There are over 4000 species of bees native to North America. Of all the species, mason bees are the most popular among the farmers and beekeepers.
They are amazing pollinators and incredibly gentle. With that said, mason bees play a critical role in revamping the environment. It is easy to increase the population of mason bees by raising them in your gardens and backyards.
Saving bees is our only way to sustain our future food supply. And raising them in your backyard means supplementing the stressed honeybee and providing nesting sites for other bees as well.
Most people easily confuse mason bees and carpenter bees.
Mason bees, unlike carpenter bees, don’t create holes to nest in, and therefore, do not cause any sort of destruction.
They take residence in any readily available holes, but there is no harm done. So, stop trying to get rid of mason bees. These solitary, gentle insects are nothing but beneficial.
If you are wondering how they are beneficial, read on to learn about their benefits and the ways you can attract them.
What Are Mason Bees?
Masonry bees or mason bees are a variety of solitary bees that got its name due to the masonry ‘mud’ work they perform to seal off the chamber in which they lay eggs. They do this to keep the eggs safe throughout their early life cycle.
Mason bees don’t make holes for nesting, rather they take up residence in any readily available hole. While they do love nesting in deteriorated human masonry, there is no destruction done.
They nest by finding suitable holes where they lay their eggs. Once the mason bee collects enough nectar and pollen to feed the pupa, it uses clay or mud to construct a seal over the chamber of eggs.
The female bee will lay more eggs over this seal, and after sufficient supplies are delivered to these eggs for survival, the female bee creates another seal, and the process continues until the nest is full and completely sealed over.
As the eggs transform into a pupa, they build cocoons around themselves to protect against colder months. After hibernation, they emerge from their nest, looking for partners before searching for appropriate nesting sites to lay eggs. And this cycle continues.
Most people speculate whether mason bees sting. They do sting if they face any threat. It is the basic instinct of survival. But since these bees are extremely gentle, you are likely safe. And when they sting, they are probably under severe duress, like being squeezed or captured.
However, male mason bees don’t have stingers. Females have them, but they produce extremely weak venom.
In short, mason bee stinging is rare, and if out of the blue, you are stung, the pain you experience is mild.
Since they are solitary creatures, meaning they are not part of a colony, any hive or queen to protect, they have never needed to evolve any sort of defensive behavior such as an aggressive demeanor like other types of bees.
Benefits of Mason Bees
Mason bees do not make honey, but they offer a much better solution of cross-pollination. Unlike your honeybees, mason bees tend to entirely cover themselves in pollen when sucking in the nectar. According to experts, this is an effective cross-pollination method.
Cross-pollination helps in producing stronger plants that are less vulnerable to disease and outbreak. Thus, attracting mason bees to your garden is a great way to get bigger blossoms in your flower garden or more blueberries on your blueberry bush.
Mason bees collect more pollen than nectar. In fact, they achieve 95-99% pollination compared to 5% for honeybees. They love to forage. They leave their nests earlier, forage longer, and return later in the day compared to honeybees.
An average mason bee visits up to 2000 flowers daily.
This makes mason bees the super pollinators of nut and fruit trees, flowers, and berries. To pollinate one fruit tree, only six mason bees are needed, compared to 10,000 honeybees.
Mason bees complement the efforts of other pollinators like butterflies, birds, and other insects. What’s the best part about nesting bees is that they are environmentally beneficial to professional growers and home gardeners, as they pollinate nuts, fruits, berries, and flowers within 100-yards of their nesting site.
They are extraordinary pollinators, and just 250 female mason bees can pollinate an entire acre of cherries or apple.
Things to Note
Before you lure mason bees to your garden, it is essential that you understand some basics. As you already know that mason bees are solitary, tunnel-nesting bees, the female bees raise their offspring on their own, without the support of the worker bees and highly-organized social colony.
In general, mason bees are spring pollinators. In the majority of the cases, mason bees emerge from hibernation in early spring when the temperature reaches about 50° F. However, some mason bees emerge during summer or in late spring under different conditions. So, you must know about the mason bee species in your region and when they emerge from hibernation.
It is also essential to know what type of habitat and the surrounding they prefer for nesting. This will give you an idea of what you will need to attract mason bees to your garden.
How to Attract Mason Bees?
Whether you are a farmer or love gardening in your backyard, you must have come across the tremendous benefits of mason bees. We know that you are looking for ways to attract them. Therefore, in this section, we are going to tell you some of the easy ways to attract mason bees to your garden or farm.
During the early spring, you can start attracting mason bees by offering them nesting tunnels, a mud source, and plenty of bee food.
You can make mason bee nests at home or buy them. I prefer making them at home, as it is cost-effective and fun. You can take a non-treated woodblock and drill some holes into it. Expert beekeepers suggest that the holes should be 5/16” in diameter. This is an ideal size preferred by mason bees.
- Take a sharp drill bit and start making holes in a non-treated wood block. Always use a sharp drill bit as it ensures there are no splinters.
- Do not drill all the way through the end. The holes should be 4-6 inches deep. You need to provide enough depth (6-inch is maximum) as mason bees tend to control the gender of the eggs. The female eggs are deposited in the back and males in the front. This is a way to protect female eggs from predators since mason bees produce fewer female eggs. They do this to maintain the population of female mason bees. So, make sure the hole you make is 6-inch deep.
- You can drill a maximum of 20 holes in a single block of non-treated wood. Most importantly, the block must incorporate a caveat.
- After a couple of years of use, you must retire the woodblock and make a new one. This ensures that your mason bee population is safe from parasite problems and debilitating disease.
Once you have created the nesting holes for mason bees, the next step is to find an ideal spot to place the nest. It is vital that you place the nest in a proper location. There are several considerations when placing the nest for attracting mason bees. They include:
- Mount the nest on a tree or fence, or on the side of a building where it will receive the warmth and light of the morning sun, along with protection from rain and wind. Mason bees need dry nesting cells to propagate and warmth to fly. So, you can place the nest 4-7 feet above the ground to provide protection against moisture.
- Make sure that the place, where you are hanging the nest, has a mud source nearby, say within 50-feet, if possible. They use mud to seal their eggs and nest.
- Last but not least, the nest must be 200-300 feet nearby the pollen-rich, spring-blossoming trees and plants. This is important because you don’t want the bees to roam far away in search of food. Since they are avid foragers, you need to make sure that everything is in their close proximity.
During winters, you can take down the nest (filled with eggs) and store it in a dark, unheated place like a garage or shed. This is to prevent the eggs from freezing. Once the cold month’s end, you can return the nest to its original place and enjoy the new generation of pollinators.
Being a mason beekeeper is cost-effective and low maintenance. You don’t need to invest in anything extra, including food. If they have plenty of mud and flowers, you will find them thriving in your garden.