Mason Bees


Also known as Blue Orchard Mason Bees

Put up a mason bee nest block and as soon as the first bee moves in "Poof" you are a beekeeper!

Browse books on mason bees or expand the search to solitary bees and other native pollinators

If you have spring blooming trees and plants around you can raise mason bees.  They actually do the raising; you just provide the home.  While they tend various plants their name comes from their preference for fruit or orchard trees.  They do a better job pollinating than honeybees since they will work in the cooler weather normally found in the spring.

Mason bees are solitary bees but they are also gregarious and prefer to live close to each other.  The females each nest in their own tubes and do not help each other.  They only raise one generation a year and that makes it extra easy for the beekeeper.  Put the nest block up, let her provision the nest tubes, and then store them in a safe place until next spring.

Mason Bee Nest Block from DavesBeesVideos on Youtube.

Free Mason Bees Quick and Easy

There is absolutely no need to spend any money on your mason bee habitat unless you want to; more on that later. We like to be thrifty wherever possible and the mason bees don’t mind us being cheap with their housing at all. In fact they may be perfectly happy in a simple reed tube. You see, mason bees love hollow reeds and stems to nest in.

There are all sorts of plants that have hollow stems that are suitable for not only the Mason bee but other solitary bees as well. Several different species will nest together in a bundle of various size reeds. There are lots of grasses and bamboo type plants that will work fine but Japanese knotweed is about the most readily available of them all. This plant looks like bamboo with a segmented or chambered stem and has white or yellow blooms late in the summer.

Japanese knotweed grows everywhere that it is not supposed to and is a serious nuisance when it gets started. You certainly do not need to plant any of it to harvest from because there are probably multiple stands of it close to where you live.

 Japanese Knot Weed

Link to a larger view

The white plant is the Japanese Knotweed and the yellow is Wingstem.  They are not foraged buy Mason Bees since they bloom too late, but they make great habitat.

You can cut them any length you like over 4 inches with one end open and the other closed; you are using the bottom of a chamber as the back of the tube.  The best size reed is one a standard pencil will just fit into or not quite fit in. That does not mean that you don’t use some a little larger and a little smaller as well to attract various solitary bees.

Now just bundle the reeds together in any fashion you see fit and put them in a protected area. You may want to use a coffee can for example and lay it on its side with the tubes facing out. Make sure the tubes are packed tight and secured so they don’t blow away. You could also just tape a bunch of the reeds together and then leave enough tape to make a hanging tab.  Now use that tab to just hang  the bundle on a porch.  Here is a video showing exactly how to do it.

Solitary Bee Habitat from DavesBeesVideos on Youtube

Whatever you do, you want them where you can sit and watch the antics. All the rest of the rules apply. They need a source of mud nearby and blossoming plants; preferably stone fruits such as cherries. The tubes must be in place prior to any plants blooming so that when the native bees hatch they can find your tubes right away.

Do not expect a great showing the first season as the bees have to find your tubes by discovery. The following season you will be releasing the prior season bees right next to a new bundle of reeds and that is when the magic happens because the new mason bees are locating the habitat by smell not discovery. You will have a fair amount of your bees choose your new tubes and you will be attracting many more of the local bees that would not have found the habitat if not for the smell of last years reeds and bees. This is not at all complicated but it does take a little patience. Within 3 years your habit, no matter how modest, should have action similar to the videos above and below. As a matter of fact I have given away half the bees from the block in the upper video 2 years in a row.

Now if you want to purchase mason bee, hornfaced bee, or alfalfa leafcutter bee Tubes, Straws, and Reeds you can do that too.

If you prefer readymade Mason Bee Houses and Starter Kits that is great, you can do that as well. All the rules remain the same.

Here is a video that shows cans and blocks in use.  She is using purchased tubes and parchment paper tubes.

Here is a link to Strumelia's Blog..

I don’t care how you go about your solitary bee endeavor I will be here to help you.

Feel free to contact me anytime at:

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Mason Bee Life Cycle

 The basic life cycle of the blue orchard bee goes like this.  Beginning with a fertile female.  She starts by putting a mud plug at the back of the tube.  Her next step is to collect pollen which she makes into a ball.  As soon as she is satisfied with the size of the ball she carefully attaches an egg to it.  After laying the egg she quickly uses mud to partition off the tube in front of the egg and pollen ball.  Then she repeats the process on out the tube until it is full and she mud plugs the entrance.  Each female will provision from a couple to several tubes during her six or eight week life.  A typical  6 inch tube will have perhaps 3 females towards the back and 4 or 5 males on the entrance end. 

Inside the tube the eggs hatch, the worm eats the pollen and spins itself a cocoon.  In the cocoon the worm transforms into a bee and goes into hibernation for the winter.

In the spring when the temp is warm enough the males emerge first and hang around nearby waiting for the females.  The males do need to eat and in the process they carry out some pollination but other than delivering the fertilizer when the females emerge, that is it.  The female does all the work.  And the cycle starts over again. 

How to Manage the Blue Orchard Bee As an Orchard Pollinator: As an Orchard Pollinator (Sustainable Agriculture Network Handbook Series, Bk. 5)  This book is a great how to book.  It may not get you excited as to why you would want to keep mason bees but it sure will tell you all you need to know.   It is also available as a PDF at PDF Download.

Pollination with Mason Bees: A Gardener and Naturalists' Guide to Managing Mason Bees for Fruit Production Here is an inexpensive book to get you started.  

The Mason-Bees This link has a kindle reader version of the book--the ultimate Try Before You Buy.  Here is another link to the free Kindle For PC download.  After you download or if you have a Kindle already just do a search for all your favorite topics.  I found lots of books on beekeeping.  If you prefer color then here is the Kindle Fire

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Last modified: 22 January 2012
David Wright
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