Introduction to Mason Bees
The Mason Bee is named for its habit of using mud to build nest compartments. The orchard mason bee is one of the best pollinators around. They can easily be mistaken for a small black & blue fly about 2/3 the size of a honey bee.
Image Courtesy: www.neighborhoodnotes.com
Whether you have fruit trees, a vegetable garden, or flowers, these bees will ensure you get the most out of what you are growing. While much attention has been paid to the honey bee, it is important to note that mason bees are exceptional pollinators without the wax, honey, swarm or sting.
It has been estimated that a honey bee can pollinate about 5% of the flowers it visits, whereas the mason bee pollinates about 95% and visits twice as many flowers! This pollination is crucial to growing vegetables and fruit and can help ensure a much greater yield in your garden.
How To Start Mason Bees
Mason bees require a nesting hole (drilled or nature made by beetles) 5/16 of an inch in diameter and 4 inches long. Arts Nursery has a great selection of custom made mason bee houses, and replacement tubes. We also sell boxes of bees instore during the early spring.
You’ll want to put your bee hive outside during the month of March or April. Find a place in your yard that will be protected from rain and where the house will get morning sun, or a south-facing wall to maximize warmth from the sun. This will ensure that they are kept dry and the bees wake up earlier, ensuring more flowers are visited.
The males are the first on the scene, but these are not your key pollinators. They are necessary for reproduction of more female bees. The females will begin arriving around April, and in the month that follows, you will see the difference these bees will make in your garden.
Be sure to have plants that support their food needs. The earliest blooming food source (for pollinators) in the pacific west coast area is the red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) certainly one of the most beloved and showy of native northwest shrubs. They offer a brilliant display of red flowers in spring, growing best in rocky, well-drained soil in a sunny location.This deciduous shrub can feed mason bees as well as early visiting humming birds.
Life cycle of the Mason Bee
Adult bees break through mud walls and emerge from the bee box nests. The male bees, which leave the nest 2 weeks before the females, patiently wait for the females so that the mating process can begin. Once the female bees make it to the outside world (before their wings have a chance to dry) they are attacked and fertilized by the male bees. Then the males die.
Females lay both fertilized and unfertilized eggs in the nesting holes and a mixture of pollen and nectar (bee pudding) is placed next to each egg. All of the fertilized eggs will produce female bees, whereas unfertilized ones will produce males. The female will lay about 35 eggs over 4-6 weeks, each one in its own protective chamber, sealed with mud. The egg turns into a larva in about 4 days, and eats it’s food supply.
Larvae spin cocoons within the nesting hole. By September they are adult bees, but stay in a dormant state until next spring.
The new bees are getting ready for early spring when they will emerge from their nests.
Mason Bee supplies are available in-store and online at our new web store: http://shop.artsnursery.com. The actual Mason Bees are available from February through April, in-store only.
If you have any questions about Mason Bees, please feel free to drop by or give us a call at Art's Nursery, 604.882.1201, during business hours.