Thank you very much for hosting mason bees during this coming spring and summer. We certainly enjoy watching our little bees diligently working away and, as part of the hobby, we also make our own bee tubes and houses. We do realize everyone may not have the same time or inclination to devote and that's OK. Hosting one or more of our boxes takes practically no effort but if you do get hooked you can also purchase everything you need online! See the bottom of this page for info about harvesting mason bees.
Briefly, there are just a few things mason bees need to thrive:
1. A safe home (bee tube in/under a protecting enclosure)
2. Food & water (your flowering trees and plants)
3. Damp mud for nest building (nearby with higher clay content)
4. Nesting box positioned to catch early morning sun (bees like it warm)
5. Protection from predators (birds eat them)
Picking a Spot for the Mason Bee House
- Locate the sunniest place in your yard within 300 feet of their food source. The bees need as much sun as possible shining into and onto their house each day.
- Choose a wall/fence or side of a building which is:
Dry and sunny: South or southeast exposure is best.
Protected from wind: Movement will dislodge the bee eggs. Do not place on a tree branch.
Permanent: Don't relocate the bee house after the bees emerge or they will be confused and fly away.
How to Hang the Bee House
- The bee houses we provide utilize two eyelets on top for easy hanging and removal.
- Use the provided string, light wire, screw hooks or small nails to attach the bee house to the support you have chosen. Several options are shown below.
- If exposed to the elements, tip the front of bee house down slightly to allow rain to run off and keep the inside dry. You SHOULD NOT hang it from a tree branch that might induce the house to swing and dislodge the growing larva from their pollen mat. Protection from the wind, birds and squirrels is also important.
- Place the nesting tubes in the house.
- When the time is right, transfer the bee cocoons from your refrigerator to the emergence tube so the bees can exit when ready.
- Hang the emergence tube of still cocooned bees along side the house with the hole pointing forward as shown.
How to Care for the Bee House
- Wetness - if wind blew in rain or sprinklers are spraying the house, tip the house down a bit more. Make necessary adjustments without relocating the house.
- Disturbance - If you have lots of birds in your yard, you may need to cover the front of the house with a piece of chicken wire or wire mesh with holes large enough for the bees to pass through easily. Occasionally, birds try to build nests inside a bee house.
- Mud - Nearby mud is essential to these Mason Bees so they can build bee cells and plug the holes. If necessary, locate a mud hole within 20-30 feet. The bees like to "find the mud" rather than have it offered at their front door. The simplest method is to dig one shovel of soil out, add either a bag of Mason Bee Clay (available online) or kitty litter (cheaper and available at your grocery store), mix it into the hole, add water with your garden hose, and let the water dissipate. Water as needed to keep it moist.
- Speedy-Hole Plugging - Count how many holes remain unplugged. If you have fewer than 25% remaining available then more tubes are probably required.
Check on the bee house every few days.. Look for dampness, disturbance, availability of mud, and speedy-hole plugging. Periodically, check the bee house for these 4 things:
Mason Beekeeping Tips
- Don't worry about being stung!!!!! Male orchard bees don't have stingers and, because they have no queen to protect and all of the females are fertile, they aren't aggressive. It's still possible to get stung by a female if you manually squeeze or abuse her, but even then the sting is more akin to a mosquito bite than your average bee sting.
- Pollen is important. If there isn't enough pollen in your yard, mason bees will move on to other areas. Check out www.xerces.org or pollinatorparadise.com for lists of common pollen-producing plants that work well here in the N.W.
- Encourage organic practices. Add holes with different drill bits to dead trees for various flying pollinators; set aside a bare patch of ground for ground nesting pollinators; and
- Keeping nesting boxes. South-facing garage, house, or garden shed walls are ideal areas for establishing your nesting boxes. You will also want to make sure that food is available within about 300 feet of the nest - this is as far as the bees will travel. Make a note of all of the plants on the list that you see in this area, and remember: these bees won't stop at your property line - they'll go across the street or into a neighbor's yard for pollen if they need to.
- Mud is a must. Since female mason bees need mud for their eggs, it's important to have open ground (without grass or bark covering) nearby. You can also make a "mud pie," with the soil moist, but not soupy. We use a largish shallow pan (sold for mixing concrete) to make our little "mud hole" for our bees. Positioned with a slight tilt allows a gradated dirt/mud/water variation that the bees can then choose from. Mason bees prefer mud with a higher clay content so if you don't have that naturally in your area you can mix in kitty litter. Bees are weak when they first emerge, so it's best not to keep the mud source directly under the nest lest they fall in.
- Choosing nesting materials. Pull-apart wooden blocks, cardboard with paper lining, drilled blocks and homemade paper tubes can all work well for nesting.
- Observing your bees. Mason bees are fascinating to watch - they can be just as educational for kids as they are eco-friendly. Here are some fun things that you can observe about your small and industrious new friends:
- Be on guard for predators. Robins, crows, starlings and woodpeckers prey on adult mason bees as they emerge from their nests. The bees are especially vulnerable in the early morning when they bask in the sun to warm up enough to fly, or while they're out in the open gathering mud.
- Setting your materials out in the spring. Mason bees will normally emerge from their winter cocoons around the time of fruit tree blooms, which varies with the region of course. If you get your boxes set up before the fruit trees in your area bloom, you will be ok. You can expect them to emerge after experiencing 3 consecutive days of 50F or higher.
- Harvesting your bees. The bees and nesting materials need to be cleaned each fall, or you risk losing their colony. Pests, mites, and chalkbrood fungus can be greatly reduced by opening and sanitizing the nesting material each October.
- Attracting a variety of pollinators. Fruit trees are not required to be a bee farmer; plant for all seasons, and not just for March-June. Native wildflowers with colors such as blue, purple, and yellow (clover, dandelions) are recommended, along with one of the best sources for pollen: big-leaf maples.
- Pull-apart wooden blocks can be a great material since they're porous (allowing moisture to escape), and they're easy to clean, sanitize, and reuse.
- Drilled wooden blocks must be made new each year - they can get infected with microscopic pests and cannot be thoroughly cleaned, putting your bees at risk. It's also harder to transition from one generation to the next since the blocks can't be opened and made ready for the new brood. Consider that if any bee in the "tunnel" dies before emerging it will then trap the bees behind it and they will die also. This may be the most "natural" way to go but also the least desirable.
- Natural reeds are used as bee tubes and can be collected yourself or purchased. You'll need to replace them each year if you harvest and clean your bees because you need to split the reeds open to extract the cocoons. If you just leave them intact they only serve as well as drilled holes and will eventually become contaminated with mites and fungus.
- We much prefer paper/cardboard nesting tubes with paper liners for reasons including promoting bee health and reducing mites, ease of maintenance and the added flexibility they offer. Paper products exposed to the weather can be short lived in the Northwest's damp climate, but will last for many years if simply kept out of the rain. They're also a great project to make on your own during those dark, damp NW evenings.
- Pollen on the female as she returns to the nest (a clean belly means that she has mud to take home).
- When the food supply is complete, the female will come out of her nest, turn around, and then back herself in to lay another egg.
- If a mason bee accidentally goes into another bee's hole, the intruder will quickly back out and find the correct nest. Their individual pheromones help them identify their own hole.
- When the female is adding her final mud plug, she'll go around and around the hole's opening as she works to close the egg chamber.
- Using a flashlight at night or in the early morning, you can see the bees at rest in the front of their holes, with their eyes looking out at you.
- Watch your mason bees as they work on blossoms in the yard, and notice which plants they like to frequent.
- Look for the antennae that distinguish them from flies.
- Learn to distinguish the males from the females by spotting the white hair on the males' heads.
For the birds, these sweet little bees are like candy - especially if they find a nesting block that happens to be filled with a lot of bees. The best way to avoid predators is to store the nest in the garage or shed at the end of the active period. If you're using a paper product and have lots of squirrels, chicken wire can be added around the box to prevent them from pulling the tubes out and devouring the contents.
Nesting units need to be protected from rain and wind. Keeping them mounted with the cavities tilting slightly down will prevent rainwater from entering and creating harmful mold. Securing the nesting units will also prevent movement that could dislodge eggs or young larvae. The space may only be a mere 3/8 of an inch, but the babies are too weak to crawl back in.
Nesting materials need to be set out before nesting begins (mid to late March), since the females lay the most eggs in the beginning of the season. However, it's also important to note that if the materials are set out too early, your progeny could be mostly male.
Placing the nesting units on the south-facing side of the building is key - the bees need to warm up to 80 degrees for their wings to function. Mason bees' black bodies can soak up rays even when it's only 58-64 degrees outside, making exposure to direct sunlight very important.
If you are concerned with cleaning the materials properly, our "borrowed" mason bees are the perfect solution - you can enjoy them throughout the spring and then simply return them to us once they go into hibernation. We'll take it from there!
We can offer the complete kit (house and tubes) and we'll clean and store the cocoons over the winter, making it very easy to enjoy the benefits of hosting the bees.
Caring for the bee cocoons until next spring
- We will take care of that! If you have one or more of our bee boxes we will retrieve and care for the bees this fall.
- If you've taken a black rectangular box you may keep it and start your own bee production endeavor.
- For processing the bees in the fall we can help you and recommend that you read Crown Bees web page for a very clear explanation of how bee harvesting works.
At this time there is NO CHARGE for any of this. (ie. FREE) We are just at a stage of trying to get bees out to friends, family and acquaintances and we'll see how all this goes in the future. In addition to supporting our ecosystem, we think mason bees have a big future in assisting our commercial food production. So, if you like to eat, you can do your small part simply by hosting and propagating mason bees!
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us. We care about the bees and appreciate your interest and sharing your experience with others.