason Bee can pollinate over 1,000 flowers.
  • We can purchase Mason Bee cocoons to be shipped to us when dormant.
  • 10-20 cocoons is a good place to start.
  • Order by March at the latest, because demand is often higher than supply.
  • Hibernating cocoons can be kept in the refrigerator until ready.
  • Cocoons can be set out when the daytime weather is consistently in the 50’s F (10-15 C).
  • Set out one-third of the cocoons every 2 weeks to avoid loss from sudden weather changes.
  • We should provide holes, mud, and pollen for the bees – all within about 300 feet (90 meters).
  • Wood blocks drilled with 5/16-inch holes or straws/reeds can be used to provide homes.
  • If you don’t have any natural mud, you can just keep a pile of wet, clay-type soil on your property for the bees.
  • Pollen will be provided (hopefully) by all your plants!

Overall, Mason Bees should be integrated into our Permaculture Design. With minimal effort, we can create benefical habitat to attract them. With a bit more effort and a little money, we can actively bring them.

MasonBees02

Drilled wood is the traditional, and still very common, method for man-made habitat for Mason Bees.

The article does go into, and actually really pushes, “keeping” the bees. In other words, actively managing the bees. This really just involves harvesting the cocoons every Autumn and storing them in your refrigerator. To be honest, I don’t think I will be doing this. While, I understand why the author is promoting this, I think it is too much. These are native bees. They can handle the environment. The more we manage them and protect their hibernation, the more we will be interfering with natural selection. We will be creating bees that end up needing to be protected if they are going to survive at all. This type of management ends up creating more work for us and less resiliency in the long run.

MasonBees01

Straws filled with Mason Bee larvae.

My plan will be to provide plenty of really good habitiat. I’ll order some cocoons each year for a few years, and then maybe once every few years after that. I will put out new blocks or bundles of reeds for homes each year. I will maintain high levels of biodiveristy on my property. I will not be spraying chemicals of any sort. Other than that, I will be as hands off as I can. Let nature lead, and I bet I will end up with a stable population of Mason Bees with minimal on-going effort.

Of course, I say all this without ever doing it… yet. I hope in just over a year to start putting these ideas into practice. Please share any additional thoughts or experiences with us as well – leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

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Photo References:

  • http://blueberrytalk.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/mason-bee-mar08-005.jpg
  • http://blueberrytalk.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/may-2210-002.jpg
  • http://threehundredandsixtysix.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/mason_bee.jpg