Mason Bees

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on November 26, 2010

Almost everyone has heard that the honey bee is in trouble due to some combination of factors that makes the hive collapse.  Many people report having trouble with improperly pollinated plants as a result.  The mason bee is a bee native to the United States that pollinates vegetables, and other things.  You can encourage mason bees to live in your garden and pollinate your plants with some simple steps.

Mason bees nest in small holes that other creatures make.  They cannot make the holes themselves.  This means that if you provide a board with the correct size hole, they will be happy to use it.

Take a piece of 4 inch by 6 inch wood and drill rows of 5/16th inch holes in it.  Separate each hole from its’ neighbor by 3/4 inch.  The holes should be 5 1/2 inches deep.  Put a roof on the piece of wood to protect the holes from rain and too much sun.  The block of wood should be mounted in your garden at least three feet off the ground, facing southeast so it gets the sun in the morning.

Female bees forage within 100 yards of their nest.  They put a piece of mud in the bottom of the hole.  Then they fill it with pollen from plants — in this case your vegetables.  Finally, they lay an egg on the pollen and put a thin coat of mud over the hole mess.  They repeat this until the hole is full.  Then they move on to the next hole.

Adults only live 4-6 weeks.  The eggs hatch in the summer and eat their supply of pollen.  They then spin a cocoon and eventually become adults.  However, they stay in the cocoon over the winter and emerge in the spring to start the cycle all over again.

Because of their short life span as adults, mason bees cannot provide all the pollination a vegetable gardener needs.  However, they are a native pollinator that can help pollinate and should be encouraged.  They are gentle and do not sting unless handled or they get trapped in clothing.

You can buy both mason bee houses and mason bees from various places.  The mason bee houses are essentially as I describe.  If you do not want to construct one yourself, this may be a good option.

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